On 24th November 2019, the respondent and a group including seven other people left Bihac (BiH) and walked for 12 days (approximately 200km) through the “jungle” (woodland) in Croatia towards Slovenia. On four separate occasions, respondent and his group assert they were observed by police, but were able to run away. On the 4th occasion, the respondent shared how he stopped due to fear of being shot by police:
“on the fourth time, the police catch me. Police catch five person…three person runaway”.
At 10:00 on 4th December 2019, a large green jeep with (‘police’ written in black writing on the side) came down a forest road and three male authorities – described as matching Croatian Special Forces officers in black uniform and ski masks – got out of the car. The eight transit group members ran, but the police began firing their guns into the air and screaming:
“STOP STOP STOP”
At the discharge of the weapons, some members of the group stopped. The respondent continued to run until he heard gunfire very close to him so he also stopped and put his hands in the air. Describing the moment he shared:
“before catch two [people, the police] fire, and then some run, so police fire fire fire fire fire fire, stop stop stop, but no stop, they run”
Officers continued to fire their guns 20-30 times in the air in order to bring back the three individuals who continue to run. However the three managed to continue moving away from the scene.
This left five remaining transit group members. One of the Special forces officers then apprehended the respondent by jumping in the air and kicking him two times in the neck:
“I run 20 meters…stop stop…no stop, I run, police shoot in air…so I stop…police then kick me in the neck two times…he was two meters tall, like a giant”.
Of the three attending Croatian police officers, two officers chased the three people who ran away into the forest, while one stayed behind to guard the five people who were caught.
For two hours the police forced the respondent and his group to sit on the ground outside in the cold while the officer sat in his car. At this location, the officers asked the respondent for his possessions:
“’do you have phone? Give me phone. Do you have knife?’, ‘No I have no knife, I have bag’…’so give me bag’”
The officers stole the respondents telephone and power-bank, and emptied his bag onto the ground in the surrounding forest area:
“with Croatia [police], if telephone good…alibaba…if telephone no good, they give back or burn”
After this, the police took individual pictures of the group in transit. When the respondent asked the police officers for international protection, the officer told the respondent that he would take his fingerprints so that he will never get asylum in Europe:
“I ask for protection from Croatia…but nothing. The officer talk, talk, talk but he lies”.
At around 12:00, one white Croatian police van with three male Croatian police officers in navy blue uniform appeared. Shortly after, the Special Forces officers who had chased the respondents friends into the forest returned – they appeared not to have found the three people. The officers transferred the group in transit into the police van and drove for five-six hours to a police station in Rijeka (HR).
En route, the van made three or four stops at other police stations – stopping for 30 minutes to one hour at each location. The van picked up several other groups in transit from these stations along the way. By the time the van arrived at the police station there were 20-25 people inside, it was very cramped. The van drove very fast and erratically (swerving left and right, with the driver stamping on breaks at random) and had the aircon turned up full-blast:
“the problem is not cramped, the problem is the cold…the problem is the air”.
The respondent spent two/three hours at the police station in Rijeka. They were forced to stand outside the station and had their pictures taken while holding a piece of paper with their names written down on it. The respondent was made to fill out and sign a document translated into both Arabic and English, asking for his personal information like name, age, DOB, nationality, information on parents etc. The group in transit was denied access to food, water and medical help. They were allowed to use a toilet inside the police station.
Around 22:00, everyone inside the station (including further tranist groups who were present when they arrrived) were transferred into four white Croatian police vans. There were roughly 20-25 people in each car with two male Croatian police officers in navy blue uniforms. The convoy drove for approximately eight/nine hours to Veliki Obljaj along the border with BiH – approximate coordinates 45.215228,16.017081. When the vans arrived at the location, there were roughly ten Croatian police officers in navy blue uniforms waiting for them (3 female and 7 male).
The group were unloaded at the border in the early hours of the morning on 5th December 2019. The police officers opened the back doors of the van at the same time and forced everyone to get out and walk down a road across the border. They had formed a line on either side of the road, and flashed torches in everyone’s eyes while screaming to go back to Bosnia:
“I walked 25km back to Kladusa…no car, no taxi, no nothing…when I arrive, I sleep in the streets”
It was a very fast process, taking no more than five minutes. The respondent shared that this was the first time he and his friends had not experienced physical violence from Croatian authorities when being pushed-back along the border. Although they had been attacked at the site of apprehension.
It took the respondent roughly ten hours to return to Velika Kladusa, arriving around 23:00 on 5th December 2019. The respondent said that he had to walk very slowly because he was extremely fatigued and injured from the police kicking him in the neck.