In the early morning hours of September, a group of 14 people-on-the-move were pushed back from Croatia to Serbia. In the previous hours, the men had crossed into Croatia from Serbia on foot with the hope of continuing on towards Slovenian but were stopped along a remote, dirt road in a forested area near Vinkovci by a group of two male officers who approached the group in a patrol vehicle. The officers, who were described as wearing light blue, short-sleeved uniforms, shouted at the group to “Stop!” and when the the people-on-the-move started to run away, they discharged their handguns into the air four times, after which they became scared and stopped.
The respondent told us that him and his friends were then ordered to sit on the ground and had to wait for 20-30 minutes with a lot of mosquitos biting them. The officers asked which languages the group-members spoke, after which point they only spoke in Croatian for the rest of their interactions and insulted the people-on-the-move.
When a van, described by the respondent as being a white prisoner-transport vehicle with police written on it, arrived to the scene shortly after, the officers directed them to enter it and they were then transported directly back to the Serbian border. Two male officers, wearing dark-blue uniforms and helmets, were described as driving this van. The ride in the took about 30 minutes from near Vinkovci to the pushback location The pushback location was described as being very deserted, with no settlements or houses visible around and quite far away from the railway line. During the interview the respondent pointed into the direction north of Tovarnik.
Arriving to the Serbian border, the police took everything from the people-on-the-move including all their clothes except underwear. The respondent said, he watched the police take the “better” phones and money into their own pockets. The rest of the belongings was covered with petrol and burned.
The Croatian authorities were described as beating the respondent and his friends with batons and discharged a large amount of pepper-spray on the group-members. The respondent mimed to us how he was basically being blinded by it and therefore not being able to provide close descriptions of the police officers. He also said, that his eyes kept burning for another to days and that he couldn’t see clearly because of that.
“Two days I felt like my eyes were burning”
From the place where they were pushed back, it took the people-on-the-move approximately six hours on foot to return back to their starting location.