The respondents, a group of nine males aged 20-35 from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, were walking on a bridge in Karlovac (47212, Banska Selnica, HR) on the 19th January 2020, at approximately 15:30, when locals saw them and informed police of their presence. Minutes later, two police officers arrived wearing blue uniforms, with guns, boots and the emblem “MUP”. The respondents ran to hide in the nearby fields for roughly 15 minutes:
“trying our last chance, our last luck”
However, the two policemen located them, pointed a gun to the sky and shouted “stop”. The respondents stopped and the officers remarked:
“No problem for you, no problem for us.”
At this point the respondent recalls officers asking whether there were Pakistani people in their group.
The transit group were ordered into a line and walked out of the fields to the main road where a police van was waiting. They were then walked to a bus stop where they were frisked one-by-one by the two police officers. The respondents had to take off their jackets, which police searched and gave them back.
“They make [face and gestures] like we smell very bad.”
Electronic devices like phones, power-banks and objects like knives and nail cutters were taken by police and put into a plastic bag, which was returned to the transit group later when they were pushed back across the border with BiH. While searching their backpacks, police found some cobs and told the respondents:
“You eat cobs, what are you, animals?”
After this, a second police van with two policemen wearing blue uniforms with the Croatian emblem arrived, loaded the respondents into the van and drove them for 20 minutes to what is identified as a “basketball gym”. It was impossible for the respondents to see out of the van since there were no windows nor did they know where they were going. The respondent believes that the “basketball gym” was in the city centre and was surrounded by big apartment buildings with “maybe 20 floors”. There, the transit group were frisked for a second time and spent roughly four-five hours at this location. A group of six people from Egypt were already inside the gym. Two male police officers with blue uniforms “took guard” of the transit group. The respondent says that the officers were making jokes with the group, and that “most of them [were] positive”. Nonetheless, the respondents alleges that
“(I see in their eyes), they look at us as under-citizens, as someone under humanity. Like, ‘what kind of people do come to us, who are they? Who are they?’”
One female police officer with blue uniform and “maybe an higher grade”, made the respondents sign some documents in Arabic and English which they had no time to read. No translator was present. Three of the respondents asked for asylum, however six respondents from Morocco did not, instead saying “we are Moroccan..”, assuming the impossibility for them to receive asylum. The respondents says:
“I speak with them [police], I explain them my right to ask for asylum and that Croatia is an European member. My rights and United Nations and all, I explain to them point by point”.
The female police officer told to the respondents that they would be brought to Zagreb for asylum applications but when she left, a police officer wearing a light blue shirt ordered to the respondents to take their personal belongings and go back to Velika Kladusa (BiH). The respondent describes the angry and serious attitude of the police officer, who wants to “make fear to you”.
“They [the police] play very good theatre, like ‘we will break your phones and we will break your bones in the border’“.
At approximately 23:00 on the 19th January 2020, the transit group were loaded into a police van with no windows and driven for roughly one hour to the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina (approximate coordinates 45.194799599999996, 15.7886054 BiH). Waiting at the border were six male police officers, two of them wearing blue uniforms and the rest wearing black uniforms. According to the respondent, the officers smelt like alcohol and were continuously yawning. The transit group exited the van, formed a line, were given back their personal belongings and then told to “go back to Kladusa”.
“Generally they push us in the rivers, even if there is a bridge they force you to cross the river by walk. In Croatia they have a proverb which says ‘from water to freedom’ which is ‘od vode do slobode’. One time when I was pushed back from Sturlic, one policeman taught me this proverb. So, every time I am pushed back, I repeat this proverb to the officers, from water to freedom”
On the 20th January 2020 around 00:00, the transit group crossed the river and walked back to the city of Velika Kladusa (BiH). Referring to the experience of his pushback, the respondent said:
“I really thought that, for the first time, political elections really changed things. Because now it is one week after the election of Zoran Milanovic, after the last president Kolinda Grabar, the murderer. But no, when we arrived back in Kladusa we saw another group violently injured, bones broken, phones broken… It was just our luck”