On the 5th of November, around 5 pm, a transit group of six men, all from the Pashtun-speaking region in Pakistan, was apprehended by authorities in Slovenia around five kilometers – according to the respondent 30 minutes walking distance – east of the Italian city of Trieste, after they had already crossed the Slovenian A1 highway, and an additional two-path road after that.
The group had been walking for a total of 14 days and one night, starting their transit attempt from the Bosnian city of Bihać, and while walking through the forest was surprised by nine male officers in army-green uniforms; the men’s pants and hats also the same color. According to the 20-year-old respondent, before, these men had been lying down on their stomachs on the ground, hidden in the forest, covered because of the cold in what the respondent described as camouflage “sleeping bags”, and had already awaiting them. The respondent related this because apparently, the officers were wearing “sensors in their ears”, which he suspected were connected to some form of sonic detectors, with the help of which they had located the transit group. They were also carrying what the respondent, having had prior experience with the military in his native country, described as a form of M14 rifles, with which upon apprehension they fired two warning shots in the air.
“They were lying down, in the jungle. They were waiting for these guys because they could hear that somebody was coming towards them. They were waiting for them and when they came close, they just stand up, and say ‘Stop!’ They were lying down there, hiding themselves so no one could see them.” [Quoted from a 28-year old man, living at the same squat, who helped to translate for the respondent from Pashtu to English]
The officers then took the arrested transit group to the place where they parked their cars, two relatively big white jeeps, with a spare tire fixated on the back of the vehicle, parked close to a nearby road. The 20-year old man said he also asked for Asylum, and permission to stay in Slovenia, but only received the answer “No, you cannot.” When asked further about the nature of the uniforms these officers were wearing, the respondent remarked:
“On the commando [meaning the officers dressed in army-green] uniform on here [pointing at the upper arm] there was a badge, with three lines. The middle line, it was big, longer. And the sides were a little bit smaller, but the lines were just like snakes [drawing a curvy line into the air with his finger].”
According to the respondent the Slovenian authorities had also called for another car before, which then arrived in form of a blue van without windows in the back, that had ‘Policija’ written in white letters on it; driven by two male officers in dark blue uniforms which carried batons as well as guns. These police officers then drove them for what the respondent remembers as 40 to 50 minutes to the Croatia-Slovenian border; as the van was blind they could not see where they were going.
At the site of handover, a gravel road through the forest close to the green border, the respondent said they encountered eight Croatian officers, six of them had arrived in two white jeeps looking similar to those of the Slovenian forces, wearing uniforms and hats in a camouflage pattern with the shades of colors ranging from mostly green and gray to black, some of whom were also carrying rifles, some just pistols. The respondent remarked that while handing over the transit group the Slovenian and Croatian forces were greeting each other in a very friendly way, laughing together, and also yelling insults at the transit group. The 20-year-old respondent, after having spent around two years in Bosnia, told that he spoke some Serbo-Croatian and understood them calling the group “Sister-“ and “Motherfuckers”, asking them in a rhetorical way why they had come to Croatia. After asking in Croatian for Asylum again he understood them answering to him what he translated as “Just go away, motherfucker!”
The remaining two Croatian officers, one male, and one female, who were wearing blue police uniforms, had come with another blue van, also saying ‘Policija’ in white written on it, which the respondent said looked almost the same as the previous van, from the outside as well as the inside, and was also “completely closed” in the back. The respondent related inside the vehicle, which they were then forced into, the transit group could not breathe very well.
“In the car it’s completely closed, and there they have some fan, for the air. Sometimes, there is a heater, sometimes it’s so hot; and sometimes it’s so cold, by the air conditioner.”
He related that inside the last van it had been rather cold already because of the weather outside, but that these officers also used the vehicle’s air conditioning to lower the temperature in the back of the van even more. The enclosed space reportedly also contained a camera from which the respondent suspects they were monitored by the officers in the front.
These two officers then drove the transit group for what the respondent remembers as one to one and half hours, to a Croatian police station on the highway – what the respondent suspected was an immigration office at the Croatia-Slovenian border crossing. The respondent remarked that from the border on they were still being followed by the Croatian camouflage officers in the two white jeeps, but that from the back of the van he was unable to see and that later at the end of the drive they had disappeared already.
“The police station was right in the middle of the road, like a plaza. […] It was close to the border, but also immigration; so the cars, the import, export cars, from other countries, were passing this road. […] So the station was between the immigration road, close to the immigration’s office.”
The immigration’s station according to the respondent’s memory consisted of four rooms between the road where cars and trucks were officially crossing the border, three of them occupied by border police officers, of “some sort of different departments” as the respondent suspected, and one in between the others used as a detention cell; a “normal room” having space for five to six people, which the transit group was searched and held in custody in. The respondent remembered the room had two doors, one made of glass through which the officers outside could see inside, and one made of iron, and also contained one bed.
When asked about the total amount of police present at the site, the 20-year-old man responded that he was unable to see, as it was dark outside already when they arrived and for the whole time they were kept in the same cell without food, water, or a toilet, while the rest of the authorities continued their work around the other three rooms.
