On the 14th of July, a group of thirteen Algerian men, both Arab and Berbers, set out from the forested areas surrounding Sturlic (BiH) with the intention of crossing through Croatia into Slovenia. Although the group of thirteen left together, only six of these men would later be pushed back. Over the course of nine days, the men walked through the interior of Croatia before crossing into Slovenia, where they continued for another one and a half days.
On the afternoon of July 24th, the group described walking along a section of train tracks in Slovenia, approximately 30 km away from the Croatian border, and approximately 20 km away from the Italian border.
Around this time, the respondents described a civilian in a car coming across the group as they walked along the train track. The respondents described this individual as staring at them as they travelled, then disappearing, and returning several minutes later. The group inferred that this individual had alerted the authorities of their presence because shortly after this, at around 5:00 pm, they described hearing, and then later seeing, several small drones flying above their heads.
During the following confusion, at which time the group began to hear authorities approaching, the group decided to attempt to run away however these plans were interrupted by the arrival of police. In total, the respondents described six members of their group being encircled, a short distance away from the nearby train-tracks in a lightly forested area, by more than fifteen Slovenian authorities, accompanied by three vehicles and three police dogs. The police dogs were described as a German shepherd, a rottweiler, and a pitbull. The dogs had no muzzles over their faces, however the respondents described that their handlers, which had the dogs on leashes, carried the muzzles in their hands.
The respondents described the majority of the police officers present during this procedure wore uniforms consistent with those typically worn by “regular” Slovenian police officers – mixed light and dark blue collared shirts. These officers were described as having between two and three stars emblazoned on their shoulders. In addition, they described encountering three “special police” officers during this time, which they described as wearing dark blue uniforms and being in charge of handling the three dogs.
The group described being encircled by the police officers and at one point, the men described one of the officers throwing a smoke grenade towards them which let out a chemical which they inferred to be tear gas. One of the respondents recalled that after the tear gas was thrown at the group and they were apprehended, his eyes were red and swollen from the chemicals. Speaking to him, one of the police officers told him to use water to wash out his eyes. As he soon found out, water amplifies the effect of tear gas. The respondent later inferred that the officer intentionally told him to use water to wash out his eyes in order to embarrass and further discomfort him.
Before they left the location, the entire group had their bodies and belongings searched by the Slovenian police. One of the respondents recalled that during this time, one of the police officers struck his fellow group-member:
“They searched him, they looked through his jacket, and when they found a lighter in his pocket they hit him.”
When asked why this triggered such a response from the police, the respondent recalled that the officers were laughing as they did this. All of the men were handcuffed, some with metal handcuffs and others with plastic zip ties. They were made to walk around 300 meters down a small hill where they waited for around an hour as the officers continued to look for the five other group-members who escaped capture by the officers.
Later, they were made to walk again down a small road until they reached a van which was waiting for them. The van drove quite fast away from this location, in disordered directions and varying speeds, leading to a number of the men being thrown around the van and to feel carsick. The group then described being taken to the nearby police station in Ilirska Bistrica, which the respondents described as a police station that was “special for migrants”. This drive took approximately 45 minutes [45.572815, 14.236834].
In this police station, the group-members expressed their intention to apply for asylum to the police officers present and were denied. The officers at the station took all of the men’s fingerprints, photographed them individually, and took down their personal information. One of the group-members described his correct birthdate to the officer writing down his information as 2003 (i.e. 16 years old) however he witnessed the officer wrote in the year 2000 (i.e. 19 years old) on his information form. The men were also given six papers, one of which was written in Slovenian, which they were made to sign. One of the papers was in Arabic, the only paper which they could read and understand, but the officers quickly took this away from them so they could not read it and asked them to sign the rest. The respondents believed this to be a paper which described to them their rights. There was no translator present at this location. They were also given bracelet tags with a number on it at the police station.
The group spent the night in this police station and the next morning, July 25th, were transported to the Croatian border with Slovenia where they were handed over into the custody of Croatian authorities. On the way over, there was one man described wearing a Slovenian military uniform in Slovenia, glaring at the men and slamming the door of the car aggressively. When handed over to the Croatian authorities, they were asked for the papers which they had previously signed in Slovenia and confiscated them. At the border they took everything that they had – their phones, their bags, their powerbanks, and their money. This officer was described as a heavyset male, around 50 years old, with blonde hair, white skin, and chinstrap facial hair. They were then left in a van for sometime between three and four hours waiting in the heat. The Croatian officer did not open the door or give them water during this time.
Eventually, the group described leaving the van and being taken inside of the Croatian border station. They were put in a small room where there were between 30 and 40 other people on the move already waiting. They were mainly from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Turkey. An officer brought in bread and cans of tuna which he threw at the group. This officer was described as insulting the group by equating them to terrorists – showing the group pictures of known terrorists and Yasser Arafat and telling the group that they were like these figures. One of the police officers was FaceTiming a woman and smiling and laughing and filming them.
They stayed two more hours in the Croatian border station with the other people on the move. They left all together. They did not know the exact time, since their phones had been taken, but they inferred that it was around lunchtime since they observed officers sitting down to eat a meal. The van was quite small for the amount of people who needed to fit inside of it. There were more than 20 inside the van. There were two parallel benches in the back which some of the men sat on however the rest needed to squeeze in the middle on the floor. After driving around one hour the van stopped again and the people on the move in the van were divided into three different groups and put into separate vans.
Once leaving the final police station in Croatia, the group described being brought back to an obscure and remote section of the Bosnian-Croatian border between Dvor (HR) and Stabandža (BiH) [45.141902, 16.074545]. This location is more than 30 km away from Velika Kladuša. At this location, there were around six or seven police officers present, some of who were described as wearing light blue uniforms and others described as wearing dark blue uniforms.
The officers told the group to all exit the van at the same time. With the presence of several dogs and bright lights from the officers’ flashlights and van, which blinded the men, they were told to cross back into Bosnia. The dogs were positioned to their left side when exiting the van. The group-members described tripping over several long pieces of wood on the path into Bosnia.
The group described experiencing violence during their push-backs with the officers, manifested through several police officers kicking the group-members as they walked back. The officers in the light blue uniforms were described as those who harassed and attacked the group. The group did not return with their phones, bags, or much of their other belongings which they had taken with them.
The group described the Croatian police officers entering into Bosnian territory approximately 30 meters. The men described there being a concrete border stone which they were made to climb over. Once in Bosnia, they did not know where they were and walked through a forested area before coming across a lightly used trail for tractors after around 1 km. Eventually they came across a single house where they talked briefly to a local Bosnian man who orientated where they were. They then walked down a sandy path where there was an intersection that could either take them to Bihać or Velika Kladuša. The described understanding that it was 35 km in either direction to the cities.
They had been walking for around 3 hours before coming across two international volunteers outside of the small village of Zborište (BiH). Walking several hours after this, They found an abandoned building which they slept in for 3 or 4 hours. It was 25 km from this place to Velika Kladuša