On Sunday, the 5th of December, between 5 and 6pm, a transit group of 16, mostly men from Pakistan except for two men from Afghanistan and a man and woman from Nepal, was apprehended by the Croatian authorities at a gas station around the outskirts of Zagreb.
The respondent described that the group had been walking for three days, crossing from the Bosnian town of Bihać to a forest site on the Croatian side of the border near Šturlić (BiH). The group had intended to continue their journey by car:
“The car had a problem, he was stopping everywhere. And after two, three hours, I didn’t know anything, the car stopped and police was coming. They opened the door, I thought ‘Oh, motherfucker!’ […] After that they caught us and took us to the police station. For twenty-four hours, they took a lot of interviews, everything.”
According to the respondent, the group was then apprehended by one female and three to four male police officers, with ‘Policija’ on their uniforms which appeared brown or black under the lights in the dark. The people apprehending the group had reportedly arrived in two civilian cars, one of which was described as a brown 4-seater. The respondent couldn’t remember all of the events clearly as by that time the sun had already set and most of the time he was hiding with the others in the back of the station wagon unable to see what was happening.
Upon apprehension, the respondent remembered that the officers asked where they were from, upon which he said Pakistan; two people said they were coming from the Bosnian Lipa Migration Camp. The officers asked who of them spoke English, upon which no one answered, and who was their “boss”, presumably meaning the person who brought them over the border. The group explained that this man had left again back to Bihać.
“He told me ‘When you leave your country?’, ‘Which country?’ … We told him everything, first we came to Iran, then Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia and then Bosnia. He asked me at which time I left my country, I said five years ago. I can’t see my family or friends.”
According to the respondent, the officers then called for support and the additional officers drove the transit group to a comparatively large police station in Zagreb in the vehicle the group had previously been in. The driver was taken separately in one of the officers’ cars. There, according to the respondent, the group were told to to take off their jackets and were searched by the officers. The respondent described how they were taken to the fourth floor of the building for an interview that lasted about three hours in groups of around five, one group after the other; and pictures of each of them holding up a different number were taken.
“He took a number, one, two, three, four, five, six. He gave you number, after that you’re gonna stand like this [holding a sign] and he takes the picture. After that he printed it, […] put it inside the paper, like a frame.”
The 24 year-old man related at the time this, and the communication of the officers, at first made him believe they would be given an asylum process.
“I was thinking he was giving me stay, taking the pictures. They took pictures, everything, and we had to sign a lot of papers. And one day we stayed in there, inside the police station.”
In the interview, the authorities asked the respondent and the other four with him where they were from, upon which he replied Pakistan, and then when they had left Pakistan. The Nepali people reportedly just replied that they could not speak English. After the initial officers had taken the interview, they brought a Pakistani translator, to check the information again.
“When I gave the interview another Pakistani person was coming, he spoke Urdu. He told me ‘You gave the interview, but I have your interview paper. I will explain it you again, if there’s some problem inside tell me and I will clean it.’ After that there were some little problems but he cleaned them again. […] After that he told me go down. He took five people – we were 16 people – he said I take the interview with five people and then another people are gonna sit there.”
The transit group each had each to give what respondent remembered as 11 to 12 signatures, then the photos that had been taken of them were printed and put with the papers they had signed.
“He took a lot of papers, maybe 12, 11 more papers I had to sign. He told me ‘Sign there, sign there…’”
When the respondent inquired what all of this personal information they had to give was about, one officer answered that they were trying to build a case against the driver:
“He told me you come inside Croatia illegal, […] ‘You’re gonna go to the court, and you tell the truth. That’s why we need this paper and these things.’ And after that we didn’t go to the court, he deported us.”
The respondent described the police station in Zagreb as an open building resembling a normal white house serving as a police station in a residential neighborhood with many other houses. He described contact with about 10 officers with “Immigration Police” written on their uniforms.
The driver of the vehicle was held in a different room. When the group saw him while being walked through the station, reportedly, he was just smiling at the officers, saying to them “Why are you doing this to me?”
“He sat down another place, and I sat down here and I said to him ‘Hi, how are you?’ He was laughing. [The police] said ‘Why are you smiling?’ He said ‘No, no, no.’ Just smiling, he was looking to me. [..] The police asked me ‘Did the driver say anything to you?’ I told him no. We were coming, he opened the door and we went inside the car.”
After being taken to another place for detention, the group did not see him again. They themselves, however, were not held in an official detention cell, but what seemed to the respondent to be the storage space for confiscated items, ranging from motorcycles and cars to narcotics, with no beds present. For the night of their detention the group slept on the floor. The group asked the officers for a cigarette, upon which one man pointed at a confiscated bag of marijuana, lying around openly, and told them they could smoke that. Still under the effects of marijuana, the respondent related, the group was surprised and in even stronger pain when they were driven to the border and beat heavily.
“He put me in a garage, the car parking. Cars, motorcycles, all crime things were in there. Also there was Marijuana there, seriously, we smoked there. I told them ‘We need a cigarette’, they said ‘Here we have Marijuana there, smoke this’ […] We smoked Marijuana, after that he beat us.”
