The respondent left Sturlić (BiH) at approximately 03:00 on 15th August 2019. He traveled along with a group of eleven other people from Algeria, all Kabyle.
The transit group, including four minors, had been walking in the forest for six days when they were apprehended by Croatian officers while passing by agricultural fields („pistes agricoles“) near Rijeka (see map below). This initial police contact occurred at 6:00 on 21st August 2019. According to the respondent, the area was watched by drones and helicopters; the officers were hidden in the fields and wearing green uniforms. The transit group heard someone shouting:
Then the officers emerged and ran at the transit group. The respondent tried to run away but claims he was attacked by an officer using a taser. The weapon was handheld, and used to shock the respondent with a electrical current.
“It was a taser like for the beard [electric razor], wireless“.
Nine officers suddenly surrounded the group from all sides and held them at this point.
The respondent tried to make a video of what was happening with his phone. An officer asked what he was doing and then the respondent stopped. The officer seized the phone and immediately began demanding the passcode in order to look up the GPS route the men were taking via the google maps application. The other officers began to frisk and remove all items from the other men:
“First they asked phones, then knives, bladed weapons, power banks, and then money. They love money. [Then] they undressed us. Completely. To see if we [were hiding] something.“
The respondent said that his group asked to “go to camp“, but the answer they got from the officers was negative. After that, the people from the group were beaten several times by the officers who were using police batons, and then forced to enter into the back of a police van with no windows, where they were held for what the respondent felt was fourteen hours. During this time they were not allowed access to a toilet, or offered anything to eat or drink anything. The respondent stressed how they found it difficult to breathe during their containment, due to the high temperature inside.
“They beat us and after they take us in the truck. Very hot. There were fans to breathe but they did not put them on.“
When the van started, they were driven to what the respondent thinks was a police station:
“I know because there were holes in the [side of the van] and I saw… and [we could hear] the keys. […] We stayed 14 hours. From 07:00 to 22:00. No toilets. Nothing. I asked ‘water’ but no reply.“
Later, at night, the twelve people were taken within the same van to the border between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The respondent recalls the location as near to Velika Kladuša, next to the river.
There, six officers described as being dressed in black and wearing ski masks were waiting for them, aligned on one side.
“When they beat me I try see name, sign… but nothing (in reference to their uniform).“
“They made us go one by one. They had masks, headlamps so we cannot see them. They close the door after each one. Six, like this (showing on a paper with his finger) in line and beat us one after the other. They let one go out and close the door [of the van].“
When taken, one by one, out of the van, the officers first removed the individuals shoes and tossed their bag onto an already lit fire. Then they kicked and beat each transit group member separately. The respondent described being beaten with police batons, especially targeted towards his joints (elbows, wrists, knees), and punched in the stomach. When the police had finished with one person, the officers kicked that person into the river and opened the door of the van for the next person to suffer the same treatment.
“The last one had his shoulder dislocated. The first and the last they beat [them] too much.“
Referring to the vulnerability of the group, the respondent stated:
“We have minors. Disabled. Problem. Not good.“
“I said them ‘we have disabled [person]’. Look (showing the feet of his friend). Several operations. Problem.“
But according to the respondent, the police officers questioned how the man had already made transit into Croatia, and questioned the persons disability. To the last person exiting the van, an officer handed a bag containing their phones.
“a bag – all broken“
Once everyone had been removed from the van and beaten, the respondent described how a police officer began shooting in the air with his gun and pushing the men towards the river marking the border. The men were forced into the water by police. The physical expulsion is alleged to have occurred at approximately 20:00 on 21st September 2019, fourteen hours after they were loaded into the van near Rijeka (HR).
Pushed across the river back into BiH, the group walked back to Velika Kladuša, barefoot, without any clothes left, aside from the wet clothes they were wearing, without any money, and without working phones with which they could seek support from friends and family.