The respondents in this case, a group of four people aged 18, 25, 28, 35 from Syria (three of them) and Egypt (one of them), were stopped by Bosnian police around 7.00 in the morning on the 20th of July 2020, in Zvornik, BiH.
The group was sleeping hidden close to the railway, when three male Bosnian police officers wearing official dark blue uniforms, armed with firearms and batons, arrived driving a police car. The group woke up and one respondent tried to escape. Subsequently, one police officer ran after him, while the other officers threatened him by showing their guns. The respondent stopped and the officer hit him in the face with the baton, breaking some teeth.
After this, the group-members were pushed to the ground by the officers and forced to sit keeping their hands up in the air. The officers took their phones and shoes and set fire to them, whereas they withheld the respondents’ money. According to the respondent, the officers addressed them in Bosnian language first and then in English, but none of the respondents did speak nor understand English.
Allegedly after one hour, the police officers loaded the group of respondents in the police car and drove for five minutes to the river shore. There, there was an old rowboat.
“It is no good boat, too small to go in”, says the respondent.
The police officers pushed the respondents in the boat and carried them towards an island in the middle of the river. According to the description given by the respondent, the island was medium size: “there was enough space to stay”, says the respondent. In the middle of the river, the boat started taking on water. So, the officers ordered to the group of respondents to jump in the river, they turned the boat and headed back to the shore. The respondents reached the island by swimming. The stream of the river was strong but, fortunately, the respondents were good swimmers.
As the respondent described, the group spent in total two days on that island, without any access to food nor water nor shelter. After two days, at around around 7:00 am, the group tried to swim to the shore, in the opposite direction of where they came from, namely to the Serbian shore. Serbian police officers were on the shore and started shouting at them to go back on the island. So did the respondents. The respondent does not exactly remember how many police officers were on the shore. After a while, from the Bosnian side of the river, three Bosnian police officers wearing dark blue uniforms arrived with a small boat similar to the one used two days before, and ordered to the respondents to swim back to the shore.
Once reached the shore, the police officers loaded the respondents into a police van, by pushing them and shouting at them “go in”. When the respondents tried to ask for explanations on what was happening, the officers shouted at them. The respondent is not sure about the exact duration of the travel, supposedly around one hour long. The respondents had no phones, thus they could not check where they were travelling to, nor could they see outside because the van had no windows. The van stopped at a police station.
At the station there were many police officers wearing dark blue uniforms, all men except for two women. At the station, the group of respondents received water and food. The police officers asked them if they had any paper but the respondents answered that the other officers had taken everything from them. So, the respondents were asked for personal information such as name, surname, country of origin, date of birth. Pictures of their faces were taken as well. Then, the police asked to the group what was their plan and if they wanted to remain in Bosnia. The respondents were given some documents “about asylum” written in Arabic, which they read and signed. However, the respondent cannot clearly recall the actual contents of those papers, whether it was an informative document about the process to seek for asylum or the official request itself. No official translator was present at the police station during this whole process.
In all, the group spent one or two hours there. Afterwards, the group was taken to a bus station and order to move away from there. With the small money the respondents had managed to save from police stealing, they bought a ticket to Sarajevo, BiH, and travelled there, on the 23rd of July 2020.
“It was horrible, there is no word, I can’t explain, it was horrible, just that. I don’t know any other word which can explain some feeling like that”, says the respondent referring to what they experienced.