The respondent reports that, in the evening the group was given some bread to eat as well as some water which the respondent said was barely enough; in the morning, the officers gave them each a burger. The officers also repeated several times that if any of the group needed to go to the toilet they could escort them to the bathroom, the transit group, however, only replied there was no need for them to go the bathroom if the officers refused to give them enough water to drink. The respondent also relayed that they confiscated their phones, power banks, cigarettes, money at the police station. When the group asked about asylum the authorities only replied that they didn’t know; they just wanted to collect information on the driver.
“Everybody said to him [about asylum] ‘I need it, I need it’, but he only said ‘I don’t know, I just make the report. After that we have other officers, maybe they can give it to you, maybe they can’t.’”
The respondent states that the group were in detention for around 24 hours at the station, at what the respondent remembered as around 5 to 6 pm, the group was then taken to the Bosnia-Croatian border northeast of Velika Kladuša in a drive that lasted about three and a half hours, by one female and four to five male officers in two white vans, eight of the group in each sitting on wooden benches. The respondent was taken in the second car following the other. He related the van had a green light on top, similar to an ambulance. The respondent stressed they could barely breathe in the back of the van without windows, and the officers refused to open any ventilation.
“It was closed, no oxygen inside…this time the car was hot. When the people are going inside, three or four hours inside, the oxygen is going down and people are gonna cry. […] The people’s colour was yellow, they feel bad, because inside you don’t have oxygen, it’s closed, oxygen is not coming inside.”
Around five to ten minutes before they reached the border, the officers reportedly changed the cars and they had to go into another van of the same color. The respondent couldn’t see exactly how many police in total took them as he was inside the van without windows, but when the authorities took him out to change the vehicle he remembered around five to six officers in black uniforms present. The new officers wore what appeared to the respondent in the dark as the same uniform, and were also reportedly carrying firearms, which they held towards the ground or had in their holster.
At this time the group was also searched again, with other belongings being confiscated again and not returned. According to the respondent, after already having confiscated a part of their money the officers had found at the police station, the officers at the border searched further and took away the last of their money from each of the group.
“When we changed the car, another police checked again, everybody. […] The car driver took my bag and threw it in another car, like a ball. And after this [the officers at the border] took everything, money, clothes, bags. Another police already took stuff in the police station that they didn’t give me again, the mobile phones, power banks, cigarettes, the good things you know.”
At the border site, which was a forest area the respondent presumes to be close to Bukovlje, one female and three to four male officers were directly involved in the pushback, all wearing black clothing. The respondent related the woman was stood in the background, as the men proceeded to pushback and beat the group. When asked further about the writing on the uniforms of these officers, the respondent related:
“I can’t see, because if you stare at them and look up they will beat you a lot of times. […] If you stop there, to see everything, they will beat that hard, that’s why we keep distance.”
The officers reportedly beat the group using long and thick branches of wood they had picked up from the forest:
“They first catch you, take your hand, and then they beat you, beat you, until the stick breaks [cracking a small branch with his hands]. […] He had a black stick but he didn’t use it, I don’t know why, maybe because it’s small or something. He took another tree, big size, and when the stick is broken, after that he leaves you to take another stick and another people are coming and start again like this. […] [Only sometimes] when the stick is broken, he took out this black one [the police baton] for a little time and started again. And when the stick is broken, he throws it, like a ball, and last time it was coming on my ear.”
The officers also reportedly cursed at and insulted the group:
”They called me ‘Fuck you’, ‘Don’t come again’, ‘Go back to Bihać’, all like this. I have a problem now [showing the swollen back of his hand]. When he beat you, you will come here, and two, three days after will start the pain. […] All of us, he took four or five people in the car, and he beat the four people and told them ‘Fuck you, don’t come again!’ And these people are running. After that they take another four people and beat you again. […] He can’t see [in the dark], just beat you. Like an animal, not looking in your eyes. Your hair, or your ear, or your body, everywhere they beat you. When we were running we couldn’t see anything, so you go like animals. You go down, you go up, there was a lot of trees. You can’t go inside, but we don’t have another choice.”
The respondent described the increased pain of the bruises sustained in the pushback during the winter caused by the cold and the swelling of the wound once the body regained temperature and the blood was circulating normal again.
“Because now when they beat you in winter it’s very cold. When they beat you the body side is [swelling]…the cold is very bad, because it doesn’t go down [showing his swollen fist]. It was nine days ago but still I have pain.”
From the pushback site it took the respondent six hours to reach the bus station in the center of Velika Kladuša to take the bus back to Bihać. On the way they asked numerous local people for money, relating their situation, as they had none left and needed it to pay for the tickets.
“When they deport us, it’s six hours walking to the Kladuša bus station. After that you will come to Bihać [by bus]. If you have the money. If you don’t have the money then you will have to come again, walking. You will have to keep walking for another ten hours… […] So we didn’t have another choice, that’s why we asked the people ‘Can you give us one or two [Bosnian Marks]?’ […] Everybody gave me two or three and then we could come [back to Bihać].”