On the morning of July 5th, 2019, at approximately 08:00, the Croatian police apprehended two Algerian men, aged 20 and 23, near a river in Croatia. The two Algerian men had been walking with three other Algerian men, aged 25, 27 and 34, for about six days. By the respondents’ estimation they were approximately 70-80 km from Bosnia, having travelled from Velika Kladuša towards the Slovenian-Italian border.
When the five men had run out of water, the two respondents went out to find a river for water, carrying only the bottles they had and their backpacks. But, as the respondents noted, where there are rivers, there are usually people. After getting water, the two men were caught by Croatian police who then took them to the police station. One of the men was beaten by the police with their batons. They struck him on both his knees, his shins, his wrist and his back before being taken to the police station. The other man was not beaten. Before being taken to the police station, the police took their phones and put them in a bag. At the station, the police interrogated them on how many people they had travelled with, what point they entered Croatia at and the route they had taken. At the police station, the police didn’t take their fingerprints, gave them papers and didn’t take any pictures. The respondents asked for asylum at the police station but the police told them, “not for you.”
Then, from 10:00 to 22:00, the police held the group in a Volkswagen police van, parked in the sun. This van was, according to the respondents, used for prisoners. The interviewees note that it was a very hot summer day, and the inside of their van was even hotter and they “suffered.” The police did not give them water. Signs of fatigue and possible fainting were visible among other people in the van with them. In a two meter space, the police packed, according to the respondent’s estimate, about 17 to 19 people, of which some were minors.
In this group, there were the two respondents from Algeria, and they believed the rest of the men were from Pakistan. Police officers, wearing the darker blue or purple shirts, came back to the van and pulled all the men’s phones out of a bag and asked for the owners to come open the phones with their passwords. The interviewees noted that the police did this because they will take the phones for themselves, especially the good ones.
At nighttime, the police drove the van to the border, but before getting to the border, the police drove for an hour or two around the border to exhaust and disorient the people in the van and to ensure that they didn’t clearly memorize where they were. The disorientation was described by the respondents as if they “forget everything” and had a “half mind.” The police “drive crazy” which disoriented the respondents and made it difficult to stand or sit in the van since there was nothing to hold onto in the back of the police van and there was nowhere to sit. The respondents stated that some people threw up during this journey.
At the border there were about eight to nine police officers with black masks, some fully on, some only covering the upper half of the face, who shone lights in their eyes. Of these eight or nine police officers, four to five were “special police” wearing all black and 4 wore light blue shirts. The respondents noted that they were very big and muscular. One of the interviewees was the first out of the van and he asked the police for his phone.The police then grabbed him by his t-shirt and cursed at him.
The police took some men’s shoes and their backpacks. They took one of the respondents’ 20 euro notes and ripped it in front of him. The respondents state that the police did not make a fire, but in other pushbacks they’ve experienced the police used to burn possesions. Then the police put the transit group in a line and began beating them. The first and last people in the line received especially heavy beating. One of the respondents stated that since he was in the front of the line, he was beaten more by the police officers. He was beaten on his shoulder and back. The respondents state that looking at the police officers invited extra beatings.
After they beat them in the line, the officers told the men to go across the border. The second respondent, the one that was beaten before the police station at the site of apprehension, stated that he was not beaten at the border. The men began running in this line to the border and into the river that forms this section of the border. The men stated that the river was high enough to reach their chests, their estimation being one meter or one meter and a half. The respondents stated that the beating was quick and they thought this quick beating was meant to make them jump into the river. It was also quick because, as the respondents said, the police are “afraid of journalists” capturing or seeing what is happening. Having experienced multiple pushbacks before, the respondents stated that:
“Every day, the racism is getting bigger and bigger.”
These events at the border occurred in the early nighttime hours of July 6th, 2019. After the men ran across the border from Croatia into Bosnia through the river, the police threw over the bag with the phones. Out of approximately 16 phones, only 2 were left in the bag. As the respondents noted, this is a very significant act of violence: without their phones, they are not able to travel because they need a GPS and they are not able to contact their families or friends.