On Monday 10th February 2020 a transit group of two men, a Palestinian aged 30 and and Iraqi aged 27, approached the Bosnia-Herzegovina border with Croatia. The respondent was travelling with a leg injury which impeded his mobility. While still in BiH, the respondent shared that walking in the woods the pair heard the engine noise of a low flying plane. Because it was late at night and dark, the respondent could not see the aircraft but said “I heard it” and that the noise was “loud”.
The transit group then crossed the border and walked into Croatia. He suggests they traveled for approximately 2km before being apprehended by the Croatian police in woodland very close to a small country road which was running in a valley. The respondent suggests the plane may have alerted the police to their presence, or that the police had used “night vision” tools. The respondent said that the capturing officers were Croatian police dressed in dark navy blue uniforms with badges on the arms that the respondent recalls having a light shade of blue in the motif. The officer approached the group in the woods with torches and shone the light beams in their faces.
“When he put the light on us they ask ‘Algeria? Afghanistan?”
The respondent replied:
“No Palestine, Iraq”
The police ordered the transit group to remain where they were. The officers were holding handguns (“pistols”). One officer said to the respondent “If you run I will shoot you”. The respondent stood still and held up his arms, holding in one hand his bag. The officers led the transit group from the woods a short distance to the road. At the road was one Croatian police car and a police van described as “like minibus”. There were a further two or three officers at the road, dressed in the same uniform (bringing to total to five/six authorities present).
At the road the transit group were ordered to remove their jackets and empty their bags onto the floor “in front of car light” (the police vehicle had it’s headlamps on). The officers then searched the two transit persons, pushing them over the bonnet of the car and patting them down. The respondent was searched first and recalls how they ordered him to “open your legs” so they could check his whole body. Despite his bandaged injury, the officers did not take any care of the respondents leg complaint or allow him to stand comfortably. During the search of their bodies, and search of their bags and clothing the police removed multiple items, including:
“phones, three power banks, small bag, cigarettes, hats, gloves, shirts and pants [from rucksack], food, money… 800 Kuna”
The respondent said that while his companion was being searched by police he made a clear verbal claim for asylum.
“I want to ask asylum, international protection in Croatia”
One police officer reportedly relayed this into a radio (“speaking on device”), but did not respond in any way to the respondents expression to claim asylum. The police continued to speak into the device and the respondent heard them mention “Velika Kladusa” and suggests they were asking which point the attending officers should push the group back at. After some radio communication the two transit persons were loaded into the van and possessions witheld, being placed in the front cabin of the vehicle. Describing the moment they were loaded into the van the respondent recalls asking for the jacket from the pile of possessions. He said that the police were reluctant to give anything back and he alleges that the officers were looking at their possessions and deciding whether to keep them. Suggesting what the police were saying he stated:
“look at the sleeping bags, not from china shop, look at these jackets”
Eventually the police officers allowed the respondent to take his jacket back, but he said that the officers were agitated and “agressive, ready for any move”. The
transit group were loaded and driven for approximately four to five minutes to the border with Bosnia-Herzegovina where they were disembarked by three police officers dressed in the same uniforms, though the respondent did not look at them clearly in the dark, he suggests they were three of the initial apprehending policemen. One of the officer then made a death threat to the respondent, suggesting he would cut his throat:
“This is Bosnia, if you come back, he sign like this [drawing thumb across the neck]”
At approximately 00:15 on Tuesday 11th February 2020 the two transit persons were pushed back into BiH. The police officers shouted at them to leave quickly.
“He shout run”
The respondent and his companion fled around 500 metres into the territory of BiH. They then turned to see if they were being followed and saw police van was still parked on the border with it’s headlamps facing them. He suggests the officers were waiting to ensure they had left the territory. The transit group then returned to Bihac (BiH) on foot, the journey taking six hours because of the existing leg injury that the respondent had.
The respondent explained how the conditions at the border had gotten worse in the time he had been trying to cross. At the time of interviewing, he said he had heard from several other groups that they had even been turned back from the border by Bosnian police. The respondent cites one example that occurred a day after his pushback where the transit group were apparently told by Bosnian border police “got to camp”.