“How long I have to stay in this prison?”

  • Date and time: June 6, 2019 00:00
  • Location: Bosnian/Montenegrin border crossing Šćepan Polje
  • Coordinates: 43.348489, 18.846496
  • Pushback from: Bosnia
  • Pushback to: Montenegro
  • Demographics: 4 person(s), age: 24, 27, 25, 29 years old , from: Morocco, Algeria
  • Minors involved? No
  • Violence used: beating (with batons/hands/other), pushing people to the ground, insulting, theft of personal belongings
  • Taken to a police station?: no
  • Treatment at police station or other place of detention: detention, fingerprints taken, personal information taken, papers signed, no translator present, denial of laywer, denial of shower, denial of information about duration of detention
  • Was the intention to ask for asylum expressed?: Yes
  • Reported by: Border Violence Monitoring Network

Original Report

The report is about a group of 3 men from Morocco, all men in the age of 24, 27, 29 and one men from Algeria, 28 years old. Together they went from Montenegro to Sarajevo (BiH) where they were brought from an office for asylum seekers to the detention prison in Sarajevo. One person of the group is the interviewee who is now staying in the camp in Spuž, because of a push-back to Montenegro after his detainment, which happened on the 23rd of June. On the 6th of July 2019, the 3 others were still detained.

The group started their journey from Piljevla (MNE) towards Bosnia. Their destination was an office for asylum seekers in Sarajevo, precisely the “Service for Foreigners’ Affairs Field Office in Ušivak, Hadžići, which is basically a container inside the big camp run by IOM. There they arrived on the 19th of May 2019.

“When you don’t have papers, you need to go there. Because when you don’t go there to make paper for Bosnia and police catches you without passport, they directly deport you!”

At this office, their stuff and bodies were searched and all 4 of them had papers from Montenegro with them, which said that they are already registered in Montenegro as well. When the employee of the office found it, he kept the paper and called the police.

“After the phone call and when police arrived, he had a smile on his face.”

A short amount of time after the phone call, the police arrived with 5 officers. These police officers wore black uniforms, with the Bosnian flag on their shoulder and a star on their chest. The group of four was brought to a detention prison without an explanation as to what was happening.

This detention prison is located in the outskirts of Sarajevo (Homepage: http://sps.gov.ba/imigracioni-centar/).

Once they arrived there, they were searched again. During this search, one officer punched the respondent with a fist in his face and kicked his backpack trough the room. It was a big officer who gave about one or two punches to each of the 4 during the search of the personal belongings.

“He had power! I didn’t see why and wanted to cry. I am not doing something bad, I just wanted to go for asylum. He don’t know me, maybe because I was a Muslim man or something like that.”

Another officer who was present and witnessed the incident said something in Bosnian. The respondent guessed that this officer was a Muslim himself and asked the perpetrator why he is doing that, maybe trying to stop him.

All their personal belongings were taken from them and listed on a paper which was handed to them. This paper, and another one, which said that they should leave the country within 8 days were handed to them. Fingerprints of all of their fingers were taken.

After that procedure, the friends were separated and put into 4 different cells. The respondent was imprisoned for 35 days, in a cell with 3 other people. His friends who were imprisoned on the same day are still there. (As of: 06.07.2019)

During his stay, there was never a translator provided and at no point did he receive information about the concrete reasons why he was imprisoned and how long he had to stay.

“When I asked the guards why they keep me, they said I should speak to the boss, but the boss was never available for me.”

The conditions in the prison were quite rough, as the interviewee described. Portions of food were small and consisted mainly of bred and 2 small packages of cheese and jam. Old bred that was clearly from the day before was served. It was possible to buy extra food, which was expensive compared to what it was worth. Articles for hygiene were not provided at all, the interviewee bought one shampoo for 4 Euros. Inside the cell there was a toilet and a sink. Detainees had to wash themselves with cold water via this sink because they weren’t brought to a washing room. In the buildings there were 2 floors with cells and prisoners of each floor were allowed to take a walk outside for 1 hour per day inside the yard, in an area that was about 20 square meters. The detention prison was full — at that time, there were around 70 people.

“Some people are already there for 10 months, without doing anything, just because they caught them in Bihać or Velika Kladuša and don’t want them to be there.”

The respondent reports that many of his fellow detainees didn’t know anything precise about the reasons for their detention and, in some cases, seemed without an actual violation of a law that would be a legitimization for the detainment. Besides that, people were detained because of entering Bosnia with a Montenegrin paper or “because they made a problem”. The interviewee reported  one example of an imprisoned Pakistani person, who didn’t have a passport with him and didn’t register in the asylum seekers office and therefore was detained. But this person had a visa for Italy with him, issued by an Italian embassy, because the brother of this person already lives in Italy. His plan was to just pass the country within the 3 days where it is possible to stay as tourist without a registration, but in these days police controlled and afterwards detained him. At the time of recording the interview (beginning of July, 2017), this men from Pakistan was imprisoned for about 4 months.

The interviewee was also speaking about a tragic event where someone died inside the detention center. It didn’t happen at the time he was there, but the person who told him, was a cellmate and witness, who is still detained. One Algerian men became sick inside the cell in February 2019. In the night, he began to spit blood. His cellmates punched against the door and yelled for police the whole night. When the guards showed up in the morning to bring the breakfast, the men was dead.

How long I have to stay in this prison?”, is the most asked sentence by imprisoned people with always the same answer: “Ask the boss”. The state of the art, as described, is to keep detainees incapable of acting by not speaking with them and giving them hardly any information.

There is only one possibility to speak to someone else than other prisoners and the guards. Once in a while, IOM-staff shows up and offers counseling about a deportation to the country of origin, so called “Assisted Voluntary Return” (Quoted from: https://bih.iom.int/assisted-voluntary-return). Every attempt of the interviewee to speak to a lawyer was rejected.

“Some people even said yes, because they have no idea about how long they can stay there! If you stay there already for 3 months, 4 months, 10 months and nobody is speaking to you, and you don’t know how long you have stay there, it’s clear you want to go back to Morocco [… ] It’s not about having freedom, because they deport you to a country where you are not free also.”

The pushback from the detention center in Sarajevo to Montenegro happened on the 23rd of June 2019 at the official border crossing points in Šćepan Polje (MNE).

As the interviewee described the procedure of the guard to pick the chosen ones for a pushback to Montenegro, it seems also pretty random.

“He don’t have names, he just points the finger and said, you, you, you and you.”

From his personal belongings he didn’t get useful things for a travel back: he only received his clothes, but not his sleeping bag, knife and lighter. He had spent all his money inside the prison to buy food and other things. His phone was returned to him, but the “Maps.me”-App was deleted.

Two officers were present during the pushback. 2 papers were handed out to him. One was about his personal belongings and another one which said that he is not allowed to enter the country for one year. On the street between the border checkpoint of Bosnia and the border checkpoint of Montenegro in Šćepan Polje, all the passengers were dropped off and ordered to go to Montenegro. While passing the Montenegrin police officers at the border checkpoint, he asked for help to find the way to Nikšić (MNE), and this officer only replied:

“Haijde, Marsch!”