“I searched for three hours in the river [for my friend], but he was gone”

  • Date and time: June 7, 2019 07:00
  • Location: Kočevje, Slovenia
  • Coordinates: 45.6409009, 14.863312800000017
  • Push-back from: Slovenia, Croatia
  • Push-back to: Bosnia
  • Demographics: 6 person(s), age: 17, 27, 26, 24, 28, 33, , from: Morocco
  • Minors involved? Yes
  • Violence used: destruction of personal belongings, theft of personal belongings
  • Police involved: 10 Croatian police; 9 Slovenian police
  • Taken to a police station?: yes
  • Treatment at police station or other place of detention: detention, fingerprints taken, photos taken, personal information taken, denial of food/water
  • Was the intention to ask for asylum expressed?: No
  • Reported by: Border Violence Monitoring

    Original Report

    A group of six men from Morocco departed from Bihać (BiH) by bus and arrived in Šturlić (BiH) at around 7:30AM on May 28. They spent the day by the Šturlova River that divides the Bosnian and Croatian borders. The respondent stated that two people driving a car with a Swedish license plate came up and spoke to the group and tried to find out information about where they were going. According to the respondent, he believed these were civilian police officers because a few minutes after the people left, a Bosnian man told them to be careful because they are police.

    The group waited until it was dark outside and around 9:00PM they crossed the small river. They had no trouble getting across because there was a small cable for them to hold onto as they walked through the shallow water. All six group members crossed, but when they arrived in Croatia, there were six or seven Croatian officers waiting for them. Three individuals managed to run away while the other three members of the group were apprehended and pushed back to Bosnia.

    The three members of the group who escaped the police walked in the forests for nine days until they reached the Slovenian border. They struggled in the forests because they ran out of food after four days. For five days they walked without eating and three days without water. They arrived to the Slovenian border at 3:00PM on June 6 and they tried to cross the Kolpa River.

    “It took me fifteen minutes to swim across the river. The water looked calm on top, but underneath it felt like someone was pulling me down. I was a swim instructor in Morocco, but my friend could not swim well. He went in the water but he didn’t come out. I looked for him for three hours but I never found him.”

    The respondent got to the other side of the river but the two other group members could not manage to swim across. One individual was pulled under the water by the undercurrent and did not resurface. The other individual started swimming but turned around and returned to the Croatian side of the border. The respondent left his bag on the Slovenian side of the border and spent three hours swimming in the river looking for his friend and walking along the coast trying to sight him.

    Finally, the respondent swam back to the Croatian side of the river and met his friend who had turned around. They gave up on their search for the third member of their group after three hours. They walked along the river to find a place that was more shallow. They traveled two kilometers west and found a place where they could wade through the water to reach the Slovenian side of the border.

    As soon as they reached Slovenia, they returned to the village Dolenji Radenci (SLO) where they first tried to cross. The respondent picked up the bag he left behind around 9:00PM and walked at a fast pace for ten more hours, traveling 40 kilometers until the Slovenian police caught them.

    “We walked fast because we walked on the road. We weren’t afraid to walk there because we thought if the police catch us they will take us to camp in Ljubljana.”

    A police car drove by around 7:00AM. There was a male and female officer in the car. The group members told the police that they were going to Ljubljana and the police told them that they would take them there, but they first must wait.

    The police keep the men in the road and after thirty minutes three more officers arrive in a big white van without windows. The three officers put them inside the van and drive twenty minutes to a police station.

    “There was no oxygen inside the van”

    When they arrived at the station, the police checked all of their possessions and put them in a cell for three hours. They were called out one by one and the police told them to open their phones and the police checked their maps and pictures. The police gave a phone back to one group member but not to the respondent. He believed that he had too many points on the map saved and the police didn’t want him to have it back.

    In the station they also signed nine papers, gave their finger prints and were given a translator who the respondent believes was from Syria. He asked for their identifying information and where they had come from.

    In the first day, the police did not give them any food or water. On the second day they received four pieces of bread. They asked to use the toilet and sometimes the police said ‘yes’, other times the answer was ‘no.’

    The respondent did not tell the police that they crossed the Kulpa River but the police saw a video in his phone and told him that he was lying. The police drove the two group members back to the river in two vans with 12 Syrians who had also been detained at the police station.

    It was a thirty minute drive to the border. The Croatian police were waiting at the border at 11:00AM. The Croatian police took the fourteen individuals to a police station for 30 minutes, where they took the group members’ fingerprints and photos. Then the police drove them to the Bosnian border.

    “Ten days of walking and in two hours I found myself back in Bosnia”

    The police left the group in the forest close to the border. They broke their phones, charging ports, and SIM card holders with a knife. The group walked twenty kilometers into Bosnia from the border and then a car picked them up and drove them to Velika Kladuša (BiH).