The respondent is a 26 year old man from Gambia. He was traveling together with another man and 2 around 20-year-olds from Afghanistan and 3 people from Pakistan who were older than 30 years. The group of 7 started their transit attempt on the 5th of January 2022 from the Bosnian town Bihac which they had reached in a bus at 4:30pm. They left Bihac and successfully crossed the border into Croatia from there they kept on walking in the forest.
After three days of walking and four nights of sleeping in the forest, on the 9th of January 2022 they got apprehended by Croatian authorities. When asked for the location of the apprehension, the respondent explained that he had saved it on his phone, but that the authorities seized it and therefore he could only remember that they were in Croatia close to a highway. He related that the apprehension was around 8.30 am, very soon after they woke up, before they started walking again.
„We heard open fire two times. Pum! Pum! But we didn‘t see anyone. […] They say police.“
Right after, six male and two female officers in blue uniforms appeared. They had “policija” written on the back of their jackets. The description of the uniforms matches the uniforms worn by regular Croatian police. The officers arrived in one patrol car and one police van. Reportedly they asked the group in transit for their valuables and shoes.
„They came and said stop. So we stayed there. Then they took our phones in one place and our money in one place. They put it in different places, you know.“
After around 45 minutes another two officers in the same uniforms arrived in a large dark van. The group was told to enter in the back of the van. On two opposite sides, there were benches with space for about three persons. The 26-year-old described that an officer closed the door and then turned the air conditioner to freezing temperatures. As it had already been cold outside the group was freezing and the respondent added that they were feeling tired and sick.
„It was cold outside already. It was so cold. My friend has (pointing at his throat and chest) […] some sickness. He was very tired there.“
After some time in which the transit group just waited in the cold van, they were driven back to the Croatian border. The ride felt like three to four hours to the respondent. He also noted that during the journey, they were not allowed to keep their belongings and were left barefooted.
They arrived at the pushbackside at around 1:00 pm. First, there were two officers who had driven the van and another officer who had arrived in a normal petrol car. The group members exited the van and the three officers who were wearing the same blue uniforms handed them plastic bags with their belongings to each group member. Then they told the transit group to line up and start walking on the road, which lead back over the border to Bosnia. The respondent describes that he discovered another three policemen around 200 meter ahead on the street, which the transit group had to pass. These officers were wearing black uniforms and covered their faces with black ski masks. The 26 year old man also describes that they had no signs on their uniforms and carried batons and guns with them. This description matches the uniforms worn by the Croatian Intervention police. Previous testimonies also mention that the officers took off the patches and emblems of their uniforms.
“They were waiting there. […] From my emotions I know that they want to beat us. We had to go there. “
At first the officers in black uniforms, discussed something in Croatian. Then they took the plastic bags, searched for the money and phones, and did not return anything to the transit group.
“Our shoes was there, our jackets, everything, our money. […]450 Euro.”
Subsequently two of the officers started chasing the group in transit and struck two group members with a baton on the bag.
„They say, go, go. you guys don’t have passports why are you coming, never come here again[…] saying negative words”
After crossing the border, the transit group walked back to Bihac, which was south of the pushback site. So presumably the pushback took place in the region around Željava, Croatia. The group arrived in Bihac at 5:30 pm and when asked for how long the walk took, the respondent replied around 3 hours, which matches with the other specification.
„And then we walk on our feet. That was crazy.“