On Sunday, the 26th of December 2021 between 11 pm and 12 am, a group of 9 men, mostly from the Kurdish part of Turkey apart from the 23-year-old respondent who stems from Afghanistan, was apprehended by Croatian authorities when the group was crossing the E70 highway inside Croatia.
The group started their transit attempt in the Bosnian town Banja Luka which they had reached in a bus. They chose to do a so-called “taxi-game” where they would be picked up by a car that would bring them to Italy. Prior to their apprehension, they had already crossed the Croatian border in a car.
Presumably, the group was first seen while crossing the highway, following this, the group was apprehended by one male and one female officer in black uniforms, also carrying firearms, who were then telling them to “Sit down”, reportedly asking “You have phone? Give me all.”
The group thus sat down at the side of the road, where at this time of the night according to the respondent no cars were coming. The officers had arrived in a white police car ‘the shape of a taxi’, saying ‘Policija’ written on it in blue, and asked them where they were from, upon which the respondent answered Afghanistan. “You come from which city?” They answered that they had come from Banja Luka. The officers then called to a station to send another car.
“First police said you wait here and wait for another car.”
After what the respondent recalled as 30 to 40 minutes of waiting, a white van, also bearing police writing in blue, arrived with three male officers and one waist-high police dog with yellow-golden fur. The respondent related these officers also had written ‘Policija’ on the left chest as well as the back of their uniforms; describing the writing the 23 year-old man said further:
“The outline is white, the inline is blue.”
Asked about the vehicle the respondent said that the back of the van was ‘closed’ and blind, with them not being able to see outside. Inside they were sitting on silver metal chairs. The respondent also stressed that it was extremely cold inside the back of the van. Reportedly, in spite of the already freezing temperatures of winter, the officers had put on the air conditioning of the car on the cold setting for the back. When asked whether they asked the officers to stop the cold air flow the respondent answered the police merely ever answered to them with “Don’t speak.” The officers were driving very fast, taking sharp turns as well as suddenly braking on high speeds, making the group additionally uncomfortable, bumping about in the back of the van.
The transit group was driven to the border, reaching the pushback site at around 3 am, as the respondent remembers. According to the respondent, it was those same three male officers, all wearing balaclavas covering their faces, that also conducted the pushback, at a location on the green border which the respondent remembered had one white container and a narrow forest road. The Croatian authorities pushed them back on the border south of Bihać close to the Bosnian Lipa Migration Camp. Before the men confiscated their belongings without returning them:
“All mobiles they put in a plastic bag, and bags and everything else they set on fire. The bag with the mobiles they put in the car.”
Apart from their valuables which were taken separately, together with their food and bags the jackets and other clothes of the group were also taken and burnt at the border.
“Mobile, money, bags, food, …everything. I came back in this [respondent pointing at the sweater he is wearing] and only this [pointing at his pants].”
While forcing them over the border, the respondent related the officers told the transit group to line up, which most of the group apart from him and two other of the Kurdish men, did not understand due to lack of English and the stressful situation, apparently being scared of the officers as well as their dog. The remaining six men thus started running towards the border unorganized in a bent line, upon which the officers released the dog from its leash to hunt after them. Multiple of the group sustained injuries after they got bitten by the animal.
“They told us ‘Stay in one line’ I was first, but the other people didn’t make a line, so they let the dog loose on them. […] The Kurdish people were scared, they just started running.”
The respondent described the Croatian men as carrying firearms in their belts as well as black batons, according to the respondent’s description about an armlength long. The three of the transit group that had made the line were not attacked by the dog, but thus beat on their backs with the batons. The respondent sustained an injury on his right shoulder which was later treated by some volunteer medics when he reached Bihać again.
The 23 year-old man and the other two Kurdish men who had formed the line thus started to walk back to Bihać, not seeing the other six of the group anymore. The respondent related it took them two hours to reach the main M5 road, and in total four hours of walking to reach the city of Bihać. Walking back in the middle of the night in the dark without sleep, on the way the respondent said he became very tired, resting for some time in an abandoned building.
“I slept in one old house. In the morning time I came home.”