On Friday, the 17th of December 2021, around 11 pm, a 28-year-old man from Afghanistan was apprehended by the Croatian authorities on the Croatian road 2017 near the Bosnian border.
The respondent had started walking the same day from the Bosnian town of Bihać, and after more than three hours of walking crossed the Croatian border close to the local border crossing of Izačić around 8.30 pm, arriving at a parking on a petrol station around what he remembered as about 9 pm, where he was attempting what is known as ‘truck game’, positioning himself in a tight holding position on the inside of the truck just above the wheels.
“And then I went to the petrol and I see [the truck] at the petrol pump, and then I went inside on the wheels. […] 30 minutes he drives… I only hold sitting like this and look down [showing his arms holding on tight to something in front of his face].”
Describing the position to constantly hold on and pay attention during the ride not to suffer fatal injuries the respondent remarked:
“One moment your mind goes another site…and you’re finished.”
The respondent estimated he was then inside the truck being driving for about 30 minutes before he was apprehended as it stopped at a nearby coffee shop on road 217. The driver then told him to come out and called Croatian authorities.
After around 15 to 20 minutes of waiting, two male officers arrived in a normal-sized white police car, saying ‘Policija’ written on it in dark blue color. According to the respondent they were wearing police uniforms consisting of dark blue pants and jackets having ‘Policija’ written on them in white letters on the back. On the left shoulder apparently, there also was a symbol with white writing that the respondent couldn’t exactly remember as he was only able to glance over it, and they were carrying firearms.
“The uniform colour was dark blue, and on white colour I think: ‘Policija’. Here [left upper arm] some symbols, something written in white colour. Jackets and pants were the same colour.”
The 28-year-old man had to take off his jacket and was searched by the officers, who told him to empty his pockets.
“’What do you have in your pockets? Take it out, all!’ I said okay, this is my phone, money, this is cigarettes, this is a lighter…one after the other I told them.”
The officers also continued to ask him questions:
“‘How did you come?’ I said with the truck. ‘Why?’ I told them ‘No problem, one time I make a mistake, two times you catch me, three times you catch me… How many times you’ll catch me, I’m coming again and again. The simple way is to just let me go.’ After this they became very angry.”
When reportedly the officers kept asking the respondent why he had come here, he related that he answered:
“’We come here from another country where life is only destroyed. So we have to go somewhere, to take citizenship, to take a passport.’ They replied ‘Go back to your country.’ I said ‘Okay we will go together to our country. First they will shoot me, then they will shoot you.’ And then he said ‘Why would I go with you?’ ‘You’re sending me to die, you’re living here happy. You come with me and go see the situation of Afghanistan. Now it’s a Taliban government, so we have a lot of problems with them. […] Our friends tell us not to come back ‘because you worked also in the Bagram airbase, with the Americans, you worked with Great Britain, with the Afghan government. As a soldier, as an informer, so it is dangerous for you.’”
After what the respondent remembered as another 15 to 20 minutes waiting on the side of the road another two officers, wearing what looked to the respondent as the same uniforms, arrived in a white van, also having ‘Policija’ written on it in dark blue or black. The respondent related these officers also had black batons stored in their van and didn’t talk to him, whereas the previous officers kept saying “Why did you come?”, also cursing at him calling “U pitčku materinu!”, literally meaning “In your mother’s pussy!”, and generally used a swear word in Serbo-Croatian to tell someone to ‘go back where you came from’.
The van then drove the respondent for what he remembered as around 30 minutes to a Croatian police station, where he stayed for about one hour of detention. The respondent related he had been held in this same station already over five previous times before, as he usually tried the truck game at least once a week, and recognized a line of Urdu poetry he had left on the wall the last time he had been held in the same cell.
The officers from the station also confiscated the respondent’s phone and searched him again. The respondent was then interviewed for about 20 minutes by two male officers in the same cell that he was also held in along with four other men from Morocco, from the respondent’s perception aged between 20 and 30, who had been apprehended earlier close to the Croatian E71 road, trying to reach Italy by walking and were already inside the room when he arrived. The officers did not go to a private room for the interview as reportedly the Moroccan men did not speak English. They then asked among other things where he was from, why he had come here, or why he had left his country. The respondent related he told them again that he had a problem with the Taliban, but reportedly the officers responded “No, don’t lie to me”. He then asked them to bring back his phone and started showing pictures of his, also pictures of what he had left of his army certificates. The officers then went through his phone, also asking him questions about his private pictures, showing friends of his and former soldiers.
“And when they saw the photos with the gun, then they started the interview again. I told them he was a general in our country, they asked where he is now. I told them one is in Istanbul in Turkey, but I don’t know where the other one is.”
