“the dogs jaw clamped around his leg and the animal mauled his upper calf, tearing the flesh”

Respondents injury from dog bite, photo taken on 3rd December 2019.
  • Date and time: December 3, 2019 04:00
  • Location: Željava Air Base, HR
  • Coordinates: 44.830972, 15.764639
  • Push-back from: Croatia
  • Push-back to: Bosnia
  • Demographics: 6 person(s), age: 15 - 30 , from: Syria
  • Minors involved? Yes
  • Violence used: kicking, insulting, dog attacks, theft of personal belongings
  • Police involved: 14 Croatian police officers, 1 police dog (Belgian Malinois), 1 patrol car, 1 Skoda, multiple police vans, one officer dressed in a ski mask
  • Taken to a police station?: no
  • Treatment at police station or other place of detention:
  • Was the intention to ask for asylum expressed?: Yes
  • Reported by: Border Violence Monitoring, Balkan Info Van

Original Report

On the 2nd December 2019 the respondent, along with five other Syrians, were waiting in the woodland close to the 52 road in the vicinity of Pogledalo (HR). The group included two minors aged 15, who were travelling unaccompanied having lost their families in Idlib, Syria. The group had been waiting three days for a vehicle to provide their onward transit. They had set off from Bihac (BiH) together with five minors from Egypt, but the weather conditions had been very harsh, including severe snow, and the group of Egyptan minors had returned to BiH.

At 22:53 that evening, the remaining six people telephoned the Croatian police requesting assistance because the snowfall was strong, they had little provisions, and were too cold to sleep outside any longer. The respondent recorded the telephone conversation with the police operator which included audio in English (as the operator spoke to the transit group) and background audio in Croatian (as the operator relayed the information to officers). The transit group asked the officers to come to their position and help, giving the location at which they were staying. Meanwhile in Croatian the operator alerted other officials, stating:

“We have some migrants on the line… They are on the road 52”

In reply to the transit group, the operator told them:

“the police come, stay on the road”

The transit group walked down from the woods to the road area indicated. The respondent pinned the exact location as the coordinates, 44.768814, 15.651120.

Coordinates of road 52 where the transit group were asked to wait by police.

The respondent estimates that they arrived to the road approximately 30 minutes after telephoning police (at approximately 23:23). Two police vehicles were already on the road when they arrived (unidentified patrol car, and a Skoda). Present with them were three officers. Two were described as “normal” Croatian police officers, while the other was dressed in a ski mask. The officers had an unmuzzled dog with them. The dog was described as a dusty dark colour with a black snout. Comparing it to a German Shepard, the respondent stated that the animal had slightly shorter hair (corresponding to the features of Belgian Malinois).

The transit group stated that they wished to make an asylum claim in Croatia. The police response was to swear at them, officers shouting “Kurac” (meaning penis).The officers ordered the transit group to lie on the ground. In the meantime it seemed that between the officers they were arguing about something in Croatian. Soon another seven/eight officers arrived on the scene with Croatian police vans. The respondent says they were mostly male, but included one female officer.

The transit group, who were lain out on the ground, were attacked by the dog. The officers urged the animal to jump all over them and bite them. Many of the transit group members reportedly received bites during this assault. The respondents injuries were the most serious, as the dogs jaw clamped around his leg and the animal mauled his upper calf, tearing the flesh and almost hitting a major blood vessel.

Respondents injury from dog bite, photo taken on 3rd December 2019.

The respondent said he pleaded with the officers to stop the attack.

“Please, please, please”

But the police urged the dog on and were laughing as it bit him. After it was finished they congratulated the animal, stating “dobro, dobro, good, good”. The officers also used their heavy boots to kick at the transit group on the ground, the respondent indicating how they kicked the men and minors in the head and back.

The respondent suggests that the group were held at this point for approximately three hours. During this time the police officers removed all their phones, money and valuables. The respondent was able to retain his phone because he states the officers were unwilling to search his trousers since he was covered in blood from the dog attack.

A further van was brought and the six transit people were loaded into the back. They left the above coordinates at approximately 02:30 on 3rd December 2019 and were driven in a stop start fashion to the BiH border. The respondent stated that the journey took around 1:30 hours, but included regular stops where the vehicle remained stationary.

At approximately 04:00, the van stopped and the transit group were unloaded at the Croatian border with BiH. The respondent was able to pin the exact location of this drop off point which led to the pushback as 44.830972, 15.764639. The respondent states that there were three or four officers present (drivers and accompanying officers). The police shone torchlights into the faces of the men as they disembarked the rear of the van. They were then ordered into BiH on a small road which had signs marking the border between the two countries. The transit group found that they were on an old abandoned airfield which straddles the border with Croatia and BiH. The men and two minors had to walk back approximately 7km to reach shelter, which was extremely painful for the respondent due to his leg injury.

The respondent sought help from locals, who assisted him in accessing emergency care from the main hospital in Bihac (BiH). The wound on his leg was stitched, but he remained in severe pain up until the time of interviewing. Access to follow up healthcare was also denied, and the respondent had to seek assistance from a local clinic who could redress the wound (having been told by hospital staff that he could not be treated outside of emergency incidents).