One Algerian family from Oran consisting of a mother (40), a father (45) and two daughters (7, 10), together with five Kabyle single men (24, 29, 33, 35, 37), a woman and a man from Morocco (29, 34) and three single men from Tunisia (19, 36, 38) departed from Velika Kladuša (BiH) at 6:00PM on May 26. They crossed Glina River and walked for four rainy days and nights through the forest in the Croatian inner land. While crossing a street near Pokupsko (HR), they were seen by a local family who, the respondent assumed, called the authorities. One hour laters, the police arrived in the forest near Pokupsko (see Fig. 1).
Fig. 1: Place of Apprehension
Around midnight on May 30, eleven police officers encircled the group. They were wearing night vision goggles, masks, dark blue uniforms and massive boots. They shot in the air and shouted “Stop, Stop!” as they blinded the individuals with flashlights. The officers were shouting at the group in the Croatian language and told them to hand over their luggage. They also took pictures of them with their smartphones.
“One of the first thing they were doing: take selfies with us!”
The police men waited for more officers to arrive, however they seemed to not be bored while waiting for the other officers to arrive. Instead, they tried to pass the time by cheerfully socializing with each other. They were laughing and chatting and the respondents witnessed some of the officers getting more and more drunk while sipping on their hip flasks. The police casually asked the respondents for their nationality and their planned destination. When the respondents replied that they want to go to Zagreb (HR) in order to ask for asylum, the officers answered:
“Shut up, shut up!” and “five minutes Velika Kladusa, five minutes!”
After 30 minutes, more officers wearing the same uniforms arrived which made a total of 25-30 officers on the ground.
The police escorted the group members to a nearby street where five police cars were waiting for them: two vans, one prisoner transporter (all type Mercedes Sprinter) and two smaller police cars. All fourteen individuals were taken into the windowless prisoner transporter. Inside the van there were two benches facing each other and the fan inside made a monotonous noise during the one hour drive. The respondents felt that the drivers were deliberately driving recklessly and some of the individuals had to vomit during the drive.
Arriving at a point on the Bosnian side of the border near Poljana (see map), the individuals were taken out of the van two by two (see Fig. 2) by six or seven of the same police officers as before, who stood on both sides of the van’s side door.
Fig. 2: Sketch of the procedure at the border by one of the respondents
“They made a line of policemen at the right, one at the left, two by two of us in the middle running towards the luggage. They stopped us, body-searched us, took our money, our phones. The good phones they keep, the bad phones they destroy in front of us. […] Afterwards punches, kicks and beatings coming from both sides.”
Fig. 3: Swollen knee from beating with batons
Fig. 4: Bruise from beating with batons
Just after getting out of the van, they were body searched and their cell phones were taken, as well as around 600€ altogether. The officers kept in total nine or ten power banks and five cellphones for themselves and destroyed seven more with the black batons that they also used to beat the respondents.
Fig. 5: Destroyed phones
The women were body-searched by male officers as well and beaten like the others, only the children were spared the whole procedure.
Fig. 6: Bruise on woman’s leg from beating with batons
The respondents’ had the impression that the taller individuals were, in general, exposed to harsher treatment and stronger beatings than the smaller people. The believed the same was true for those individuals who protested against the treatment. One man from Tunisia not only beaten with the baton, but also punched and kicked on the legs, arms and his torso, as well as being beaten on his head several times. The individuals that already passed through the entire procedure waited down the slope for their friends and family members to arrive. It took around 20-25 minutes for all individuals of the group to endure this procedure. As the push back was located close to a river and they had to move forward away from the border and the officers, the individuals had to cross the Glina River just after the pushback.
They walked back to Velika Kladusa with soaked clothes, some of them limping.