While being searched the respondent stressed that the group had to take off all of their clothes, becoming completely naked, even though there was a camera in the room. Then of their clothes, the officers reportedly only returned them their shirts, one of their pairs of trousers – taking away their jackets and additional layers of clothes they were wearing because of the cold – and shoes, but without laces so they were not able to run, or even walk properly.
“The Croatian police took them to the police station and just made them naked; they just took out anything, all clothes. And then they search the body completely, and then took out the laces of the shoes and the socks, anything. After the search, they gave it back, but only T-shirts and trousers, and the shoes without laces. They took their jackets, their hats, their socks, cellphones, anything.”
At the station, the officers who had driven them in the van also forced each of them to sign papers giving all of their personal information; including their full names, date of birth, country, religion, and addresses. The papers were only provided in Croatian, of which the 20-year-old respondent understood some bits. When they were supposed to fill in their ages, and the 17-year old minor of the group had filled in that he was 17, an officer reportedly came up to him beating him on the chest as well as hips; also lifting him up and throwing him down on the ground, then kicking him into his genitals, asking why he had written that, and then erased the numbers to write that the boy was 20.
“Yeah, he wrote seventeen. But after he wrote that the police beat him, beat him so very much, saying ’Why you write seventeen?’ So then the police wrote there twenty, by force.”
When asked how the 17-year-old boy was beaten, the respondent answered:
“Not on the face, they kick him and lift him up and throw him back down, also kicked in his private area. […] They beat them so cleverly, there was no wound, no injury; they just hurt them so much. Beat them on the chest, the belly, the private area; it will not show, the wound or injury, but the man will have so much pain, inside.”
The transit group also had pictures of each of them taken, having to hold a piece of paper on which their name was written while looking into the camera. Again, the officers forced them and did not ask for permission.
“We were saying: ‘We are not terrorists, why are you taking pictures, and why are you arresting us?’”
Here, the 20-year-old respondent asked the authorities again for asylum, also relating his story, that in one of the previous times he had been pushed back from Croatia and asked for asylum some months ago, he was already made to stay seven days in quarantine but was then also driven back to Bosnia again. Again, the responding officer only answered: “No, you cannot stay here.”
Inside their detention cell, the transit group was not alone but had been put together with another already arrested transit group of nine people, members of a family containing three women and six men from Nepal, according to the respondent aged between 20 to 25. As their phones had already been taken, the respondent could not recall the exact time they reached and left the immigration station, except for that it was dark outside, and that the detention lasted around two hours, before the authorities called for another car, into which they forced the two combined groups of now fifteen people. It was also a van in the same blue color as before, having ‘Policija’ written on it, but – despite the now bigger group – smaller than the previous one. The car arrived with two male officers in black uniform jackets, carrying black batons, sitting in front. From the station, they drove for what the respondent remembers as four to five hours to the Bosnia-Croatian border near Velika Kladuša.
Again, the respondent related they were freezing in the car, now presumably even more as several of their clothes had been confiscated at the station, and the officers once again used the air conditioning of the van to lower the temperature in the back of the van even more. The respondent said the officers were repeatedly accelerating to high speeds, only to then abruptly use the brakes of the car, which made the group in the back, without proper seating as in the front, fall into each other.
“They were driving so badly. They were – you know, when it’s so fast they break and everyone is mixed [meaning: falling] into each other.”
For the actual pushback back to Bosnia, the respondent said they were driven into a forest area near the border at a time which he suspected was just before midnight. There were also other Croatian officers were present, in total eight. The 20-year-old man told that he could not recall much of the pushback site, as it was hard to make out any details in the dark of the middle of the night out on the green border, but remembered that it was at a gravel road, next to a stone wall made of cement which was in between the road and a small river running close to it, reaching up to their knees, which they subsequently had to cross. It is presumable that the respondent was talking about the Glina river, which runs along the Bosnia-Croatian green border north of Velika Kladuša, as the respondent also related he crossed Velika Kladuša on his way back to Bihać. With all of their phones taken, however, the respondent was not able to give a precise position, except that it was about 25 kilometers of walking from Velika Kladuša.
At the border, three of the Croatian officers were grouped with one police dog they were holding on a leash. The respondent said the officers had awaited them there and were carrying rifles, in addition to the two men who had driven them and who subsequently were most directly involved in carrying out the pushback. The respondent was not able to remember their uniform other than that it was all-black, as it was still the middle of the night and the officers repeatedly pointed their bright flashlights into their faces. The respondent related the officers also scared them by letting their dogs get close to them and then pulling it back again, and also insulted and told them: “Don’t come again motherfucker, get lost!” When encountering the water, the respondent said the officers just pointed their flashlight at the river, saying “Go this way!”, and stayed on the other side.
“The police made them scare from the dog. They just make a little bit loose the rope, the cable of the dog, and then push it again; pull and push, just like they were scaring, saying ‘Don’t come again!’”
The respondent told that from the border site it took him two full days to walk to his starting point and former squat, the city of Bihać. He related that despite the cold, he had to walk only in his long-sleeve shirt, one pair of trousers, and his dysfunctional shoes, from which the laces had been taken. After what he remembered as around 25 kilometers of walking, still at night, he reached the bus station in the center of Velika Kladuša. On the way, he was able to procure some food from local houses to which he walked and asked for something to eat.