In the evening of the 22nd of February 2023, a group of 4 people, 3 of them from Syria (one of them was the first respondent) and a person from Egypt (the second respondent), aged from 25 to 28 years old, started their walk to cross the Serbian-Croatian border. They walked for two days, and in the morning of the third day, they were caught by some people they identified as “authorities” at the train station of Vinkovci and then brought to a police station that the respondent was not able to identify. One of the respondents described the uniforms worn by the authorities as dark blue, with “policija” written on the back in white, and with a symbol on their arm. The group was detained in the police station for one day, where the officers asked them where they came from, and where they were going. Afterwards, they were detained in another place for 4 days (the respondents were not able to describe or identify this second place).
Reportedly, during their detention, the officers took pictures of the people in the group and made them sign a document in Arabic stating that they were not allowed to return to Croatia. The officers took their phones and money, and the phones and a small amount of money were returned to them afterwards. During the detention period, the respondents reported that the officers beat the group members with batons, while they were going to the showers naked.
One of the respondents remembered two officers in particular, both bald and tall, who treated him in a brutal manner. According to him, in the place where they were detained, there were also other people from Afghanistan, Morocco, India, Syria, Somalia, Russia, and other countries.
The respondents stated that “they don’t respect human rights and treat people like animals”, and that “they are thieves who look for money”. One of them further claimed that the European Union will not accept these thefts and rights violations; “soon, everything will be disclosed, I am sure”.
On the 28th of February, the group members were transported in the back of a van, separated from the front by a grid. They were taken directly to the Tovarnik border crossing, from where they were handed over to an unknown number of people that they identified as Serbian police officers and taken to a Court.
At the court in Serbia, that the respondent could not locate on the map, an Arabic translator was present, and they were asked information, including their country of origin, where they crossed the Croatian border, where they wanted to go to, how many people they were with, along with the names of their mothers and fathers.
Then, reportedly, they were then offered two options: either they could pay a fine to avoid being detained, or they could go to prison for ten days. The group members replied that the Croatian police had taken all their money, so they were taken to a prison in Novi Sad. During the ten days of detention they were only given pork for food and water from the toilet to drink. Since they are all Muslims, though, they could not eat pork. Thus, some of them did not eat for days, while others started to eat the pork after three days to avoid dying of hunger.
In total, there were 9 people staying in the cell where the group members were detained, but there were only 4 beds, so half of them were sleeping on the floor, not even being provided with a blanket. One of the respondents described the cell as very small and dirty, and he stated that the group members started to feel itchy because of the insects and the dirt.
I don’t know how I got through these ten days; these were the ten most difficult days of my life. It was the first time that I have been detained.
After 10 days, the group members were given back their phones, released from prison, and they walked back to Šid.