A group of 13 men and minors, all from Pakistan and Afghanistan, were apprehended at 21:21 on August 25th 2019 in the forest near a small road about two to three kilometers from the Italian border with Slovenia. The respondent, a 28-year-old Pakistani man, shared that prior to spotting the Slovenian police officers, his group thought that they were about to cross into Italy and were feeling happy. However, at this point the group saw three Slovenian police officers wearing light blue shirts with dark blue collars: one woman police officer and two men.
The police officers told the group to stop and one police officer shot a bullet into the air.
“Some guys try to run. And they spray tear spray.”
According to the respondent, the police officers used tear gas on the group. Two men managed to run away. Because the respondent was near the front of the group, he was sprayed heavily.
“We cannot see anything. I cover my eyes with my hands. Too much fire in my eyes. Up to three hours my eyes was burning, fire…We cannot see properly for three hours.”
The police officers told the group to sit down. The group sat and asked for water because of the effects of the tear gas. The female police officer gave the group water. The police then began interrogating them, asking; how many people were in the group? Although the group was originally 13, the group said they are only 11 so that the police would not chase the two who had managed to avoid arrest.
Two Slovenian officers, whom the respondent described as “army”, arrived a little later at the spot of apprehension. The respondent did not know if they were working independently or had coordinated their actions with the Slovenian police officers. One army officer had a gun and one did not. The one without a gun spoke Italian and asked if anyone in the group spoke Italian. Since it was dark, the respondent could not clearly make out more information about their uniforms.
The police officers told the respondent:
“‘You are boss, you lead.’ They use bad words for me.”
They assumed the respondent was a guide and verbally harassed him. A police car arrived later. The police put 11 people in one small car.
“It was car for 6 people and they took us, 11.”
The police drove the group for around 45 minutes until they reached a Slovenian police station.
“Too much hot. One [man] was start crying in car and he knock on window to stop and some time he feel badly, he sick, when he go police station, he fell down. I call police. He don’t eat for some days and was hot in car.”
The police officers called a doctor at the police station who then gave the man an injection. The injection, however, did not appear to help the man and he didnt feel better. At the police station, the police officers took the men’s fingerprints. They told the respondent that he had come too many times to this exact police station and was processed at it many times. The respondent said:
“I say ‘yes, I come many times.’ I say ‘we want asylum, we want stay here.’ They say ‘no asylum here.’”
The police kept the group in a container for what the respondent felt was 24 hours. The police gave the men biscuits, water and jam and/or chocolate the first night. The police gave the men sheets of paper in Slovenian. There were no translators present. The men signed these sheets. They were not beaten at this police station but they were pushed and verbally harassed.
The following day, the police gave the group macaroni and chicken to eat. Around 15:00 on the 26th,August 2019, the police officers put the group into a minibus and drove them to the Rupa border crossing (between Slovenia and Croatia). This drive took approximately two to two and a half hours. A little after 17:00, the group arrived at the Rupa border crossing. The Slovenian police gave the group their belongings back. However, when they were transferred to the Croatian police, the Croatian police took all their belongings once again:
“When they give [us] to Croatian police, they took us everything, our phones. They didn’t even leave our shoes on our feet.”
The sheets of paper the group signed in Slovenia were given to the Croatian police, who then threw them in the garbage. The group stayed at the Rupa border crossing police station for three and a half hours. They were not beaten at the police station. They were not given food or water and were kept in a container. The respondent states that the police officers became very angry after he asked for asylum.
“They were very angry at us. They didn’t speak to us properly. When we ask for water, ‘sir, we want water’, he act like he not listening. When you ask for toilet, he act like he not listening.”
At the police station, the respondent was made to fill out a sheet with his name and personal information. The police officers photographed him with this sheet. They did not take his fingerprints. After taking these pictures, the police took the group to a van. “After picture, go van.” The police officers made the group take off their shoes and stored all of their shoes inside the seats in the police van.
“You will not wear your shoes when you go in van. They put all shoes inside seat.”
They were driven in the van for more than four and a half hours.
“Drive like crazy van. When you punish someone, put them in a box and make like this [respondent mimes like he is violently shaking a box].”
On the 27th August, at approximately midnight, the van arrived near Lohovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. At the border were two cars of Croatian police officers wearing light blue shirts. The respondent remembers seeing a police officer with a badge that had one single yellow star. The police opened the van and made the men come out one-by-one.
“[Police] hit with one stick [baton], everyone, one-by-one. He hit and say ‘go there.’”
The police officers put the men into one line and created a fire.
“They put everything, bags, clothing, sleeping bag, everything, your phone, your shoes, even your socks, they put everything fire.”
After burning the group’s belongings, the police again arranged the men into a line and beat them again, this time with wooden sticks taken from surrounding trees. They told the group to go across the border. The men were still without shoes and the respondent describes that the ground contained many sharp rocks.
“When you go this way, you feel it cut your feet. They say ‘go, go, fast.’ And they beat everyone, they go crazy, one guy they hit on head and he bleed.”
At this point, the respondent described how chaos ensued. The police officers began beating the men “like crazy” while one police officer held a flashlight. Everyone began running and some people in the group fell down in the forest, receiving injuries from their falls. One man fell on his nose and injured it so that it began bleeding.
When the men crossed the border, they began to walk back to Bihać. Some men did not have trousers, only a shirt and underwear. Everyone in the group was without shoes and socks. The police had taken everything.
“Nothing we have.”
The respondent states that he did not get “bubbles” (blisters) and wounds in his feet from ten days of walking in the Croatian and Slovenian forest, but from the few hours forced to walk barefoot during the pushback, he had gained these injuries. Summing up his experience, the respondent stated:
“When they push us back, they make like our heart is broke.”