On Sunday, the 21st of November, around 3 am at night, a transit group of six men, all stemming from Afghanistan, was apprehended by the authorities on a forest road around 5 kilometers southeast of the Croatian town of Kuterevo.
The group had been walking for a total of eight days already, starting from the Bosnian town of Bihać, and according to the 32 year-old respondent was surprised by seven officers fully dressed in army-green unicolor uniforms.
“Wir haben so Angst gehabt, einfach raus, einfach raus, so! Wir hatten einen kleinen Jungen mit, der hatte eine halbe Stunde Angst vor der Polizei […] ‚Stop Polizei!‘, die kamen einfach so, haben gesagt ‚Nicht laufen!‘“
[„We had such a lot of fear, they just came out, out, like this! [waving his arm in a gesture of sudden appearance] We had a small boy with us, half an hour he was afraid of the police […] ‘Stop, police!’, they just came like this, said ‘Don’t run!’”]
The officers then told them to sit down on the ground, to which the respondent said the group obliged, as they knew from the gestures of the officers and also previous transit attempts that if they attempted to run or move away they would be beaten. The respondent related that the officers ordered the group to hold their bags in a certain way away from themselves, which one of the groups, the 17-year-old boy, did not understand as he knew neither English nor Croatian and thus did not do correctly, upon which one of the officers seemed to get enraged and went ahead to beat and kick him.
“Eine Person, einen Jungen, haben sie geschlagen, mit dem Fuß geschlagen. Er hat gesagt, ‚kannst du deine Tasche so und so machen‘, aber er versteht gar nichts, weil er kann kein Englisch oder Deutsch, keine andere Sprache; deswegen versteht er nichts. Er hatte auch Angst vor der Polizei deswegen, und hat etwas falsch gemacht, und danach hat die Polizei ihn so geschlagen.“
[“One person, a boy, they beat, they kicked him with the foot. [The officer] had said ‘Can you put your bag like this and this?’ [.], but he couldn’t understand anything, because he speaks neither English nor German, no other language; so he didn’t understand anything. He was also afraid of the police because of that, and he made a mistake, and then the police beat him like this [gestures the kicking].“]
After waiting at the site for ten minutes, the respondent relates that the authorities told the group to get up again and walk for three minutes to another street where the vehicles they had arrived in, one Ford and another small black car, none of them bearing any official signs of police, were parked.
The respondent related that as the rest of the group did not speak much English, one of the officers asked him whether he could translate from German. Some of the officers spoke in German to him when they realized that he was speaking the language. The respondent said he answered that he could not speak the language fluently, but good enough to have a basic conversation. Ensuingly, the respondent answered several questions which the officers asked while they were still standing on the street next to the cars. He related that the authorities also took videos and pictures of them, without asking for permission.
“Er hat gesagt ‘Kannst du vorkommen?’ Da habe ich gesagt ‘Ja gerne’ […] Und danach haben sie gefragt ‚Wie lange bist du in Bosnien? Wie lange seid ihr gelaufen hier nach Kroatien, wie viele Tage? Für wie lange bist du aus Afghanistan gekommen, bis hier? Wie viel bezahlst du dafür?‘“
[“He said ‘Can you come forward?’ Then I said ‘Yes, of course’ […] And then they asked me: ’How long have you been in Bosnia? How long did you walk to Croatia, how many days? For how long did you come from Afghanistan, until here? How much did you pay for this?”]
The 32-year-old man also had a short conversation with one of the younger officers about his life in Germany, what he had worked for, and the respondent told that he would like to go back to Germany to continue working there again.
“Und danach haben wir gesagt ‘Können Sie mir einen Gefallen tun? Weil wir haben sehr zu tun, jedes Mal gehen wir nach Kroatien, und zurück, und gehen zurück, und gehen zurück, wir haben große Probleme. Bitte helf mir!‘ Und er hat gesagt ‘Wir können da nicht helfen, wir müssen ‚deport‘ mit euch machen, wir können nicht helfen.‘ Er hat gesagt nein, das geht gar nicht, wir müssen zurück gehen.“
“And then we said: ‘Can you do me a favor? Because we’re having a hard time, every time we go to Croatia, and back, and go back, go back, we have big problems. Please help me!’ And he said ‘We can’t help with this, we have to deport you, we can’t help you.’ He really said no, in no way, we have to go back.”
