The following report is about a group of young men from Algeria and Morocco who were pushed back by the Bosnian police to Montenegro after prolonged detainment in a facility near Sarajevo. The respondent started his journey to Bosnia and Herzegovina in a group of four people, all men from Algeria, aged, 19, 26, 28, and 36 years old.
The group traveled from Podgorica (MNE) and transited through Bileća (BiH), before moving on to Mostar and Sarajevo. When they arrived in Sarajevo, they wanted to register for a police paper, which is what the Bosnian government issues to people-in-transit as an identification document. For that purpose, the group visited the “Service for Foreigners’ Affairs (SFA) Field Office in Ušivak, Hadžići (BiH) which is located inside the Refugee-Camp run by IOM. The camp in Ušivak, Hadžići is 20 km west from the centre of Sarajevo. All four group members entered the office on the 24th of May 2019 and received a paper with information in English. After receiving these info-papers, they were separated and went through the following procedure individually. In each case, the individual group members were processed by one employee, this person did the paperwork inside of the office, while one other person (identified as security staff) stood inside the container in which the process took place and performed the search of the individuals bags and personal belongings.
While the fingerprints of the interviewee were taken, the security staff searched the respondents phone. It was secured with a code, so the security staff ordered him to type in the code. In the beginning the respondent refused, because his privacy is very important to him. But the security staff threatened him that the procedures of all four group members would be discontinued and that none of them would receive a “Hartija” (Bosnian for “paper”) if the respondent did not type in the code to unlock the phone.
“I told the security man that this is not legal, he cannot ask me for the code! And I was sure that there was nothing in the phone that could make problems. My friends said, that I should just do it. So, finally I gave the code.”
The security staff searched his phone very thoroughly and found a picture of a Montenegrin paper, which the respondent had forgot was on the phone. Because of this document, the security staff instantly called the police.
Police officers arrived and transferred him to what the respondent described as “Closed Camp”. The facility was identified as the detention prison ‘Imigracioni Centar’ located in the east of Sarajevo (http://sps.gov.ba/imigracioni-centar/). The police engaged in the transfer were two officers in dark-blue uniforms. Both were tall and wore glasses – and the respondent asserts they were most probably Bosnian police from the SFA. Inside this detention prison, run by the Bosnian SFA, the respondents fingerprints were taken again and all his personal belongings were taken away from him. The next step was to wait for two hours in a single person cell until he received a fresh blanket and was removed to another room.
Besides this two hour stay in a single cell, he stayed the remaining 22 days of his detention in a cell of 10 people with 5 beds (bunks with 2 layers). The food wasn’t good and consisted mostly of old bread, that the respondent said tasted like it was already three days old. Inside the room there was a separated part with a shower and a toilet. From his cell window he was able to see the car pool of the detention facility on the parking area. It consisted of:
“5 cars for deportations, 1 black Volkswagen, 2 Renault Traffic in white, and 2 Peugeot in white.”
The majority of the days he was detained, the respondent had to spend all 24 hours of the day inside of this cell. The respondent shared that this practice was introduced by the detention prison administration because of a person, who was able to escape during a yard exercise.
“Only one officer who was Muslim opened the door of the corridor during his shifts.”
One of his cellmates had already been detained for six months inside the prison. This person was part of a group of nine persons that had been imprisoned because of accusations relating to involvement in a fight in Velika Kladuša approximately six months before. This inmate shared that the fight had occurred between other groups present in the town and had not invovled him or his friends. However, the day after the fight four Algerians, three Moroccans and two Egyptians were detained, having been found sleeping in an abandoned house in Velika Kladuša. Shortly after, they were transferred to Sarajevo and imprisoned in the detention facility there. They were accused of being part of said fight, which they state wasn’t the case. The group had not been taken to any police station, neither had any evidence been put forward against them or due process carried out as per the legislated means for dealing with accusations of violent crime. They shared with the respondent how their group had simply been picked up at random after the fight took place, despite having nothing to do with it.
During his stay, the respondent was able to observe that there was a difference in duration of stay between people who were pushed back to Serbia, and people who were pushed back to Montenegro. He asserted that this originates from the fact that the Bosnian foreigners police is in contact with both responsible state authorities from Montenegro and Serbia to organize an “official” push-back.
“Serbia and Montenegro also have to agree to take the people back. I have a lot of experience, with Turkey and Greece, they just let you out somewhere! The prison is in contact with them and when they have the confirmation to take the people back, they are going to deport you through legal crossing inside the land. If they don’t have this, they just let you out somewhere in forest.”
The respondent observed how prisoners who would be pushed back to Serbia, usually stayed a shorter amount of days and prisoners who would be pushed back to Montenegro usually stayed longer. His estimation was that this happens due to the varying level of agreements, communication and cooperation between the different governmental institutions.
“Who has paper from Montenegro stays from 20 days to 1 month, who has paper from Serbia stays from 10 days to 20 days.”
On the 14th of June 2019, the pushback from Sarajevo (BiH) to Plužine (Montenegro) took place. In the morning of that day, one of the guards opened the cell door and ordered the respondent to leave the cell in order to be deported. On the same day, there was a deportation due to take place from Bosnia to Serbia, with around ten persons. In total there were eight persons deported to Montenegro, carried out by four police officers in two cars. The respondent knew the SFA officers already from the everyday life inside of the detention facility. They were the same SFA officers who worked as guards and who fulfilled the pushback operations when inmates were to be deported. The brand of the car in which the respondent was taken was a white Volkswagen. Inside the car there was a window dividing the front part, where two officers were sitting and the back part, where four detainees were sitting. The second car was a white Peugeot. The respondent received all his personal belongings back. But the respondent reported that one of the deported group, an Algerian man who had 1,500 € with him when he was arrested, only received 500 € back.
In Hum/šćepan Polje the eight deported former prisoners were transferred via the official border crossing point from BiH to MNE. The Bosnian officer who had driven the respondent handed out one paper per person, including four documents in total, to the Montenegrin officers at the border. Inside the border crossing point an exchange occured whereby the eight persons were moved into cars with Montenegrin license plates. For every person the Bosnian officers handed two paper documents to the Montenegrin police officers who then brought the transit group from the border crossing point to Plužine.
“They must have had some kind of agreement to let us pass, because they entered the Montenegrin land legally, normally.”
The group of eight were brought to a police station by the Montenegrin police in the village Plužine, where they were set free. There, the chief of the police station helped them by showing them the nearby bus station and even convinced the bus driver to let the respondent go for free.