On Wednesday, December the 15th, a group of 24 people on the move from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkey was pushed back by the Croatian police at the border with Bosnia Herzegovina, close to road R408, nearby the village of Martin Brod, in the municipality of Bihać (BiH).
The group had already been caught by Croatian Border Police 5 days before, on Friday, December the 10th. The respondent, affirms that it was 4 pm. Twenty-four people were walking along a road close to the Bosnian border, nearby the district of Bihać, when one police car and one civilian car appeared (he thinks that the civilian vehicle could be an undercover officer who was wearing civilian clothes, or maybe just a passerby who saw the group and called the police). Four police officers got out of the cars, stopped the group and called for reinforcements. After a while, two police vans arrived, and the group was split in two and forced to get into the vehicles.
The vans had no windows, so they could not see where they were being brought to, but the respondent recollects having seen some road signs indicating the presence of a river. He described the van as a regular white police wagon, with no handles or fences inside, just some bench-like seats and nothing else where they can grab on to.
The officers took their phones, power banks, and cables and put everything in separate plastic bags. Afterwards, they labelled the bags with the names of the group members and took their money.
They drove for what seemed like one and a half hours, and at around 5.30-6 pm, they arrived at a police station. There, they were then let out of the van one by one. The officers took pictures of their faces, they wrote down their names and country of origin, and they made them sign some papers.
“There were no translators at the station, and the documents were written in Croatian and English. Few people could understand them.”
One group member, a man from Afghanistan, tried to help the group translate what was in the papers, but still, they were constantly told to hurry up and not take too much time to read the documents. The respondent affirms:“You can’t say anything. Otherwise, if you ask something, they will beat you”. They were never allowed to talk or ask, so they do not know what they signed. The respondent also remembers that the station had one big hall at the entrance and three rooms like cells on the ground floor, but not much more because it was already dark, and he stayed inside the building just for the time of the paperwork.
Once they filled out the documents, they were forced into the van again, and they spent the whole night closed in there. The morning after, around 10 am, they were brought to a kind of aid station for a Covid-19 test. Once they got tested, they were brought back again and left inside the van the whole day -from 11 am to 8 pm. Then, in the evening, two other vans came. Twelve people were forced in one vehicle and twelve in the other one. They finally left the police station and travelled for approximately three hours. Finally, they reached another police station, and the story repeated: they were let out one by one, took off their clothes and shoes, and given new stuff to wear. Their property was put in different plastic bags, and the group was brought into four separate rooms, six persons per cell. There were beds inside and some narrow space behind the door, like a corridor. Once they settled, someone gave them three papers to sign and fill out with personal details such as weight, height, and age.
They spent circa 3-4 days at the police station, inside their cells. The police never expressed their intentions. They were joking and telling the group, “We are bringing you to Germany, to Italy”, but the trapped people could never go out. They were receiving food three times per day in a dining room, but every time they were obliged to eat in a hurry, and the policemen who were there would tell them, “Eat fast, there are also other families or people who are coming after you”.
On the last day of the detention, they were having lunch, and a guy who was taking his time to eat was punched in his face and pepper-sprayed. After this violent episode, they finally decided to deport the group. They put them again into two vans, and the first one left the station around noon. When asked where the police station could be located, the respondent says it was pretty far because it took almost three hours to reach the Bosnian border. It was nearly dark when they released the respondent with his group, so it was probably 4 pm, but the exact time and position of the pushback is unclear because the respondent did not have his phone.
When the group was released, they received their clothes and phones back, but not their power banks and chargers. They did not receive a copy of all the documents they had signed either. Once they got out of the van, border police just told them “Go!”. The group then headed to Bihać (BiH) and arrived at the Bosnian city after 3 or 4 hours of walking.
The respondent explains that they tried to ask for asylum but did not dare repeat the question because they were too scared to be beaten up.
The police said, “We will let you go to Germany; there’s no asylum in Croatia”.
The respondent recalls having seen four officers at the time of the arrest on December the 10th and describes them as wearing kind of blue uniforms like those of Croatian border police. They were with two cars, one civilian and one white with blue policija written on it.
At the police stations, he remembers having seen police officers in light blue shirt uniforms, like the ones of regular police. And at the moment of the pushback, there were three police officers who were wearing very dark uniforms, with scarf-half-covered faces. They were also holding a pistol, a torch and a stick, and one of them had a dog with the muzzle, which was released for a while just to scare the people. The respondent thinks they could be members of the Interventna Jednica Policija (IJP).
The place where the group was pushed back should be the pinned-one, along road R408, but the respondent is not entirely sure about it because he did not check on the maps at the moment of the fact.