The respondent said he also pleaded with the officers for help to let them pass through to have the chance to ask for asylum in the European Union, but to no avail.
“‘Bitte, wir haben 25mal das Game gemacht, bitte helf mir!‘ Da hat er gesagt ‚Wir können dir nicht helfen, warum bleibst du nicht in Bosnien?‘ Da hab ich gesagt: ‚Was soll ich machen in Bosnien, ich habe dort kein Leben, keine Arbeit…ich kann Deutsch, ich habe dort gearbeitet, ich muss dorthin zurückgehen. Einmal, zweimal, oder hundertmal; ich werde versuchen dorthin zurückzugehen.‘“
[“’ Please, we have done the game for 25 times now, please help me!’ [The officer] said to me: ‘ We cannot help, why don’t you stay in Bosnia?’, upon which I answered ‘What should I do in Bosnia, I don’t have any life, any work there…I can speak German, I’ve worked in the country, I’ve got to go back there. Once, twice, a hundred times; I will try to return to there.’” ]
The officers also asked the group for their personal information, checking their phones, including their Gmail account and maps.
After 20 minutes of waiting at the side of the road, a white police van arrived, driven by two male officers, one of them completely bald and the other one as the respondent remembers with blonde hair, both wearing night-sky-black uniforms, on whose right shoulders the respondent related it also said police. The 32-year-old man related these officers did not talk to them but only made them go inside of the van and close the doors. Inside the van, the respondent said that it was very cold, as with the beginning of the winter the temperatures outside were already cool, but the officers reportedly used the vehicle’s air conditioning on the cool setting to make the temperatures drop even more, which caused the transit group, sitting inside on uncomfortable metal chairs, to freeze.
“Drinnen war es so kalt, und mehr kalte Luft kam.“
[“Inside it was so cold, and more cold air was coming [from the fan].”]
Inside this first van, the group then only drove for 30 minutes, until the vehicle stopped for a little time at the side of the road, waiting for another, bigger, white police van with two new officers in similar uniforms, which also had police written on it, which upon arrival they were forced into and which subsequently drove them for another two to three hours to the Bosnia-Croatian border, where they arrived at around 6 am; the sun had not risen yet. He remarked he was unable to remember the time span of the 2nd period exactly as he fell asleep for some time during the ride.
The new officers drove them directly to what seemed to be two to three white container booths on a gravel road, where the respondent remembers two to three additional officers were awaiting the transit group, also wearing the same black uniforms and carrying black batons. When asked to describe further the uniforms these officers were wearing, the respondent answered that because of violent experiences in the previous confrontations with the Croatian police forces, he would try not to look directly at the officers.
“Ich kann sie nicht so gut beschreiben, weil du schaust und danach schlagen sie dich, deswegen können wir nur so laufen.“
“I can’t describe them so well, because you look at them and then they hit you, that’s why we only walk like this [imitating the posture of the head bent downwards].”
The group was then only forced to get out of the car and, with one of the officers walking in front of the group of 6, in the direction into Bosnia.
“Es waren um die fünf Leute, einer vorne, und zwei, drei hinten, wir dazwischen.“
[“It was about five people, one in front, and two, three behind, us in between.”]
Before the apprehension, the authorities had also confiscated the group’s power bank, lighters, charging cables, headphones, razors, and their only phone the respondent explains. It was only this one phone which was then also returned to them by the officers. Their headphones, power banks, cables, razors, and lighters were not returned.
On the other side of the border, the respondent related, a bigger road with people was running, presumably the Bosnian M11 road. From the site of the pushback, the respondent related it took them about a full day to walk back on foot to the city of Bihać, to return to their outside makeshift camp.