A group of twelve Algerian men, all between 24-26 years old, left from Sturlic (BiH) for their attempt to cross the Croatian-Bosnian border on August 1st around 5.30 AM.
They were walking for 9 days through forests and mountains in Croatian inner land, avoiding bigger streets. It was very hot in this period and they were running out of water and food soon, drinking rain water and sharing few cans of meat.
“Just in the jungle – all the time – because people [in Croatia] can see you. And always they have come, when they come and see you, the police will come in the next station. They [the police officers] don´t come directly to you, they will wait for you at the next station.”
“There was nothing – we forgot our bodies. Difficult travel. You want to drink but you can´t drink. You want to sleep but you can not sleep.”
On August 10, they crossed the river Kolpa at the Croatian-Slovenian border and soon after they arrived in Slovenia, the group split: Seven of them continued their way towards Trieste (IT) while five people aimed to reach Ljubljana (SLO) and contined more eastwards. The group of five was then apprehended little by little by Slovenian police: Two members of the group split from the other to continue their journey by bus and were caught at the bus station in Kočevje (SLO, coordinates: 45.647027, 14.856218) in the morning by local police while trying to catch the bus towards Ljubljana.
“They were not lucky: At 7:10 in the morning [of August 9], they were caught by police, just four minutes before the bus leaves to Ljubljana.”
Three individuals of the group continued, the respondent walked around 20 meters in front of his two friends as a vanguard. However, when local police arrived around 5.30 AM, they didn’t see the respondent but only apprehended the two other group members in Breg pri Kočevju (estimated coordinates: 45.656917, 14.838278).
The respondent then continued alone and took rest in an abandoned house from 6.30 AM to 2.15 PM on August 9 before continuing his journey towards Ljubljana in the evening. On his way, he found an old bike.
“Actually it was a completely useless bike, but I used it! You know, it was big hope, when I found it, I was so tired, I thought it is the biggest gift of my life! It was very much broken, but I went out to use that bike.”
He drove the bike for nine or eleven kilometres, but as as he was driving on a big street instead of using the bycicle path, he attracted the attention of a local police officer who stopped him in Goriča vas (SLO).
The officer iswas described as tall, with green eyes and XX uniform, and the respondent claims that all five individuals were sure that it was the same person involved in the apprehension of all of them.
“He [local police officer] was using a bike too, he makes a sign with light, twice and he talked in Slovenian but I didn´t understand. He said, come on the road is not here, the road is there. I followed the road and he just know that I am immigrant cause my clothes. Maybe one minute and the police came, and I started to explain to him what happened me. I was without shoes. […] I am looking for a work, I am student, I am just 26 years – he said okay I will help you. I told him, do you promise me? He said, I will promise. So, I just stopped and that was it.”
The officer promised to the respondent that he would do everything to bring him to the camp in Ljubljana to get registered, so the respondent stopped and waited with the officer. After a few minutes, a white Mercedes Sprinter police van “with blue and yellow lines” arrived and a man and a woman got off the car. They asked the respondent casually about his nationality, country of destination and when the respondent answered that he wants to apply for asylum in Slovenia, they talked for a while amongst the three of them in Slovenian before telling him: “Go with us to the police station of Kočevje. We will see if we bring you to camp or not.”
They brought him to the police station in Kočevje (SVN) in the evening of August 9 where the respondent was reunified with his four friends who had been apprehended previously.
“I was the last one, my friends were all in the detention cell and said: ‘[Name of the respondent] is going to Ljubljana, he will make it!’, but then I joined them in the cell later.”
In this police station, all men were interrogated one by one, had to give their photos and fingerprints and had to sign papers without being provided a translation. Their phones and power banks were confiscated. No translator was present during the whole process.
“I was trying to explain them in English, in German, in French, just try to help me – sometimes they understood me, sometimes not. Their English was bad, when I wanted to talk about something, I had to use mimic – if I talk about please give me water, I had to make a gesture of a cup to drink. It was not easy to make them understand. They asked many questions but didn’t understand my answers.”
However, the respondent repeated several times to the officers that he lost two phones in Croatia and doesn’t want to be brought to Croatia in the evening as he is convinced that, while being pushed back at night, it is more likely to be exposed to violence. According to the respondent, the Slovenian officers understood his point, felt pity for him and therefore decided to let the group spend the night in the police station and bring them to Croatia in the morning.
The group spent the night on the floor, being provided two or three blankets for all of them. The four friends were not provided any food, only the respondent was given a little bit of bread and chocolate.
In the morning of August 10, the group was brought to one of the last villages on the Slovene side before the border, where they and their belongings were handed over to the Croatian authorities. They drove for two or three hours in a windowless prisoner van.
“I slept maybe twice, maybe three times and when I wake up and asked where we are: who knows – no one knows.”
At one point, the car stopped at a police station, they were waiting for 30 minutes in the heat inside of the car. One police officer opened the door and asked the group if they needed water or food, and as they confirmed he brought them both. After that, two men from Syria and two from Pakistan were put into the van and they continued their ride.
Soon after that, around 2:00 PM on August 10, the van arrived at the Croatian-Bosnian border.
“In the border, the police open the door and said one come – we thought oh no, one by one – please not at this time [remark of the reporter: reference to the common ‘tunnel trick’ where the individuals have to pass one by one through groups of police officers standing on both sides while beating them].
The respondent described that at this point, there was one more prisoner van present with around 13 people in the back who the respondents estimates to be originally from Pakistan.
“A guy from Syria went out and they gave him all stuff, all phone, power bank, charger – and he told him, go away, go away. […] [A]fter that we all followed him – it was not easy to get your phone, maybe some take it – 15 guys from Pakistan and two Syrian – we were just 5 but it was our stuff.”
The Croatian officers remained at their side of the border, behind the border stone. The respondent was not able to identify the place of pushback as his phone was running out of battery, but the group walked around 13 or 14 kilometers westwards back to Velika Kladusa, so he estimates that the pushback took place near Poljana (BiH).