On August 14 at night, a group of ten individuals from Algeria and Morocco left from Sturlic for their transit attempt towards Italy. They walked through the woody and mountainous Croatian inner land for four days. As they were drinking rain water and from small streams and were not very well equipped to walk during these hot days and cold nights, one individual caught fever and continued hiking while taking paracetamol.
“We saw lots of animals, we saw the bear in the area where you are not allowed to go [note of the reporter: Military training area ‘Eugen Kvaternik’ in Croatia], but we had to cross. And we slept there. When health is good we say hamdoulilah, it’s life.”
The group went through the Croatian military training area “Eugen Kvaternik” (see Fig. 1), aware of the risk of running into Croatian Special Forces who are, according to the respondent, often present for trainings in this area.
Fig. 1: Military area “Eugen Kvaternik” in Croatia
On their fourth day of transit, on August 18 at around 7.00 or 7.30 PM, the group was discovered by three officers whose uniform description matches with Croatian Special Forces, armed with batons and big weapons that the respondent describes as kalashnikovs. (See Fig. 2, estimated coordinates: 45.183399, 15.346270)
Fig. 2: Point of apprehension
“Maybe they saw us on a trail. We were on a trail and while we walked they came, one behind us and two before us, they were three. One says stop, he shoots with a gun in the air.”
The respondent reports that three men were trying to run away and the officers took this as an excuse to beat four people from the whole group with batons while apprehending them. They were mainly beaten on their torsos and extremities, however one individual was also severely beaten on the head which resulted in a bleeding wound.
“They did not hit me because I had taken my ventolin spray saying ‘I am asthmatic’, I showed my ventolin spray to them when they approached me with their batons, I showed it so they spare me. I was afraid of having my head smashed. They hit my friend and another one, and two others.”
It took the three officers five minutes to apprehend the group. They were casually asked their nationality and group size, bodysearched and told that they would hand them over to police. In total, the three officers took six phones, five power banks and 550€ in cash from the whole group which was later given to the second unit. The officers described as Special Forces had a van parked somewhere else and walked around one or two kilometres to get to this point together with the group. The van had camouflage colours and no windows in the back, the whole group was put in the back of it and they drove around one hour to the exit of the military zone – “a gate like an official entrance where it says ‘forbidden to enter'”.
At this gate, around 8:30 PM on August 18, they were handed over to another unit of three police officers in a van. Two of them were wearing light blue uniforms, one of them a black suit.
“They say like that ‘where are you from, how many people are you’, we say we are ten, they search us and they put us in the van.”
“We said ‘Can we make asylum in Zagreb?’ and they just replied ‘OK OK’. We told the military and the police, both of them said ‘OK OK’.”
In this second van, they drove around one hour and thirty minutes while taking several brakes without the door being opened for the group. The respondent describes the back of the van as very hot and the driving purposely reckless in order to create confusion and vertigo amongst the individuals.
At around 10.30 PM on August 18, the van arrived on a little forest trail near Sturlic (BiH) on the Croatian side of the border (See Fig. 3, estimated coordinates: 45.031615, 15.759882)
Fig. 3: Estimated point of pushback
They opened the door of the van, blinded the individuals with torches and let them exit one by one, standing on both sides of the door while beating them with batons. (See Fig. 4)
Fig. 4: Bled in the inside of the eye resulting from beating with batons
There was another police van with windows present and around five more police officers, all wearing the same black suits like the one officer from the team that was already present at the exit of the military area. At this point, all officers were smelling strongly of alcohol.
Next to the van, there was a fire lit and all individuals were forced to burn their luggage.
“You got out from the van and he asks you where is your bag, you say ‘this one’, he tells you ‘take it’ and you find fire and he tells you ‘put it inside’.”
After that, the officer pushed them towards Sturlic from where the group had to walk back to Velika Kladusa around 25 kilometres.