A transit group of seven people left from Bihac (BiH) and traveled on foot into Croatia. The group included six Afghani men (aged between 21-22) and one minor aged 16. The group walked for three days in difficult conditions due to the snow and cold weather.
At approximately 19:00 on 19th January 2019 the transit group were apprehended by Croatian police officers in woodland near to the motorway 71. Describing this moment as the “arrest in jungle”, the respondent shared how eleven uniformed police officers approached them suddenly, as if they had been hiding in wait.
Nine of the officers were dressed in green uniforms, and on the arm the word “Policija” was written. These uniforms match the description of Special Forces officers. Another two officers were dressed in black uniforms. The respondent suggests that the officers had found the transit groups footprints in the snow, and therefore followed them to this point. Two police vehicles were parked nearby, a jeep and a patrol car.
The officers stopped them, and one authority used his boot to kick the respondent in the right hip. The police had pistols in their hands, and the guns had “red colour lasers” fitted which were pointed at the transit group. The police observed that the respondent was holding his phone, and had the device plugged into a power bank. Seeing this, one officer began questioning the respondent, alleging that he was a smuggler. The officer stated:
“You are boss”
The respondent denied this and told the officers that the group needed the phone to navigate, “without powerbank, without mobile we cannot go”.The transit group asked the Croatian authorities for asylum, but the officers reportedly replied:
“It’s not our job, it’s government job”
The officers denied them the chance to claim asylum, instead they asked the group why they were making this journey as they appeared to “look good”. The respondent suggests that the officers perceived them as presentably dressed and polite, and therefore did not understand why they were travelling on foot to ask for asylum. The police reportedly asked:
“You all are looking like good, why you leave your country?”
The respondent replied:
“We came for a future… we have no future, everyone has too much problem in Afghanistan. There is also Taliban”
The officers responded to this by telling the group to “try again”. The respondent replied, “then leave me go”. But the police held the group at the point of apprehension and made a phone call to bring further officers.
At the spot in the woodland where they were caught the police demanded the transit groups phones, power banks and personal items, like rucksacks.The respondent describes how the police took three mobile phones and three power banks from the group.
“When they catch me I told them, give me our bags and mobiles”
The officers replied that they would remove the items and their return would be the “job of border police”.
The group were held at the point of apprehension for two hours. During this time they were denied food, despite making requests to the officers because of severe hunger.The respondent shared how told the officers:
“We are are hungry, we want to eat something”
The police responded by telling the group:
“You will go in Bosnia and do what you want”
The respondent described how the transit group were only allowed to drink water. This came from snow that they collected in plastic bottles. The respondent had some medication in his bag and states he was ill on the day of the incident. However the bag had been confiscated and the police refused to give him the medication.
“I told him ‘I need medicine, I have medicine in my bag’, but they didn’t [allow him]”
After around two hours wait, at approximately 21:00, seven more police officers arrived wearing black uniforms that matched two of the initial authorities on the scene. Four of the officers arrived in a combi vehicle and three in a patrol car. This brought the number of officials on the scene to a total of 18.
The transit group of seven were loaded into the back of the combi and driven for approximately two hours. The van stopped on a hilled area close to Bihac, the respondent was able to indicate the approximate location with GPS. The transit group were unloaded from the van at approximately 23:00. It was dark, so the respondent was unable to assess the full number of officers on the scene, but he suggested it was the same seven officers dressed in black who had arrived at the apprehension point at 21:00.
Outside the van the respondent described how the seven people had their possessions burnt in a fire by the police (including bags, phones and powerbanks): “in the border they fire”. The transit group were left with only the clothes they were standing in. When the police officers reached for the batons holstered at their waist, the respondent shared how the transit group ran in fear. Describing the attempted beating, the respondent stated that:
“When they touch stick [police baton], we run away”
“They [the police] try, but we run… then they are laughing”
The transit group fled down the hill and into BiH, crossing into the territory at approximately 23:30. The respondent observed some houses and by the suggested location, this was likely to have been Lohovo (BiH).The transit group then walked for approximately 3.5 hours from the pushback location pinned by the respondent in order to arrive in the city of Bihac. Some were able to return to the Temporary Reception Centre Bira, but others did not have camp cards and had to sleep in abandoned buildings. This latter group included the 16 year old minor.
Recalling the incident, the respondent asked:
“What should I do? What will we do? We have Human Rights”