On the 27th January 2020 at roughly 09:00, the group in transit were stopped by two male Croatian police officers in Zagreb County (HR) (approximate coordinates 45.7720250, 15.8366780 HR). The group consisted of six males aged 22, 23, 24, 24, 25, 30 from Algeria, and were stopped while resting and changing their clothes in an abandoned wagon. A Pakistani man separate to the group was also in the wagon sleeping when the police apprehended them.
One of the officers was in uniform and the other was dressed in plain clothing. The police blocked all exits from the wagon so that – according to the respondent – “we wouldn’t escape”. Police asked the group in transit for their papers and passports but no one had any, so the officers called for backup, who arrived roughly one hour later, around 10:00.
The respondents were then ordered to walk until “a road where it was cars and policemen”. The respondent is unable to recall the exact number of police officers present, but remembers that they were wearing official uniforms and that a policewoman was among them. Police ordered to the transit group to get into a police van where they were frisked and had their phones and power banks confiscated and put into a plastic bag. They were allowed to keep their remaining belongings and backpacks with them, however the respondent chose to leave his backpack behind:
“without reason, because I didn’t reflected, I was stressed. I could take it but I didn’t”
The transit group travelled in the van for approximately 15 minutes before arriving at a police station. The police officers put the respondents into a cell, separating them from their personal belongings, where they stayed for around 15 minutes. In the cell there were already four Kurdish men from Iran.
One by one, the respondents exited the cell and were asked for the following personal information: names, parents’ names, ages and city of origin. When the officers took individual profile photographs of the respondents, they had to hold up the paper containing their personal information. The respondents were then forced to hurriedly sign documents which they could neither understand nor read as it was written in a foreign language. No translator was present in the police station when this took place, even though the respondents had requested one and the police said they would provide one. The respondent claims that “he [the police officer] was making fun of us”.
One of the respondents refused to sign the documents and questioned the content of the document and about the procedures which the police officers were following. The officers quickly became aggressive and refused to answer him. The officer just said “sign sign…so then I sign”. The respondent alleges that
“it was the boss who forced us to sign”
Some of the respondents asked for asylum and an officer said “okay”… but nothing happened. The respondents assume they spent roughly 10 hours in the police station, and were denied access to food, water, and the toilet.
At roughly 19:30, majority of the officers left the police station and the night shift replaced them. This consisted of three policemen, (aged roughly 35-40 years old according to the respondent). The officers removed twelve people from the station and separated them into two groups (“six by six”), and forced them into two police vans waiting out front. The officers were extremely angry and aggressive, shouting at the respondents and psychically forcing them into the vans even though the respondents were already doing as they were told. One of the respondents was almost hit by a police officer during this transfer. When in the van, one officer demanded money while another aggressively shouted “no phones, no phones”. The respondent reports one officers saying, “it’s going to get out of hand”. In the van there were no windows and air conditioning was on:
“It was cold, very very cold. It was a cell for the prisoners, not a normal van”
The police drove recklessly for roughly 10 minutes, driving very fast before suddenly hitting the breaks. The police then stopped and parked the vans nearby to one another at the end of a path in the woods. There, the transit group, now consisting of 11 males, were loaded into one single van and forced to exit one-by-one under policeman orders.
“we heard screams of our friends”
The officers were armed with batons and had flashlights which they used to blind the respondents.
“When you go outside they frisk you to find money and they say ‘money, money’. They should think that we were Syrians because Syrians have money. When you say no [that you do not have money], they beat you on the face”
Police beat the respondents with their hands, batons, flashlights, and also kicked them. The respondents were mainly beaten around their ribs, but were also hit in the face and the backs of their heads. If the police officers found personal belongings other than money (like prescription glasses), they beat the individual harder. The respondent believes that the Kurdish men were beaten more than others.
“I saw one of them with a broken nose full of blood”
The money confiscated off the respondents was collected by one police officer, who put it in his pocket. The respondent alleges that the policemen were stressed, with one of them always checking around to make sure no one saw them.
“They were stressed because it’s an aggression. They attacked us”
The transit group were again separated into two groups and loaded back into the vans. Again, the police drove recklessly and blasted the air conditioning. The respondent alleges that he recognised the sound of beer cans being opened while the officers were driving.
At approximately 4:00 on the 28th January 2020, the two vans arrived at the border with Bosnia-Herzegovina (approximate coordinates 45.223162, 15.990883 BiH). There were five male officers wearing black clothes and ski masks and an unidentified car waiting for them. The three police officers who had transported the group from the station to the border, opened the van door and ordered to the respondents to get out one by one.
“At this point you have to run because if not, they beat you with the baton”
The respondent managed to secretly take three phones from the plastic bag and two backpacks with him before exiting the van and running across the border to escape from the officers. The officers followed the respondents for a couple of metres. The rest of the backpacks, phones and power banks remained with the officers.
“They (the police) make business with the phones and backpacks they steal”
From this point, the respondents walked for approximately five hours before reaching the city of Velika Kladusa (BiH). A Syrian family which was already at the border when the respondents arrived joined them.
“It’s indecent, we’re human beings too. it’s very difficult for us, these policemen are worst than thugs, they’re bandits but there’s nothing we can do. I always go ahead, you can hit me or do what you want, you can only stop me by shooting. We’re not doing anything wrong. They’re racists. That’s the way it is”