On Sunday, the 21st of November around 4.45 4.50 pm – the sun reportedly already had set about half an hour ago – a transit group of five men, some from the Pashto speaking, some from the Punjab region of Pakistan, was apprehended in a hillside by the authorities, around two kilometers northeast of the Croatian mountain village of Modruš.
The group had started their transit attempt on the 17th, leaving the Bosnian town of Bihać around 8.30pm, walking for six hours to then making camp at 2am in the mountains at the green border, before two of the group had to come back to Bihać the next day as their phone they used for maps was not working. After these straight 12 hours of walking back to get a new mobile phone, the group continued together again on the night to the 19th after midnight. At 4am of the same night the group then crossed the border to Croatia, then continuing crossing through all of the Plitvice Lakes National Park.
It was then, on their fifth day of walking, that the transit group was spotted and apprehended from behind by two Croatian men in black uniforms, according to the 32 year-old respondent having written ‘Policija’ on their uniforms, seeming to be aged in about their mid-thirties. The 32 year-old respondent mentioned that he had been concerned before already, as the rest of their group seemed to be constantly talking, which he feared would get them to be spotted by police. Reportedly, the apprehension happened just after, having crossed the 23 as well as the E71 highway, the group decided to take a break in the forest of the hillside not too far from the road.
“We crossed from downside, we were sitting here. [One of the group] said to me ‘Please, for five minutes, let’s wait here.’ I said ‘No, no, no, no. We go outside off this road, after that we wait. He started smoking, I was also sitting, I smoked one cigarette. […] After that I said ‘Okay, here we make some coffee.’ We made some coffee, Nescafe, and after that [another one of the group] said ‘Oh I want to eat now.’”
The 22-year-old respondent related the men were pointing their guns at them, calling “Stop!”, upon which the respondent said he stopped and called to the 17-year-old respondent, who was just catching up, still about 30m behind them, to also slowly come, saying “Here’s police!” The 32-year-old respondent suspected they had come off the road without a car, following them on foot after spotting them:
“I think only 20 meters we walked. I said ‘I hear something from my side.’ […] I said ‘You stay here, I go and check, after that I come back, me and [another member of the group]. 15, 20 steps we walked, after that the police was like ‘Don’t move! Don’t run!’ […] They said ‘Hands up!’”
When asked to describe further the two men who reportedly wore black uniforms, the 22 year-old respondent as most others of the group related he did not look much at them, as he was keeping his head down, and only remembered that they were both carrying pistols in their holsters. The 17 year-old respondent, reportedly having spent over a year in Bosnia already and speaking some of the language, related that one of the officers said to the other in Serbo-Croatian to take the baton and beat them. The other man reportedly responded “No, they didn’t run.”
According to the 32-year-old man, they asked the group where they were from, upon which they answered Pakistan, and why they had come here and where they were going, upon which they responded Italy. The 17-year-old respondent related that he told to the officers that after almost two years spent stuck in Bosnia, this was now his 32nd transit attempt through Croatia but said the officers, however, were laughing at this. The transit group was told to sit down and asked whether they were carrying weapons. After 20 minutes another white van and car, also having ‘Policija’ written on it, in what one respondent remembered as dark blue, one as black, with new officers arrived, which the 22 year-old man remembered had a ‘ZG’ Zagreb license plate. Apparently in the additionally arriving forces there was also what could have been a translator present.
“So we stopped, and we came off road, and two police cars came there. […] They said ‘You don’t have a passport, you don’t have a visa.’ […] After that [the 17 year-old respondent] said to the police ‘I came 32 times already’ [meaning transit attempts] So [the Croatian officers] said something about him in Croatian. [..] [The 22 and 17 year-old respondent] speak Pashto. One man understood, he said ‘I am Pakhtun.’ He maybe understood Pashto and Urdu. So he asked ‘Who is the boss?’ I said we don’t have a boss. After that two more cars came, one kombi [meaning a van] and one car, in white and black.”
According to the 32 year-old respondent, these vehicles were white with a black stripe, and with them arrived one female and four male officers, some of them wearing black balaclavas covering their faces, and also carrying black batons. These officers according to the 32 year-old man searched the bags and jackets of all of the group also confiscating their power banks and only phone, which the respondent was carrying.
“Another team that was coming had sticks [police batons]. They used masks, all black. They checked all body, they had sticks, guns, knives.”
The respondent reported the female officer was checking their phone, reportedly looking at all of their GPS locations and maps.
“She opened my mobile and checked the way we came, she read everything.”
Then all five of the group were put into the van, at first only driving for what the 32-year-old respondent remembered as around 15 minutes before stopping at what he supposed was a police station. The 32 year-old man related that for around 30 to 45 minutes the group was left inside the car to wait outside the station, after five minutes reportedly one of the offices came and one door of the van open, which relieved the group as it let the air circulate. For the case that it was an actual Croatian police station that the group was taken to, it is from the description presumable that the respondent was referring to the Ogulin Police Station, located on the intersection of Gorski Kotar, Lika and Kordun.
