On the 12th of December 2021, a group of three young men left Bihac, Bosnia, trying the “walking game”, which meant crossing the freezing Croatian mountains and walking all the way to Italy, hoping to make it across. It was just the three of them, 21, 24 and 25 years old, all from the same city in Pakistan. They related that they never try the game with other people, because they know that they cannot trust anybody besides themselves. They left in the afternoon because they explained that the sunset is quite early during the Bosnian winter. After at least 6 hours of walking, they stopped to rest and prepare for the border crossing. They crossed the day after, on the 13th of December. Then they walked for another two days inside Croatian territory.
In the late afternoon, at around 5 PM, they were in the Croatian forest very close to a highway they needed to cross. They were waiting for the sun to go down to try and cross the street safely. Whilst they were waiting, they suddenly saw some strong lights pointing at their faces. They said that some officers came running from the street towards them. The respondent assumed that they were patrolling the areas when they pointed flashlights into their eyes. The respondent described that they were confused, because in the bright light they could not see anything, and they were unable to precisely remember how the officers were dressed, as they were almost blinded by the lights. The respondent assured that he is sure that those were members of the Croatian police. They were apprehended but related that the officers did not say anything to them. Instead, the four officers reportedly started beating the respondent and his companions with black batons.
“They beat us on all our bodies with sticks. On back, front, feet, arms, we were all black and in pain. They did not beat us on the head or on the face”.
The respondent related that he has the suspicion that officers are trying to avoid beating people onto their heads or faces to avoid visible marks or injuries.
“They beat us for 3-4 minutes: it is a small time, but when they are beating you, it never passes”
After, the police officers ordered the three men to take off their clothes. As ordered, they undressed completely, in the freezing forest, in the middle of the woods, and had to sit down on the ground and wait for 20 minutes, without any apparent reason. The police officers also took their phone and their backpacks, with everything they had inside. One of the respondents reported that it was freezing cold, and they were forced to sit on the ground, without moving, for a time that seemed endless to him.
The other two guys were also ordered to take off their underwear before sitting down. At that point, he felt so bad that he approached one of the policemen asking him why they were forcing them to take off their underwear like they were animals, taking away their human dignity, without any reason. The reaction of the police officers was to force him to take off his underwear too.
“I had my underwear, and they did not have, I told police officers that it was not respectful, to give them back at least their underwear, so they ordered me to take off mine too. When I did, they asked me “Is it better now?””.
After 20 minutes, they were taken on the street, where a police van and four or five police cars were waiting for them. They were given only sleeveless shirts and pants, without any shoes or jackets, and they were forced into the van. Even if the way to the border was not very long (the respondent assumed that it could have been about one hour by car), they were driven recklessly for three hours in the police van before getting to the border.
“The way to the border was short, and police knows all the way to deport people rapidly, but they drive crazy just to torture us”.
They report that the van was being driven roughly, busting the three men inside. At some point one of them, inevitably, started to vomit.
“When my friend started to vomit, we also started, they do it just to torture us”.
The respondents were not taken to any police station. They were pushed back directly at the border near Velika Kladusa, BiH but they did not remember the exact location, as the only phone that they had was kept by the Croatian police. They just remembered that they were left in a small street in the countryside, and that they had to walk in the freezing night with no shoes, and just their t-shirts on. They tried to enter the Miral camp, the local camp in Kladusa, before coming back to Bihac, to rest a little bit and warm up, but they were rejected at the entrance. Not knowing where else to go, they walked all the way to Bihac, for around fifteen hours. Luckily, on the way, a Bosnian man gave them some shoes and clothes to put on.
Back in Bihac, without anything, they are back in their remote house, where they try to hide from Bosnian police, locals, and other people on the move that they feel like they cannot trust, in this limbo where they are not even able to set up a fire, as they are too scared of being seized again.