Four members of a group of six men who tried to cross from Serbia into Croatia at the Batrovci border checkpoint on the A3 highway described the violence they experienced after their attempt was discovered. This group of men had stayed in Šid for approximately one month, and the majority had tried to cross together twenty-five times, attempting it almost every night. All spoke some words of English during the interview, but one respondent, who had a greater level of fluency, provided the majority of the responses, frequently interpreting for other interviewees.
At a location approximately a ten-minute drive from the Serbian-Croatian border, the men hid inside a large container, which was placed with a truck. At the border checkpoint, the truck was stopped and searched by the Croatian police. One respondent stated that the police hit the underside of their container with batons prior to removing them, careful to ensure that they were out of view of the checkpoint’s security cameras as they did so. The Croatian police transferred them to the Serbian police, who were already present at the checkpoint. The men remembered that nine Serbian police officers in official uniforms were present but were unable to recall the precise number of Croatian officers, stating that “so much” Croatian police “stand at the border.” All officers communicated with the men exclusively in English.
The Serbian police then brought the group behind the truck, where the cameras could not record their activity, and committed physical and material violence against them. The respondents said that three men were badly hurt. One man’s injuries included his inner thigh, which an officer had stepped on with great force, large red bruises on his back, the result of being beaten with a baton, and a badly hurt lower arm and wrist, again from an assault with a baton and so damaged that the interviewer observed he struggled to use his hand due to evident pain. Two other men were punched, one in the nose and the other in the cheek. All officers had handguns holstered at their waists but did not use them to threaten the respondents.
The men were told that they must stare only at the ground; if they looked up, police officers hit them with batons until they resumed this position. Several respondents indicated through both speech and gesture that officers had kneed them forcefully. They stated that one Serbian police officer, a short man they had encountered before, was particularly violent.
The officers broke two phones, which they then returned, and confiscated two others. The officer who broke one of the phones did so by putting it behind his back, out of view of any cameras, and smashing the screen with the base of his handgun. One respondent said his phone was not taken because he hid it in his sleeve, where the police did not think to search.
After detaining them for one or two hours, by the respondents’ best estimate, at the border, Serbian police officers put them into police cars and drove them to various locations around Šid, Serbia. The respondents indicated that separate police vehicles drove to at least three places but did not specify how many vehicles the Serbian police had in total at the border checkpoint. Each location at which the men were released was a significant distance from their point of origin. One respondent said that “six hours, eight hours, ten hours we [were] coming by foot” to return to their camp. The officers told the respondents to “go to [the] camp.”
Because the men did not pass the border checkpoint, they did not attempt to request asylum, although they stated that they would have done so if given the opportunity.