“they said go to river... they beat”

  • Date and time: July 8, 2020 23:50
  • Location: close to Sturlic (BiH)
  • Coordinates: 45.05745290324409, 15.744757632180297
  • Push-back from: Croatia
  • Push-back to: Bosnia
  • Demographics: 20 person(s), age: 17 - 40+ years old , from: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Morocco
  • Minors involved? Yes
  • Violence used: beating (with batons/hands/other), insulting, water immersion, threatening with guns, gunshots, destruction of personal belongings, theft of personal belongings, reckless driving
  • Police involved: 8 masked, 3 special, 1 driver, 5 at border
  • Taken to a police station?: yes
  • Treatment at police station or other place of detention: denial of access to toilets, denial of food/water
  • Was the intention to ask for asylum expressed?: No
  • Reported by: Border Violence Monitoring, Balkan Info Van

Original Report

The group, including several children from Kashmir, were caught and forced to squat in the pouring rain by Croatian police officers as a form of punishment. They were then held in a police station without food and water, having to urinate in a bottle when they needed the toilet. After being detained, the police pushed them back into Bosnia-Herzegovina through the Korana river.

The respondent in this incident, an Afghan male, left BiH with 15 other people from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Three of the group were Kashmiris and were underage minors (approximately 17). The group walked for three days into the interior of Croatia, departing from Bihac (BiH). On 8th July, in the midmorning, the group were suddenly approached by Croatian police officers who had been hiding in some trees. The capture happened close to a stretch of river that the group were walking by. The weather was described as very poor and it was raining at the time.

“They hid back side of tree, they fired gun and said ‘stop'”

The officers were in black uniforms and had guns, they shouted for the 16 people to stop, aiming weapons at them. The first shot was fired into the air, and according the respondent this was followed by several others that were directed at the ground very close to them.

“they fire near to our feat”

The respondent said there were eight officers on the scene. He stated that they were wearing balaclavas: “They covered their face, black mask”. The officers ordered the transit group to the floor and told them to bow their heads:

“down your heads, the rain was really fast”

The group describe sitting in the rain while the officers removed their bags, spare clothing and food they’d been carrying. The police also took their phones, power banks and money. The money the officers kept, the electricals were placed in a plastic bag and left in the rain where they became damaged by the water.The group were held at this point in the rain without proper shelter and denied the possibility to drink or eat.

“they didn’t give information to eat”

The police officers took pictures of the group and even reportedly filmed them. The respondent said he say the “red light on camera” as they panned across the crouched transit group sat in the rain. The officers also questioned the group roughly, asking them:

“Where are you from? Where are the others in your group?”

The officers became angry when they found a small knife used for food by the transit group. The police removed it, becoming particularly aggressive about the eating utensil. The respondent shared that it was a small blade:

“We are cutting for onion and food, we are hungry”

The transit group were held for what the respondent suggested was 2-3 hours in the rain. Two or three more officers then arrived on the scene wearing green uniforms. They spoke with the officers dressed in black who appeared to share information on the group and what had occured.

After this exchange, presently a further officer came with a Croatian police van and the transit group were ordered to stand and get into the vehicle. The respondent describes how the capturing officers jeered and abused them as they were loaded.

“come with car, [the police] were very angry, said some bad words to us: ‘don’t go to Europe, go to your country'”

The van drove for a short while, bringing the group to a police station, where they arrived at approximately midday. At the station the group were not processed with any paper work or issued a decision on their removal, the police put them in a shared cell without any facilities (toilet, food, water). The cell was descibed as a “dirty room” and the group had to urinate in bottles because they were not allowed to access a WC.

The group were held in detention from around 12:00 – 22:00, then they were removed by the station officers and loaded again into a van. The respondent said that alongside the 16 of them, another four men were already detained in the back of the van. They were Morrocans that the police had already caught, bringing the total to 20 persons.

The van drove stop-start for several hours, with the officers taking long pauses and veering from side to side. The respondent states that the conditions in the rear were very poor and “some guys were vomitting”. The van stopped at the border after around 2 hours of driving, just before midnight on 8th July 2020. The van doors were opened and the group were called out individually by the police.

“come to one-by-one, they stand two lines”

“They said go to river”

The respondent said there were five masked officers, including one woman. The officers made two lines and used batons to hit people who they considered were not moving fast enough while shouting “run”.

“they beat that guys”

Once the transit group made it through the lines of police with batons, they had to swim across the river which came “up to chest” height.

“behavoir of the police was like animal, [they] don’t give info to talk”

“they showed us not humanity, they broke our head, leg and hands”

When the group arrived onto the Bosnian side they walked in the dark. The pushback occured close to Sturlic, and the group walked for some hours,
arriving to an abandoned house on the way to Cazin. They spent the night there because they were tired and injured. Their feat were blistered from
the walking and soaked from being forced through the river. The next day they were walking close to Cazin and the Bosnian police stopped them. The officers had already detained a group of people with backpacks on the street, the respondent claims this was “stopping them go on game”.

The police officers stopped the pushed back group and told them “go to Lipa” (a camp 25km south of Bihac).The respondent said it took the group a total of 36 hours from their ejection across the border to the improvised shelter they were living (close to Bihac). Back at the squat, the respondent said he was still recovering from the ordeal. He and others were helped by local people after their return, especially to recover clothing and get some basic first aid for wounds sustained. The resopondent said he was unsure about his safety in the building because local Bosnian police often raided it and took the inhabitants to the camp in Lipa. He did not want to be taken to Lipa because of the conditions inside and the isolated location:

“No beds and some guys sleep in two, the situation for refugees is not good. [There’s] no shop or market, only one small shop, but very expensive, it’s a big problem”

The respondent stated that sometimes large groups of people staying in abandoned buildings were taken en masse to Lipa by the local Bosnian police. But once driven there, sometimes the camp staff weren’t adimitting people, so they would be left waiting by the entrance and eventually leave, walking back to Bihac.

“They arrest here from squat and take to Lipa side. Why IOM don’t give Lipa card? Why they are shift you to here?”

The respondent said it was also hard for his specific age group. He said that as a young adult male he couldn’t benefit from some of the additional protections and services that are directed towards minors in BiH. This disparity was most clear during the corona virus lockdown he said, where he and others felt their situation had become worse
and more isolated.

“we [adults] do not have that oppertunity, lockdwon for COVID-19 big problem for us”