The respondent – “A” – left Bosnia around July 1st with a group of 15 people from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iraq and Afghanistan. On the morning of 15th July 2020, they crossed the Italian border.
Upon crossing the border into Italian territory, the group split up into smaller groups to avoid being captured. A. with 4 other Pakistanis, including 2 minors of about 14-15 years old, went to the city center of Trieste. When they reached Piazza della Libertà (by the central train station) they sat on the benches to rest. They were approached by 3 volunteers, two females and one male, from Linnea d’Ombra. The volunteers dressed up their wounds and injuries.
While they were talking with volunteers, they saw a black police van with tinted windows and ‘POLIZIA’ written on the side. Two police officers wearing civilian clothes approached them and introduced themselves as ‘secret police’. They said that once they were finished with the volunteers, they would take them to a camp. They spoke with the volunteers as well, but A. is not sure what they said as he does not speak Italian.
The police briefly interviewed all 5 asking about some details of their route, number of people in the group and whether there were any minors. They also asked them if they wished to stay in Italy. All five confirmed and expressed intention to seek asylum in Italy.
The police officers were speaking in “bad English” mixing in some Italian words, resulting in limited comprehension by the interview subject. After the questioning they were told to get in the van to go to camp.
After a 15-20 minute drive, they arrived at a large police station, which the interviewee thought to be located near the city centre (exact location unknown). Inside they saw other migrants sitting in the waiting area, handcuffed. The police officers inside looked like ‘regular police’ with blue uniforms with Italian flags on them. They interacted with 4-5 different officers who performed different duties. Manual fingerprints were taken. When they asked what the purpose was, the police didn’t reply and spoke Italian with each other. They were given some (3 or 4) papers in Italian and told they needed to sign them to go to camp.The group asked for a translator, but the police said this wasn’t needed because the papers were ‘not anything against you’. The intention to seek asylum was again expressed by all 5 members of the group.
Other officers performed body-searches and confiscated their phones, which had dead batteries. After the search they asked for their phones back and the officers said they will give them back in camp (which never happened). They asked if they can contact their friends or family but this request was denied.
After signing the papers, A.’’s group was put into a room and given some cookies and juice. 2-3 hours later they were loaded into a van by 2 different police officers and then told they would be transferred to a camp. Before leaving the station they were handcuffed, police used ‘humiliating language’ and slapped them on the back on their heads. The two minors were beaten with police batons and started crying. They were roughly loaded into a white van with grills over the windows. ‘From the inside you couldn’t see outside’ and there was no fresh air. When they asked where they were heading the police officer told them to ‘shut up’.
After 2-3 hours drive they were unloaded from the van in a hilly area. The officers hit them with the batons and gave them until the count of 5 to run. The minors were badly hurt ‘crying and screaming from pain’.
They ran to the other side, about one kilometer from this location where they saw a van they didn’t recognize as a police van. When they came closer 3 shots were fired from nearby the vehicle and 2 Slovenian officers in light blue uniforms told them to stop and come to them. They were searched and handcuffed. Police hit them with batons and shouted at them to get into the van. There was no direct observed interaction between Italian and Slovenian police.
After a 15-20 minute drive, they arrived at an old building that didn’t look like a police station, but there were officers present, wearing light-navy uniforms with Slovenian flags and some emblem on them. Slovenian police took fingerprints and gave each of them 3 papers to sign. An Urdu translator was present but didn’t answer any of their questions, and didn’t tell them what the papers were. He only told them to stay silent and sign the papers. They expressed intention to seek asylum several times but each time the police and the translator ignored them. One officer told them they had no right to asylum and that they would be deported to Croatia. After that the group of 5 were placed in a locked room without windows or toilets where they spent the night. They weren’t provided food or allowed to use the toilet. Some people were asking to use the toilet but the police laughed at them. They asked what would happen to them, and were not given a response. In the room they saw other people of different nationalities. A. doesn’t know exactly how long he spent in the building, they arrived and were detained till the following morning (16th July 2020), up to approximately 05:00 or 06:00.
At around 06:00, they were driven to the Croatian border to a large building described as ‘concrete barracks’. More Slovenian and Croatian police officers were present. Slovenian police unloaded them from the van and beat one by one with black police batons. After that they were brought to the Croatian side where Slovenian and Croatian officers spoke and exchanged paperwork. A. didn’t understand what they were saying.
The group of 5 were received by officers wearing dark blue t-shirts with emblems and trousers and heavy black boots. They had the group lie on the ground and handcuffed their hands behind their backs with zip-ties causing them a lot of pain. There were 30-35 other migrants handcuffed and lying down on the ground on the Croatian side. Police didn’t ask them any questions and they were too afraid to say anything. They were only warned that if they have something on them they should give it to the police, otherwise they will ‘find it, l beat them badly and kill them’.
While they were being searched some other police officers were standing on the side watching. During the search they were kicked and hit with batons. They spent around 1 and a half hours in the barracks, since there were already more than 30 people there when his group arrived and the police were waiting for back-up.
2 police vans arrived with 10-12 officers. Some of them were not regular forces and instead wore black clothes, heavy black boots and balaclavas. They started beating them one by one as they lied on the ground. They had black police batons wrapped with barbed wire wrapped around, they hit them with those and kicked them on the back with heavy boots.
After the beating they started putting all of the people from the barracks into the vans. A. was loaded into one vehicle with 9 other people, 4 from his original group and 5 more from the building. They couldn’t breathe properly due to insufficient ventilation and some people were sick and throwing up, but the police didn’t stop. The ride lasted 4-5 hours.
When they arrived at their destination there were 3-5 police officers present already and they also saw a small Croatian checkpoint with an officer watching. There were also other migrants present at the site.
The intention to seek asylum was expressed to Croatian police before being pushed back to Bosnian territory. One Croatian officer with 3 stars on his uniform spoke English to them, saying they crossed the border illegally and would be returned to Bosnia.
They were all put into a queue of people of around 50-60 other migrants (all people from the barracks plus the group present at the border when they arrived). Alongside the queue, around 5 police officers stood with pepper spray containers. One of them held a loudly barking German Shepherd on a lead. A. and others were told to run back to Bosnia after a countdown to 5 and 3 shots fired in the air, police started shouting and hitting people and pepper sprayed them. Z’s group was at the front of the line and escaped spraying but they saw some other people being hurt. The dog was released on them and was trying to bite them.
After being pushed back to Bosnia, they were at the top of the mountain which they recognised from previous experience. They walked to the city of Ripac in the territory of Bosnia, which they recognised from previous experience. From there they walked towards Bihac. Some people in the group were very tired and suggested to rest, so they rested until sundown. At this point, they were 40-50 people who were deported all together from Croatian police.