The respondent is 37 years old and comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The group with which they were traveling on July 30, 2022, consisted of 28 people: 10 women and 18 men. The respondent says that after walking for about 45 minutes on Croatian territory, at about 5 o’clock in the morning, the group suddenly saw two people they believed to be policemen. A Seat car had cut them off at this place, where there was a crossroads. They do not remember exactly where on the map this place was, but it was a crossroads with a main road and a smaller gravel road. One of the two officers shouted loudly, “Stop, stop. Sit down!”. At the same time, the respondent reported that he took a firearm out of its holster and raised it in the air. The respondent explained that they ordered them to sit down on the ground, and a third officer, who was sitting in the car, joined the first two. He made a phone call. In the conversation of the three officers, the respondent picked up the word camera, after which he suspected that they had been spotted by a camera. In addition, the two officers reportedly had binoculars with them. According to the respondent, the first thing they did was to ask the group what nationality they were. They answered that they were from Congo and Cameroon. The second question was how many people were in the group. Then the officers reportedly told them not to be afraid, and that they should just stay seated.
According to the respondent, all three officers then went to the car and took out gloves and examined the group one person at a time. Each person had to empty their pocket and show what was inside. All the cell phones and all the things associated with them were confiscated, for example, chargers, power banks, headphones, the respondent said.
“It was the first thing they did, to take away all our cell phones to eliminate evidence.”
Everything, he said, they put in a bag and placed on the ground a bit away from the group. By the time they were done investigating, a mini-van arrived.
“They must have already been waiting for us at this place, because the mini-van took no more than five minutes to arrive at our place after the phone call.”
Then the group was split up arbitrarily: two women, for example, had been separated from their husbands, the respondent stated. Part of the group, perhaps half, was taken into the mini-van and driven away. The respondent explained that he, as well as the rest of the group, had been ordered to remain seated. “It was very cold because the ground was wet and we had to stay sitting on the ground the entire time.” The respondent says that they had to wait an approximated thirty minutes and that meanwhile they were guarded by two officers. In the process, they were not allowed to speak; they would have to get permission to do so by holding up their hands. “I felt like I was a prisoner”.
When a second mini-bus arrived, the respondent recalled that the second group were brought in as well. The plastic bag with the things they had taken from the people first was loaded into the front of the mini-van with them.
According to the respondent, five male officers and one female officer were present in the situation. All of them, except for the one who drove the Seat at the beginning, wore a dark blue police uniform and black pants. All of them were reportedly carrying firearms. The two officers who tracked them down originally were each wearing a star on their chest. The sixth officer was dressed all in black: a black polo shirt, black pants and black boots. He was not marked anywhere as a police officer, but the respondent stated that he was also armed and drove away in the Seat when the first mini-van arrived.
Two mini-vans and two smaller cars were present in the situation, according to the respondent. The two mini-vans were described as white from the outside, with the police inscription on them and of the brand Peugeot. One of the two smaller cars was Seat, the other one is unknown. All of them had the inscription Police on them. The respondent described that inside the mini-van it was dark at first and later they turned on the lights. There was a ventilator on the ceiling. There was also a spare car tyre inside and there were two seats in the front, then a gap and two long benches in the back. “There was no chance to look outside in any way, everything was closed off. Even the view to the driver’s seat was blocked by an aluminium cover.” The door could only be opened from the outside.
The respondent and the transit group were reportedly driven to the Bosnian-Croatian border in the two mini-vans; they drove only on very bad roads and very fast. “There must have been many holes in the road. It hit us so hard from one side to the other. We got really sick and we were all about to throw up”. In addition, he said, they were sitting very close together.
The respondent, who was in the second minibus, described that the pushback location had been on a hill. He could no longer say exactly at which location, but he knew it was near Velika Kladuša as this is where they returned to afterwards. He explained that the officers pushed the group down the hill by following them. At the bottom, he said, they returned the bag of possessions to the group. Then they reportedly yelled at them, “Go, go. Don’t look back”. There was no road in this place, only forest. The group wandered around disoriented until, after a few minutes, the respondent recounted that they encountered a group of people from Pakistan who had also come back directly from a pushback. This group then showed them the way back. It was not until 1 p.m. that the group arrived back at their starting point in Velika Kladuša.
Later, the respondent described that they noticed that many of the cell phones had damage because they were all thrown together in the bag. Some of them had damage to the screens or other malfunctions.