“We went to the police station, after five minutes he opened the door. I don’t know why we stayed there, maybe so he could find other people.”
The group was then driven again for what both the 22 and the 32 year-old respondent recalled as around two and a half hours, on the way stopping again at a location which the 22 year-old man suspected either was a migration camp or a police station, the 32 year-old man suspecting it was a police station, and where they had to wait inside the van for about four to five minutes, before being split and transferred into two different vans, the 32 year-old respondent and 19 year old member of the group in one, the other three in the other van. The 32 year-old man related in his car also seven other people on the move were being transported to the border, while the 22 year-old van, in the van with the other two members of his group, reported six to seven Afghani and Pakistani men from another transit group, having been apprehended close to Zagreb, also being driven and pushed back with him in the same vehicle.
“We again went to another police station, there they two more kombis, big kombis [vans].”
For this last hour of driving before they reached the border, the two vans were reportedly following each other back to back, the 22 year-old respondent related from the back of the van he was only able to see through a heavily blurred window facing in front towards the drivers, through which he saw the lights of the other van that he suspected was accompanying them to the pushback site. Apart from this heavily blurred van, the backs of the vans were closed without windows. The group reportedly sat on a metal block, formed like a bench, on the floor. The 22 year-old respondent also reported how the officers driving his van were continuously accelerating and braking, leading them to bounce around helplessly in the back of the van.
“They wanted to disturb me, all the time they were braking. […] We were touching the sides [of the van] all the time. Side, back, side, right […] we sat no good, and they went like this: they brake, and they charge [accelerate].”
The 22 year-old man also stressed that the air in the back of the van was barely breathable, telling further that the officers had released a gas in the back of then van which caused most of the group to feel sick, leading one man from the other apprehended transit group to even throw up during the drive. The respondent reported that when at the border, the officers seeing the vomit when opening the van told the group to clean it up. The 32 year-old man reported the same in the other car, saying he gave a plastic bag to someone having to be sick.
“There was one gas, I don’t know which!” [22 year-old respondent:] “They used some oxygen for torture” “Vomiting, I felt like vomiting, just vomiting. I gave them one plastic […] We were in that car, and two people vomited.”
At the pushback site on the green border, on which the group reportedly arrived around 8pm and which was the up of an hillside in the forest, not visible as a border but looking the same on both sides, the respondents said they were able to see around six officers present and awaiting them upon opening the vans, all wearing black uniforms, also saying ‘Policija’ on them. The 22 year-old man reported one of them having two to three stars on the upper arm of his uniform, and one of the officers in uniform carrying a rifle resembling an AK-47 gun with two magazines. As well he said there were also men in civilian clothing present and that the officers were using torches with red lights. The 32 year-old respondent believed some of them had arrived in additional cars, he explained his guess the following way:
“Two [officers] are coming to the border, they see the situation: there isn’t any police here. So they call other police officers. So they come here and they don’t have a problem deporting the people.”
He also mentioned that he suspected in picking the location the Croatian officers were being careful not to be seen by Bosnian border police.
“They deport us in the jungle [forest] because they must see at the location that there is no Bosnian border police. Because they [always] deport at another site, where there is no Bosnian police. They would make them problems.”
Upon exiting the van, the officers returned to the group their before confiscated belongings, including their phone. Then reportedly one officer was staying next to the car, while other two of them were walking over to the border with them for two to three minutes, only pointing their flashlights into the Bosnian side of the border, telling them to go there. The 17 year-old respondent also remembered some officers cursing: “They said to me ‘Jebem ti!’ [being used in Serbo-Croatian similar to ‘Fuck!’]”
“Two policemen came and opened the door, one lady officer was standing there, waiting for us. And one man said ‘Come, one by one’ And I left first, so he said to me: ‘You take your stuff’ Bags and food and that. […] They didn’t beat us because the lady officer was very nice, she said ‘No beating’.”
The 22 year-old respondent reported then first walking down from the hill they were at for 20 minutes, then arriving to a road again, presumably the R403b, leading from Bihać down south also past the Lipa migration camp (“One road went to Lipa, one to the side of Bihać”). After 15 minutes of walking, they reportedly encountered an abandoned house down the hill; upon seeing the first locals they also asked a Bosnian man for directions. He also told that later, while walking along the road, an IOM car came up to them asking them whether they wanted to go to the Lipa camp, upon which they said no.
From the site of pushback, the 32 and 19-year-old respondents reported arriving back walking at their makeshift camp just outside of Bihać around 11 pm; the 22-year-old respondent remembered walking back for what he remembered as about four hours back to the center of Bihać, he estimated it as about 30 kilometers.