The respondent is a 35 year old man from Cuba. The group of four grown-ups and two children (two men, a married couple, and their 1 and 4 year old children) from Cuba crossed the border between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia in the night between August 24 and 25, 2022, close to Mala Peša.
Around 800 metres away from the border (on the Bosnian side), the respondent described that they perceived the light of two flashlights, presumably belonging to Bosnian officers, who seemed to be searching for them. The woman was carrying the baby boy, while the respondent, who is the father of the children, carried their 4 year old daughter. They started running and tried to hide from the flashlights. When crouching down to hide, the baby started crying and the mother tried to calm him down with a milk bottle. They suffered light injuries from the thorns in the bushes that they were hiding in.
At some point they saw the flashlights turning, and they started running in the other direction towards the border. After crossing it, the respondent recounted that they walked between the houses of Donji Vaganac in the rain, and eventually reached the bus station of the village. Being aware of the risk that locals might report them to the police, and that public buses are likely not to stop to let people-on-the-move inside, only the respondent waited at the bus station while the rest of the group waited, hidden.
However, when the bus approached, the driver noticed the whole group and passed by without stopping. The next bus was only scheduled at 7 a.m, therefore the group decided to wait on the other side of the street, pretending that they were waiting for a bus towards Bosnia. However, a neighbour saw them and presumably called the police, as the respondent reported, who arrived 10 minutes later at the bus station. The respondent described them as two regular Croatian officers who treated the group well. The respondent wanted to keep the situation calm so he handed over his phone to the officers before they took it by force. Five minutes later, a van marked ‘Police’ arrived, with two officers described as border police by the respondent, who showed a more hostile attitude towards the group.
According to the respondent, these officers opened their bags, threw their belongings on the ground, and took their phones, chargers, a big power bank, and the money of one of the men, which was hidden inside his phone. The officers searched the two men who were with the family and asked them to take off their shoes. They did not touch the woman nor the children.
Eventually, the whole group was loaded inside a van, which the respondent described as “white prisoner van with blue stripes and window guards in front“. The only small window was placed between the driver and the back compartment, and the back compartment itself was secured with prison bars. The respondent explained that the group was locked behind the bars, while their belongings (except the phones, which the officers kept) were placed in locked boxes. Inside the van there were only iron benches to sit on. It was very hot inside the vehicle, which was badly ventilated.
The group had reportedly been driven for around 2 hours when the 1 year old child woke up and needed to be fed and have his diapers changed. One of the officers opened the van, so the respondent asked him for his bag containing the clothes and food of the baby. The officer did not reply and closed the van door, but reopened it again 10 minutes later to hand over the bag with the baby equipment to the family. However, the 4 year old daughter could not leave the van to go to the toilet, and eventually wet herself inside the van. The father repeated several times during the interview that it broke his heart seeing his daughter soil her pants.
The respondent described that he was allowed to briefly leave the van to throw away the dirty diapers. At this point, he could see that they had reached a police station or a parking lot with many police vans surrounded by mountains. He saw the officers who intercepted them leaving with a big bag/suitcase, therefore he assumed that they were waiting for a shift change.
More or less 10 minutes later, the van left again and drove for an unknown amount of time, which the respondent cannot remember. He explained he had been sharing his live location with a friend, and could therefore recap the itinerary until they were apprehended, but lost signal while they were in the van.
When the van stopped again, two male officers and one female officer were waiting for them. The officers reportedly returned the backpacks to the group, but kept their phones. When the wife of the respondent asked the female officer to return their phones, the respondent explained that she became very aggressive and shouted at them “just go”. According to the respondent, the officers escorted the group by walking for around 20 metres to the border. They commanded them to continue walking in the cold over a high mountain. When the respondent asked for how long they needed to walk, one of the officers answered to “walk for 5-6km” (however, Bihać was much further away).
The group eventually reached a street which they later guessed to be Road 218. They did not have their phones to check the way, therefore they started walking in a random direction. When they reached a fruit shop, the owner told them that Bihać was more than 12km away. The respondent himself reported he was too exhausted to even talk, while his wife and the children were crying for most of the time. They were hungry, cold, and feeling dizzy. Thanks to some friendly locals who gave them food and offered them a car ride, the family was eventually able to reach Borici camp in Bihać, while their two companions were taken to Lipa camp.
At the time of the interview two weeks after the pushback, the respondent explained that his 4 year old daughter was still very affected by the incident. She was, for example, afraid of going out of the camp in the evening.