On the 5th of June 2021, a group of 16 people crossed the border from Bosnia to Croatia. The group were all from Iran, there were 3 women, 3 girls, 3 boys and 7 men. The children were aged between 4 and 15 and the oldest adult was 46. They walked for 15 km to reach the border and crossed at around 9pm.
After a further two days of walking – approximately 20 km into the Croatian interior – they were passed by a police car. The respondent (an 18-year-old) described how the car passed them as they were walking in the street. He described it as “an electric car – it was silent. We didn’t hear it coming.” The car had two officers in light blue uniforms, described as ‘traffic police’ but likely the regular police force of Croatia.
After some time, two ‘deportation vans’ arrived, the description of windowless vans without lights matches the description of the vehicles used by the Croatian authorities. There were two officers with each vehicle who were wearing dark blue or black uniforms with the Croatian flag on the shoulder of the uniform. They didn’t wear masks. This description could match both the Croatian Border Police and the Intervention Unit – the absence of masks suggests more likely the Border Force.
“[The officers] behaviour, it was f**king bad with us. I was telling him – why do you take our phone, our money? He said to me “my sh*t is better than anyone here.” I said, whatever you want to do, do it.”
The group of 16 people was divided between the two vehicles. Their phones and money (approximately 1000 Euros from the whole group) were taken, along with the respondent’s backpack. It was around 3 am and dark. The interior of the van was dark, without any lighting. The respondent described that they had walked only around 20 km from the border, so it should have only taken around 30 minutes to drive back, yet they were in the van for around 3 hours. “When we were let out, it was morning.”.
They were taken to an area of woodland in the border area somewhat near to the town of Velika Kladusa in Bosnia. There the backpack was returned to the respondent, but without the clothes, food, and water that had been inside. Another group member was ordered to remove his jacket, an officer stated that it was morning and warm enough not to need it. No physical violence was used by the officers but “a lot of shouting and yelling, a lot of bad words. They were thinking that I don’t understand the [Croatian] language, but I do.”
The officers told the group that they were just 2 km from Velika Kladusa, yet without navigation, since their phones were taken, they walked for around 14km before they reached the town.