The respondent was travelling with a group of between 70 and 80 men and women from Pakistan and Afghanistan when he was pushed back from Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
According to the respondent, on the 1st of May the transit group started to walk from a forest in Bihac towards the direction of Croatia with the goal of reaching their final destination in western Europe. It took them between five and six hours to reached the Croatian border.
When asked to describe their transit route, the respondent explained that it was very difficult to cross the mountainous terrain, as it was very steep and wild, and he stressed that most of the persons were carrying backpacks weighing 20-25 kilograms, which made the journey even harder.
He further explained that the group struggled to access clean water because it was risky to go to places with freshwater due to the high probability that the police would be present. Therefore, the group members mostly drank dirty, stagnant water.
“We don’t have enough water. We take water from the jungle. We are like animals, drink water. We take water and drink water to save our lives.”
According to the respondent, the group faced bad weather conditions through out their entire journey, and on their 10th day, they decided to rest under a plastic tarp to protect themselves from the heavy snowfall. It was here that they were discovered by the authorities, recalled the respondent.
He described how men in uniform arrived at the point of apprehension, firing bullets in the air, saying that they were the Croatian police and that nobody should attempt to run. In total, the respondent recounted eight officers at the scene.
Once the group was surrounded, they were forced into five different vans which the respondent referred to as police vans. Up to 15 people were held in each vehicle. The respondent described how they were treated “like animals”; they did not have enough room to sit, and some people vomited in the van during the drive.
When they arrived at a building described by the respondent as a police station, the groups’ personal information was taken including their countries of origin, their ages, and their names. Photos were also taken of their faces.
According to the respondent, they had to sign some papers without knowing what the documents were. The officers communicated with the group in English, and no translator was present to translate for members that did not speak the language.
The individuals in the group were then forced to take off their clothes and give them to the officers, recounted the respondent, and their belongings (phones, power banks, money, bags and food) were also taken and lit on fire, together with their clothes.
“They take all our stuff. Just like shoes, jackets, trousers. They say ‘You have any gun, any knife?’ I speak ‘I am not terrorist, I don’t have knife, I don’t have gun. Just food. We are migrants, we are not terrorists here.”
The group spent a number of hours (the exact length of time could not be recalled by the respondent) at the station, until other officers, in black uniforms and ski masks, arrived and transported them to the border. The description of the uniform given by the respondent matches the uniform worn by officers belonging to the Croatian Intervention Police.
The respondent stated that normally, the men in uniform that apprehend transit groups walking through Croatia are not wearing ski masks. Usually, only the officers bringing them back to the Bosnian border wear ski masks.
“In the jungle side they don’t cover. And the deport time they cover their mouth. I don’t recognise his mouth.”
It was already dark when the officers took them to the border. The duration of the drive from the station to the border could not be recalled by the respondent.
“They deport in nighttime and nighttime nobody sees it. They don ́t deport daytime. And nighttime nobody can see us. They beat and say go back to Bosnia.”
According to the respondent, despite telling the officers they lived in Bihac when asked where they lived, the group was pushed back at the border near Velika Kladusa, about 50 kilometers from Bihac.
“We got deported to the Kladusha side. It ́s too far. We walked all day and then we reached here (Bihac).
After they had been pushed back to Bosnia and Herzegovina, the group travelled for 12-15 hours by foot back to Bihac. As the officers had taken all their clothes, they were forced to walk in their underwear. On their way to Bihac, they met some civilians that gave them some clothes and shoes, recalled the respondent.