On August 21st 2021, a group of 80 people of Afghan, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi origin left Bihac, Bosnia and Herzegovina on foot to cross the border and try the “game”. The next day, the 22nd August, the group was, according to the respondent, in Plitvička Jezera, Croatia near road D42 (approximate coordinates 44°55’41.0 “N 15°33’31.8 “E 44.928060, 15.558841). There, the respondent reports that the group was most probably discovered by cameras placed somewhere on a dirt road they had previously crossed. The respondent describes that 8 men, dressed in green camouflage uniforms (according to the respondent’s description presumably belonging to the Croatian Special Police Team (SJP)) and 4 men in police uniforms burst into the forest where the group had been pausing, waiting for the right moment to cross the nearby road D42. The people in uniform were yelling at the group to stop them and were firing gunshots in the air to intimidate the men.
As they were firing gunshots, the interviewee reports that about thirty group members stopped and about fifty (including the respondent) tried to escape instead. The escaping group scattered through the forest, where some members got lost, so that in the end the fugitives were reduced to a group of twenty, who continued their journey together in the direction of Slovenia.
After a few days of walking, the interviewee reports that the group was in Senjska Draga, Croatia near the D23 road which they necessarily had to cross to continue their route. During the crossing, the group, as reported by the respondent, was observed by a civilian passing by on a motorcycle. The respondent assumes that this man called the police. After a few minutes, a car arrived, without official police or military mark. The respondent reports that it was “a normal car“. Out of its window, a uniformed man was shouting “stop, police!”. The respondent reports that he tried running away again and was hiding in the forest (he had not yet crossed the road). As reported, a total of 6 people, including himself, ran and managed to hide while 14 of their fellow group members got stopped by the officers.
The respondent reports that he saw the man in uniform beating the 14 people with a wooden stick they found in the forest, telling them not to move and scaring them with a gun. The respondent also reports seeing the man calling for backup. After approximately ten minutes, another car arrived with two men and dogs, described as German shepherd type, in it. The respondent states that the men released the dogs to look for the 6 fugitives and fired warning shots in the air shouting to stop.
The respondent explains that as the police released the dogs, it started raining so the dogs did not succeed in following their tracks. He thinks this was probably because their smells were no longer so distinct due to the rain. He added that at this moment he felt very lucky. The group of 6 people managed to continue the journey but, the respondent adds, the group members had no more backpacks with food nor cell phones, which they left behind when they ran away. Therefore they had no possibility to orient and locate themselves anymore.
The interviewee reports that the next day, at around 10 am, the group was near a small settlement next to highway D23 where they encountered some woodworkers. There they decided to voluntarily call the police. He recalls the moment when they had to weigh up what to do:
“Call the police, we are refugees, they will take us back to Bosnia. […] I felt my heart break, we had been walking for 10 days and Slovenia was close”.
The woodcutters therefore called the police who arrived In a van. The respondent reports that the men (wearing another uniform than those who were present the previous day) were very angry and nervous and kept asking about the other members of the group. When the respondent and the other 5 group members responded that they did not know anything they became notably extra nervous. The group was subsequently loaded into the van.
“It was like being in a freezer, there was no window and it was very hard to breathe. They stopped the van at the side of a small building and made us get out one at a time. They were very angry and shouted a lot. They demanded to hand over money and phone. They asked to open the only backpack they had. 4 policemen with gloves started looking everywhere to find money. A friend of mine had 200 € hidden in his mouth, a policeman started to beat him in the face. We were inside the van, the doors were open and we could see our friends being beaten. One by one outside, there was a double door, one door open and one closed. We were very afraid of being beaten, of dying, many times they beat like animals, in the head with sticks. Who can see if they kill us? They take the bodies to Bosnia. What can we do?”
“They asked us to get back in the van, we only had a t-shirt and underwear on. It was about noon. They took us to the police station [Senj seems to be the closest considering the location reported by the respondent] and they put us in some kind of cell. About noon. It was very dirty. An animal would not want to stay there. We were asking for water and food. They also stole our cigarettes. I am a heavy smoker, I get sick if I don’t smoke. I had a really bad headache, and my head was bleeding because of the beatings. I asked for cigarettes and he said, ‘I don’t give a shit about your head. Just stay there.'”
The interviewee reports that the group was kept there until 11 pm, therefore for 11 hours. He explains that during the detention, they were not allowed to go to the bathroom, they were not given food, water nor the possibility to formalize their asylum application. The interviewee states that at the shift change at 6 pm a man in uniform left with their money. Reportedly, they asked to get the 200 € back and the man replied: “We are changing the guard, I am going home. What do you want to do? We deport you to Bosnia now!”
The interviewee reports that the 6 were loaded into the van. “We didn’t know where they were going to deport us. We were afraid that they would deport us very far away, sometimes you have to walk up to twelve hours, sometimes they deport you 180 km away. What could we do? They had stolen all our money. They drove until midnight, took us to Sturlic. The group was taken to a pushback point at the border to a place known as “the 3 lakes” (approximate coordinates: 45.044932, 15.754533). This is a location where the border between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina is marked by three smaller rivers next to each other. Several testimonies indicated the same location as the pushback point. 8 men in uniform, one van and one normal car were involved in the operation, according to the respondent.
The respondent reports that the policemen took them to the first river and shone with a torch for them to cross the river. Then they turned off the flashlights so that it was completely dark. Yet, there were two more rivers to pass to reach Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“Luckily I had a lighter so I took a stick and burned the plastic bags I found lying around there, remnants of other deportations, so I made light for me and my comrades. We all had wet shoes because we didn’t take them off, we were afraid they would beat us again if we stopped to take off our shoes.”
The interviewee reports that the 6 men had to walk 8/9 hours to get back to Bihac.
“My legs hurt so much, my heart was broken because Slovenia was very close this time, my head hurt and we hadn’t eaten in two days. All of our feet were wet and we couldn’t ask anyone for food because it was nighttime.”