On the morning of September 28th, 2020, a group of 7 men from Morocco were detained close to the village of Halbenrain, Austria and subsequently pushed back through Slovenia and Croatia to Bosnia. The transit group ranges in ages from ages 16 to 25. The group had departed Bosnia 21 days previously, transiting through Croatia and Slovenia before reaching Austria. They crossed the border from Slovenia into Austria on the morning of September 28th and continued walking along the train tracks and into a forest close to the village of Halbenrain. After someone had observed them walking along the rails and called the authorities, they were intercepted by two Austrian police officers in plain clothes in a car without police insignia. The group split up and tried to escape, running in two different directions. The officers called reinforcements and started a manhunt that lasted for roughly four hours in cold and rainy weather, involving a total of 37 police officers and cadets and several police vehicles.
The first part of the group was apprehended in a corn field near the village of Drauchen. They were completely soaked from the rain and shivering from the cold. One of the minors had a leg injury and was unable to walk without support of others. They immediately expressed their need for international protection. They were searched on the spot and had to take off their jackets. One of the officers threw a jacket into the mud without any apparent reason. They were then transported to the border station of Sicheldorf in a police van. One of the officers said:
“There is no war in Morocco. You are not allowed to be here.”
The second part of the group was apprehended an hour later close to the village of Hürth and was also brought to the border station of Sicheldorf, where all seven men were detained for a couple of hours in two different rooms. Some of them had to sit on the ground as there was not enough furniture to sit down on. When they saw the Austrian police officers eating they asked for food, but the officers just laughed at the group and one of them said:
“This is not a hotel, you know”.
Despite the fact that the group had not eaten for two days and were chased by the police for 4 hours and detained for a further 5 hours, none of the group received any food. The police officers asked them one by one for their names, their ages and their country of origin in English, but no translator was provided. They had their fingerprints and pictures taken and repeatedly asked for asylum, but the officers ignored their request. The officers made them strip naked one by one in a large room where a number of officers were present and get down on their knees naked.
At around 5 pm they were loaded onto a Slovenian police van that drove them to a Slovenian police station close to the Hungarian border. There, the group received food for the first time. Slovenian police questioned them with support by a translator. They were told that under Slovenian law it was illegal to return people younger than 18 years of age. The minors were separated from the group and had their asylum request processed in Slovenia. They were handed the documents the Austrian police had made them sign only after they arrived in a Slovenian camp for minors.
The rest of the group waited another hour and a half before being moved to another Slovenian police station for the night. The next morning, they were handed over to the Croatian police that treated them “even worse than the Austrian one”. They were kept in a cell until 8 am and later loaded into two vans together with 10 Pakistani nationals which transferred them to a meeting point with Croatian police officers who they assumed to be part of a special police force due to their face covers. The Croatian officers attacked the group with batons and chased them across the border into Bosnia.