On Tuesday, the 12th of October 2021, at around 5 pm a group of five men from Afghanistan was apprehended, first partially, then fully, by the authorities close to the A1 highway in Slovenia, about 15 kilometers east of Trieste. The group, aged mostly between twenty and thirty, had already been in transit for 12 days, walking the whole of the day, and sleeping at night, having started from the Bosnian town of Bihać.
The bread they had brought had been finished for three days, and since then, the 28-year old respondent said, they had been walking without food, only eating small apples from trees they passed on the way. Having reached roughly this position (45.665171, 13.968692), and left with a total of 20 Euro for the five people, one of the transit group who had started to become sick urged the others to go to a nearby village whereupon two people, including the other 27-year old respondent, of the transit group walked into town to find some bread. There, while walking on the street in town, they were approached by what they said were two Slovenian police officers in one police car. When they were apprehended by the officers the two of the transit group, considering the dire circumstances they were in, decided to surrender on behalf of the rest of the group, hoping to formally apply for Asylum with the Slovenian authorities. They thus obeyed the authorities’ orders and took them to find the other three of the group who had been waiting for them in the forest near the highway outside of town. The 28-year-old respondent recalled the group of two returned in custody of the officers around one and a half hours after their departure. There the authorities arrived with a total of five officers, four described by the respondents as male and one female, in two police cars. The officers reportedly all wore light blue short-sleeve shirts and dark trousers.The rest of the group also surrendered to the authorities.
The authorities then drove them for what the 28-year old respondent said felt like one hour to an unknown police station where they spent one night. Before putting the respondents in the car, the officers had confiscated all of the transit group’s phones. Still, the respondents related they were relieved and slept very well that night, thinking they would be given asylum, since they were made to each take Covid-tests, sign papers, and had pictures and fingerprints of their indexes taken. The papers contained several pages with about four to five signatures they all had to give, in a language unknown to the respondents, for which no translation was provided. The officers only told them to “Sign here”, explaining when they caught refugees they had to make them sign these papers. As the 27-year old respondent from the Pashtun region of Afghanistan related:
“For tomorrow, I was so happy! That night I was sleeping too good, I said ‘Now I have stay [asylum].’“
“I spoke with one police officer, I asked: ‘This is stay [asylum], my friend?’ He said: ‘I don’t know, we see the boss tomorrow.’” Another time a respondent asked: “This means stay [asylum]?” Upon which the responding police officer started laughing, saying “Hahaha, maybe!”
When the 28-year old respondent asked which city they were in, one officer replied what the two respondents from the Pashtun region understood by ear as “Kučuwijk”; it would be possible he was referring to the police station of Kočevje (https://goo.gl/maps/jiSDLLFZhHVjg7b37), about 100 km by car from the site of apprehension, although this does not completely correspond to the recalled driving times. They were given food to eat at the police station. The toilet, however, was openly contained in the single detention room they were also forced to stay in, with no possible privacy, which made the respondents feel very uncomfortable.
The next morning, the 27-year-old respondent recalled at 7.30 a.m., two more vehicles with three Slovenian police officers came to take all five members of the transit group to the Slovenian-Croatian border, where they arrived at around 9.30 a.m. after about two hours of driving. Two Croatian police cars were waiting for them at the roadside; six Croatian officers were visible to them, although the 28-year-old respondent suspects that more were also present. At the border there was another small police station, which according to the interviewee consisted of only one large room, next to a village on the Croatian side of the Slovenian-Croatian border, which they could see from the car. There they waited in the car for another half an hour.
At the border the two respondents recalled that also other transit groups were detained, which were from not only Afghanistan but also Pakistan and Bangladesh. In total, they estimated about 40 more people detained in four black police vans. When they were handed over to the Croatian authorities which consisted of between 14 and 15 officers wearing all-black uniforms who had come in four to five cars, including three female officers wearing slightly different uniforms than the males, one Croatian officer also asked them to hand over their money, of which they had none left, however.
“When we were deported to Croatia, one police officer came: ’You have money, you have money?’ No money we had!”
All officers were wearing the same black uniform, except for four officers who were additionally wearing a mask covering their faces. On their left chest and left upper arm of the uniform the 27-year old respondent remembered seeing the word ‘Policija’, and also the letters ‘HRT’ for Hrvatska. Upon showing pictures of the different kinds of uniforms of Croatian authorities to the two respondents after their description, they said the officers were wearing uniforms strongly resembling those of the Croatian Intervention police.
With four people from another transit group – nine passengers in total in the van – they then drove to another town, whose location the respondents could not recall as the van had no windows in the back they sat in, for what felt between half an and a full hour. There the officers got out and left them to wait in the car for what the respondents say were about two hours. Both respondents suspected that the officers went out to eat something.
During this waiting period, multiple people of the group became sick, as the car was parked in the strong noon sun, and became very hot with nine people inside; the oxygen decreased while the windows were closed and air conditioning turned off. People of the transit group were beating with their fists against the walls of the van to make the officers come back and turn on the air conditioning while three people had to throw up into their shirts.
“Everyone did call for the police, my friend. You cannot speak with the Croatian police.”
The transit group was then driven for four hours to a forested area without roads on the Bosnian-Croatian border, about 30 km northeast of the small Bosnian town of Velika Kladuša. Despite the preceding and subsequent violence, the 27-year-old respondent still described the officers as comparatively “good policemen” because they then kept a normal temperature in the car and tended to drive safely instead of severely underheating or overheating the rear of the van or recklessly taking sharp turns at high speed, as they said they had experienced during several previous pushbacks from Croatia.
When they were pushed across the border at around 5 pm, the officers forced them to put their mobile phones and powerbanks into a large plastic bag that one of the officers had ready along the route, and then put them back into their car. The 27-year-old respondent recalled being beaten by one of the female officers while being forced to hand over his phone. Two of the officers, as described by the interviewee, carried long black rifles which they pointed at the transit group. As they were forced across the border into Bosnia, the respondents lined up the group, with one of the masked officers on each side, and both took turns beating each person in the line on different parts of the back with heavy branches from the forest. Each person was beaten up. The 27-year-old interviewee also told that the Croatian officers did not speak to them, but only called them several swear words and insults.
From the pushback point, the transit group said it took them about seven to eight hours to return to Velika Kladuša on foot. From there it took them another two days to get back to Bihać, as they were slowed down by blisters on their feet from walking for days and had no money for a bus.