During the evening of 3rd March 2021 a group of 32 people from Afghanistan, which included minors, left the serbian village Nakovo, located in the Kikinda municipality.
They spent about three hours somewhere near the border, it was around 2-3 am (on 4th March) when they restarted to walk for a couple of hours from Serbia towards Romania to attempt to cross the border. About 30-35 minutes after the group had successfully crossed the Romanian border, they saw an object described as a drone camera.
The respondents explained that the group tried to hide for about 5-6 minutes in a field waiting for the drone to go away – hoping that they could avoid the camera to detect them. They began walking again and had been walking about 20 minutes when they saw a car, which they assumed to belonging to the police, stopping on a bridge (approximate location: 45.899606, 20.606052).
Two Romanian officers were described to be standing close to the car, but very far from the group, on the other side of a small brook. The respondents explained their understanding of the apprehension dynamics. According to them, the police car on the other side of the brook warned other patrols, as they were hiding close to the spot where the group had been walking. The respondents clearly remembered the two officers using binoculars and talking with two-way radios.
The group tried to hide but the two male officers with dark blue uniforms showed up from the brook’s side. Only minutes later the group was detected. Meanwhile other patrols came up from the other sides, making it impossible for the group to escape. The respondent recalls, that in total, another three ‘normal’ Romanian officers were present who along with some authorities described by the respondents as “commandos”, apprehended the group. An unknown number of officers (probably 2 officers) were indeed described by the respondents as wearing camouflage military uniforms.
“When we arrived near the police they were ready and they came out. (…) They took their guns and they charged the guns (…). After that they said (us to) sit down and don’t move.”
This happened early in the morning around 6 am (on 4th March). Once the group was apprehended the Romanian authorities forced them to sit down, threatening them with guns. One of the respondents described that moment:
“But the thing the most I had hated (was that) they (the romanian officers) kept guns like we did bad things, like (as we were) terrorists… like as you did terrorism, like as you kidnapped much money, like as you kidnapped someone. Like we were arrested. That was the bad, much bad thing”
Afterwards, the authorities have reportedly asked if someone in the group was able to speak English. One of the respondents could communicate in English and later described the authorities said something in the line of:
“If you have money or mobile, put them here on the ground. If we find mobiles, we will beat you more.”
Thus, each group member was compelled to put their phone on the ground. The officers recollected the mobile phones into some plastic bags. Thereafter, all of the people on the move were searched three times each. Some of them were apparently hiding their mobiles inside their underwear, thus, while they were checked up, the mobiles were discovered by the authorities. According to the respondents, three group members were struck with some kicks on their calves by the authorities. This was understood by the respondents as a sort of punishment for trying to hide their mobiles from them.
About 20 minutes after the apprehension, the group was ordered to follow the Romanian authorities walking for roughly 20 minutes until they reached a spot where three cars were awaiting the group. It was around 7am in the morning. The respondents could not recall the location of the spot, but they described two normal Romanian cars, one Romanian police jeep, and one van standing there. It was at that moment that the authorities handed back the group’s phones to some members. They had put their belonging into some plastic bags, which they ordered to put into some members’ backpacks.
At the same location, another blue van with another group of 15 people on the move was waiting. The respondents stressed that one officer who they described as “german” was present at the spot. He was standing together with two police officers he recalled to be Romanian at the side. They identified him as being non-Romanian as they were listening to him talking in English with the Romanian authorities. After their description, he was most likely a Frontex officer, considering that the respondents stressed that they noticed a light blue armband with the european flag on it, consistent with those worn by Frontex officers. The respondents remembered the ‘Frontex armband’ as they had seen it on the uniforms of some officers at the Turkey and Bulgarian border.
“The romanian police talked with the german police (…) they also laughed (…). Then they put the other 15 passengers inside the van and the german police (officer) was sitting in front of the van. When the german police was gone with the group, the romanian police asked again for our mobiles”
After the foreign officer and the two Romanian officers had left the spot together with the other group of apprehended people on the move, one of the Romanian officers asked again for the group’s phones. Their understanding was that the Romanian authorities were scared by the Frontex officer and therefore only asked again for their phones when the German officer had left.
The officer with their phones went behind a police jeep, so that the group could not see what he was doing there. When he returned he handed over the bags with the, as they realized later, broken mobiles to some of the group members.
“They (the romanian authorities) told us: don’t watch your mobiles. Keep them hidden and when you will cross the border, you can take your mobiles. We thought that the mobiles were fine, not broken…but when we crossed the border (…) and we came to Serbia, we opened our bags and we took the plastic (bags) (…) the mobiles were much broken. (…) They broke the part of the sim card.”
The group spent an unknown amount of time at this spot, without any food or water. The respondents explained keeping silent because they felt scared by the presence of the Romanian authorities. For the same reason, they did not express their intention to seek asylum.
“We didn’t ask (for asylum) because if we asked they would get angry, we know that. They will get angry and they will beat us.”
Then, the whole group was forced to enter a van. The respondents mentioned that they stayed inside the van only for about 8-10 minutes. In fact they explained that the van was driven recklessly on a road that one of the respondents described as a dirt road.
“We stayed in the van 8-10 minutes because the van was fast, like crazy (…) and the drive was very bad. (…) They drove like on a bicycle road, it was a really small road. The road was small and the police very very very fast. And there was no sit and sometimes our heads touched the van walls.”
They arrived at the Serbian border on the morning of 4th March, according to the respondent, no later than 8am (approximate location: 45.881310, 20.576451). Once they were close to the border, the group was allowed to leave towards the Serbian village Nakovo. As soon as the group had crossed the border, they split up and the six respondents went in the direction of Kikinda, a Serbian city.
One hour after the respondents had crossed the border, they met a Serbian car with two officers. The Serbian officers stopped them and they checked each respondents’ camp card. Reportedly, four respondents did not have their cards and they were asked for money because of that reason.
“If you give me money, you will be fine. If you don’t give money, we will bring you to jail”
According to the respondents, they would have asked the Serbian officers for water because they felt very thirsty, but the authorities would have answered them to sit down.
“He (one of the Serbian officers) was angry! We didn’t do anything, but he was angry”
The Serbian authorities asked them if they were carrying more money with them and then called a taxi. According to the respondents, when the taxi driver arrived, he asked the group for 30 euro to drive them to the bus station. Nevertheless, after he had a short talk with the Serbian officers, he suddenly raised the price to 80 euro. Then, the respondents handed over the money to the Serbian officers. At that moment the respondents said he clearly saw the Serbian officers giving only part of the money to the taxi driver.