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Like a Ping-Pong Game

Date & Time 2020-06-28
Location River border between Serbia and Romania
Reported by No Name Kitchen
Coordinates 44.62174308, 21.68466621
Pushback from Romania
Pushback to Serbia
Taken to a police station no
Minors involved yes
WLTI* involved yes
Men involved yes
Age 2 - 26
Group size 30
Countries of origin Palestine, Syria
Treatment at police station or other place of detention
Overall number of policemen and policewomen involved Unknown
Violence used beating (with batons/hands/other), destruction of personal belongings, theft of personal belongings, reckless driving
Police involved Romanian police and other officers referred to as "commandos"

On around June 28, a group of 30 people were violently pushed back from Romania to Serbia. The previous week before, the group crossed into Romania from Serbia south of the Serbian city of Vršac. The group included 7 children and 23 youth and adults. The primary respondent for this report was a 26 year old Palestinian man who was travelling with his wife and two children under two years of age.

The group spent one night on the Serbian side of the border. At some time between 5:00 and 6:00 am, the Serbian police saw them and told them to go back to Belgrade. They walked some twenty minutes to the police station. The respondent spoke with the police in English and showed them his papers that said that he could leave the camp he was registered in. “It’s like a ping-pong game,” he said “they’re playing tennis with us.” Finally the police officer said he did not want to say they could go, but he did let them go. The group then went back to the same border area as before.

Upon attempting to cross, the group encountered the strong current of the Danube River which even the respondent could not swim across, though he described himself as a strong swimmer. The group went farther along the river and eventually the respondent was able to cross the river with two ropes that he tied off on the opposite side. They then purchased an inflatable raft and pulled everyone across individually.

After crossing the river, the group came to a road and had to wait until late in the evening – around 12:00 am or 1:00 am – so as not to be seen. They were “destroyed by mosquitoes” as they waited, in particular the children. Upon crossing the river, there were mountains and they kept walking with the children and bags. On the third day they reached a forest where they’d agreed to meet cars.

They spent four nights in the forest without food; it rained and they were again bitten by mosquitoes. At this time they collectively decided to surrender and go back, because of the children. Upon returning to the road, they encountered Romanian authorities.

Two officers, the respondent recalled, were very kind, and gave them food and water for the children. However, they were then loaded into and subsequently transported as a group in a single small van without seats. “We were like animals,” he said, “on top of each other.”

The respondent described being brought to officers he called “commandos” who took all their phones and power banks and took money from some people. They also began to beat the men; the women were sent aside. Some of the men ended up with broken noses; anyone who spoke was hit. At the end of this time, approximately two hours, they gave the broken phones back, but destroyed their bags of clothes.

Another group of 20 to 30 boys was there as well. They were bruised from the beatings. Everyone from both groups was brought back to Serbia.

Serbian police were called and came to the border; the group told the police that they had papers; the Serbian police asked the Romanian police if they had hit them, the Romanian police said no and they did not know what to do; speaking had led them to be hit.

When they were back in Serbia, police asked the group as well. The group confirmed the violence, showed injuries and broken phones, but the police said they could not do anything more for the group.