The group of 11 left from Šturlić (BiH) on July 21st and continued into Croatia with the intention of crossing into Slovenia. On their fourth day of walking through the Croatian interior, perhaps 16 km away from Rijeka, the group was walking during the daytime along a small path in a forested area.
“There is too many police, they see me when I cross the trail to jungle. They wait [for us] there]…they leave their car their and they are walking and they listen. Because when you are walking through the woods there is too much wood on the floor *crack, crack, crack*. When you are walking in the jungle and you are walking across the trail, they cannot know where is your direction. And when they are walking, two police, two police, and two police. And when they hear.
The respondent described Croatian police officers attempting to track his group as adopting a complex strategy in order to narrow down and identify his group’s location. He described his understanding of this strategy as a team of police officers breaking off into a number of groups of two, spreading themselves throughout a heavily trafficked section of forest. Then, as the respondent described it, the officers wait and stay silent in order to listen to the sounds of transit groups moving through the forest, naturally making noises as they step onto fallen branches and leaves. When one pair of officers hears the noises of a transit group walking through the woods, they then communicate with the others to triangulate the direction and the location of these noises.
“This is the new tactic of the police…because before, when you are in the jungle [they] cannot catch you. When you come to Strulic, there is too much woods, he knows that we are not walking on the trail. Before we were walking on the trail, but we choose the path.”
The respondent described him and his group realizing that they were being tracked by the police and attempting to evade them. It was his impression that the police had anticipated this and purposefully positioned themselves at a bottleneck area of the terrain which would for the transit group in a certain direction.
“The police lead you to [a certain direction]”
“When I cross the path, I look behind and there is too many bushes with thorns, and I run. There is no flat ground, you cannot walk through. It is too much tall.”
“He knows me, when he sees me, he knows that I will return here or here, and when I return, he catch me.”
Two police officers apprehended the respondent and his friends on a small path. Upon approaching, the officers took out their firearms and told the respondent and his friends to “Stop, stop!” and fired their guns into the air three times. All group-members were then caught.
“We are catch on the street, two by two”
“The [police officers] knows, they wait, they wait for all persons to cross, because he knows”
At this point, the respondent again remarked on the evolving strategies of Croatian authorities in the region of Šturlić.
“Every day, they learn, every day there is immigrant and they learn about how we are going. If we go through the jungle or the path or not, where is the turn..The police knows and they set up…his cars or patrols here. In the jungle, two by two by two by two.”
After the apprehension of the group, one of the police officers put his foot on the chest of one of the group-members who he had forced to lay on the ground. Soon after this, another three police officers arrived at the scene. These officers allo wore light blue t-shirts and long pants.
“First coming two, then coming three”
The officers were described as demanding the group’s phones and belongings:
“The first words [they asked us] was ‘Where is the phones?’”
“Give me you phone, give me your phone, give me your phone, and all person is give. One person does not give.”
“The phone is important, who take the person, who is the leader…but we people Algeria, we don’t have a leader, all is the same”
“The second thing is check bags”
“And they began one by one to check the bags. And they begin to check and throw out the things in the bags. There is one friend, he threw out his shoe and left him with one shoes. And all, and find power bank and took the cable and cigarettes and headphones. And these things, all put in one pile.”
The respondent described the officers making two piles of all of the groups belongings, one for valuable items such as power banks, phones, cables, cigarettes, and headphones, while the other was for the group’s food. The respondent described a number of electronic devices such as phones and powerbanks being stolen at this time by one officer.
“They take phone, and put in a plastic bag [along with] lighter, and cigarettes, power banks, all in the plast [bags]. And all of the food in different bags. And he stole my phone and one powerbank. He stole all of the powerbanks and stole one phone. It was a nice phone.”
“I understand Bosnian language, it’s the same language [as Croatia] and when he was looking at the powerbanks and when he picked up one he said ‘Oh! It’s new! It’s a good one. I take this one! This good for me. I take one”…and he took three packets of Camel cigarettes”
“Before his two other friends came, he stole maybe three powerbanks.”
During the process of searching their bags, the officers told the entire group to remain one place with their hands raised. They went through the group, telling each individual to walk over to a certain officer, who would check them and escort them to a nearby van which had arrived to transport them back to the border. During these actions, the respondent described seeing one officer repeatedly engage in actions of violence against the group-members.
“And here, they beat, one friend they beat…one person he beat, just one.”
“One police beat, five person”
“My friend he [was checked by the officer] here, when [the officer[ finish, he begin for another person, and he check this friend, and he is coming to the car, and when he is coming to the car he beat this person. I don’t know. He was normal, he check him and was talking with him and then he tells him to sit and he kick him. And then he is checking another person, he checks [their] face, my friend, and he punched [him in the stomach]. And one person here, he beat him. He says ‘You come here’ and he is slowly walking, and this person he kicks in the back. Tell him ‘quickly!’. And he checks another person and tells him…I don’t remember.
The respondent described another member of his group experiencing violence from one of the apprehending officers at the scene for failing to keep his arms raised in the air over a long period of time.
“He tell him before, because when you put this bag here, you can behind something. He said to all people ‘Put your hands in the air’ and this man does not because he is tired, you know, and he puts his hands down and the [police officer] is coming and they kick him on the sides [by kicking him]. You know they have [metal] in their boots.”
The respondent expressed relief at being able to evade direct violence from this officer, attributing his luck to his young appearance.
“They don’t beat me, I don’t know, I look younger.”
After this ordeal, when the group had been led to the van, the group was then driven directly back to the Bosnian-Croatian border, a journey which took approximately two hours. During this time, the car drove very fast in a disordered manner, leading the respondent to get sick while in the van. When the group arrived back to the border, they were taken out of the van as a group. The respondent described seeing one officer, hidden in the darkness, holding a camera which emitted a red light.
“And the new thing I looked [and saw] a camera. I have been through this 16 times and I have never seen a camera. I look and I see just the night and all I see is the red light.”
The officer with the camera and two other police officers were waiting for the group when they arrived at the border. In addition, two officers transported the group back to the border in the van. The entire group left the van at the same time, followed by the cameraman, and they continued down a path that led to a river with tepid and dirty water. This path, which was described as very small, eventually led them into Bosnia near Velika Gata (BiH), at which point they wandered for some time before finding their way back to Šturlić.