The officers then also found pictures of soldiers carrying rifles on his phone, which led the respondent to be interviewed by another two male officers for another 30 minutes asking him who were these men in the picture, and also according to the respondent’s perception whether he liked these photos and was proud of them. The respondent reportedly answered, “No, they’re corrupted, that’s why I saved these photos in my phone.” He explained further:
“Now I have a lot of people, old friends before from Afghanistan, now they are in the Taliban. They’re working with them. So they’re saying to us, sometimes when we call them: ‘Don’t come, [respondent’s first name], if you come our commanders will tell us to kill you. I tell you secretly. If they force on us to kill you, we will kill you, even if we don’t want to. This [leaving the country] is a better way for you.’”
The officers then asked which government of Afghanistan he preferred, the previous one that had fallen or the Taliban government now. The respondent said he suspected from the officers’ behavior that they were trying to see whether he was linked to terrorist activities, having become very upset after seeing the pictures on his phone. The respondent then explained that he liked neither government, as also the previous one supposedly had constantly been available to corruption.
“And this government is also not good for me, for people who are outside of the country, especially in Europe, especially for those who were in the government before. They insult them everywhere, they’re killing them secretly, bringing them to jails.”
After having seen these pictures and the officers becoming upset, the respondent was also kicked in the right-back of his loins by one of them.
“They thought I was involved in terrorism, but I told I was on the army side, I’m not from the Taliban. If I was from the Talibani side they would’ve made me district officer by now in my province. But I’m not with the Taliban, if I was with them then why would I be here.”
The cell was described by the respondent as an old room less than five meters long and up to two and a half meters wide with an iron door, no windows, and white walls, which according to his description were covered in small lines of poetry, short messages and names left by previous detainees in several languages including Kurdish, Turkish, Urdu, etc., and upon which the respondent had also left his lines of poetry. Inside, the room only contained one table. For the interview the officers had brought chairs for themselves to sit in, the respondent related he was sitting on the table. The respondent also related he asked again for asylum at the police station, but the officers reportedly only said no.
Upon arrival as well as departure the respondent said he was only moved immediately between the blind vans and his detention cell. After the interview he was taken by three male and one female officer from the police station in what appeared to be the 28-year-old man again as looking the same as the uniforms of the previous officers, all four of them wearing scarfs covering most of their face; the respondent suspected because of the cold during the night. As it became clear to the respondent that he would be pushed back to Bosnia again, he pleaded to the officers that he had a health problem, and asked to be pushed back at a border crossing close by, and not far off in the forest north around Šturlić or Velika Kladuša as usual. Then, reportedly, the officers turned to Moroccan men saying “You’re lucky he has a health problem, that’s why we deport you here.”
“I told them I had a lot of problems. Don’t send me to the road in Šturlić or Kladuša because I have an injury here in the abdomen, they said ‘Okay we can discuss with the others.’”
The group of five was then driven by the officers for what the respondent remembered as another half an hour in a white van saying ‘Policija’ in dark blue or black written on it, to the Bosnia-Croatian border crossing at Izačić. Inside the back, which had no windows, the respondent said he only saw some wires hanging from the walls and a first aid kit, they were sitting on a flat bench integrated into the floor, the respondent said he just sat on the floor of the van.
When the group reached the pushback site they were searched again. When they did not return the respondent’s belongings, he reportedly successfully pleaded to the police to return them, saying he needed his bag to sleep here one night on the long way back to the Lipa Migration Camp. According to the respondent, the officers also told him his phone was inexpensive and he could have it back.
“They said ‘Go!’ I said ‘But my bag!’ They said ‘No bag, we set it on fire.’ I said ‘No fire is a problem, I have no more bags, 50 euros for just one bag. I have no more money.’ And they said ‘Ok, go!’ I said okay, thank you. I took my bag and then I went.”
From the four other men, however, the respondent related the authorities took almost all of their belongings, including the two phones they had, their money, and all of their bags. The respondent reported that the Moroccan men, all four of them, were beaten by one of the officers, with the black baton he was carrying, on the lower part of their backs, telling them to “Go, go!”, but that he as the only member of the group was spared from the physical violence.
“When my number came they told me you can go, they didn’t beat me. Because a lot of times they’ve seen me and they beat me. Now they are tired of me.”
After the pushback the respondent related he went inside one baker’s shop in the nearby village whereas the men from Morocco started walking another way. When asking the woman inside for the time, she reportedly said it was 12:40 am.
On his way back from the border to Bihać, the 28-year-old man openly reported that he hid in the back of a small pickup truck while parked. The man said he was driven sitting hidden in the back for 10 minutes before when he saw road split and the driver was about to turn north towards Šturlić, only 20 to 30 minutes walking distance left to Bihać, he went to the front waving to the driver to stop, who then reportedly very surprised stopped the car, asking how he had got there and threatening to call the police. The respondent related, however, that the driver did not do so, as he was from what he suspected afraid of problems for himself being seen transporting a person on the move in his car – which is illegal in Bosnia: “Please don’t call the police. If you call to police, they will fine you, not me.” The respondent then walked back to his makeshift camp in Bihać.