On Sunday, the 28th of November, at 9:15 am, a family of six stemming from the Kurdish part of Iraq was apprehended by the Croatian authorities shortly after they crossed the Bosnia-Croatian border close to the town of Šturlić.
They started walking from the Bosnian side at, as the 18-year-old respondent remembered, shortly before 5 am in very cloudy weather. The respondent stressed that with the arriving winter it was obvious for him that this would be their last transit attempt into the EU before they would return to the camp for the winter. The group reached the Croatian- Bosnian border at around 8 am, but waited for almost another hour before crossing. He explained that they planned to ask the Croatian authorities at the border to bring them to the camp in Zagreb, hoping that they would be able to ask for asylum there.“I started walking at 5 am, but I was on the border at 8 am. I didn’t go inside at 8 am, because the camp is not working until 9 o’clock, until 9 am they don’t accept anybody most of the time. Ten minutes before nine we started going inside.”
The family then crossed into Croatia and walked for what the respondent remembers as only a little bit over 600m into Croatian territory. He related it took around 20 minutes for three male and one female officer in dark blue jackets and pants to arrive in the foggy weather. The officers arrived in a normal white van with four seats in the back, and two in the front, not bearing any visible police insignia or writing. One of the men was also wearing a hat, which he took off upon encountering the transit group.
“Over there was a construction worker, they were fixing the road. The guy was like ‘Ey, police is gonna come.’ I said yeah I came to ask the police for asylum. So we just move with my whole family and one car came with the police. It was three men with one woman, it was a white van with black windows, basically, a normal van […] with six seats. It didn’t say anything [written on it].”
The respondent remembered that local people on the Croatian side were staring at him and his family, but were told by the officers to look in another direction. The officers asked the group what they were doing here, how many they were, and whether they were carrying any weapons.
All of the officers seemed to be about 40 years old, except for the female officer, who seemed to be younger, about 25 years old. They were all wearing the same dark blue uniform. (“It wasn’t that dark [like black], and it wasn’t fully blue you know.”) The respondent recalled that the jackets and pants that the officers were wearing, matched exactly those normally worn by police officers, but with the emblems taken off. He specified that they could see the mark of the taken-off emblem on the shoulder part of the officers’ uniforms, where it is supposed to be. He explained that the officers were able to put it on and off with something similar to a Velcro.“You can take it on easily and put it off easily. […] It’s like a sticker. Basically, you can just rip it off, and later put it back on.”
The 18-year-old man also added that his father had been in and around police forces in Iraq for over 30 years, and knew about these procedures; he also added he had seen Croatian officers hide their badges in their chest pockets or belts during previous transit attempts already.
The respondent also specified that all of the officers were carrying 9mm pistols and one of them carried a weapon that he recalled resembled a Glock 14. Additionally, all of them were carrying pepper spray and handcuffs on their belts. One of the male officers was also carrying a black baton, about a little more than half a meter long, which he had taken out from the back of the car upon arrival.
When the group requested to officially ask for asylum, one of the officers tried to contact his colleagues. One of the officers went to speak slowly on his radio behind a nearby bush to what the respondent suspected was the man’s superior for a short amount of time.“‘You want asylum?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘I need to talk to my boss.’ Then he went around the corner, I heard him saying something, but it was very quiet, I couldn’t hear it. It took him one or two minutes. He said ‘I’m sorry, the camp is not working’, and it was Monday. I was like ‘Ah, so the camp is not working?’ ‘I don’t know my boss told me the camp is not working, so I have to take you back.’”
“I was thinking like, today is Monday. How is the camp not working? It was a surprise for me… Because normally, maybe on Sunday or Saturday the guys don’t work, but Monday, I don’t know.”
The respondent related it was only these less than five minutes, that the authorities stayed with them at the site, afterwards two of the male officers immediately started walking them back to the border.
“He said we have two choices: ‘Either we’re gonna go from there or we’re gonna call the car to take you back there. I was like it’s better to walk back to where we came from. Because if the van came – I hate the van – it’s all metal and moving around, it sounds horrible inside, and they deport you like 10 kilometers away from where we sleep.”
The way back was uphill, and the grass was very high and wet from the thick fog, so it took them a little bit more than 25 minutes to walk to the pushback site at the border, which was in a green area of grass and trees with at least two houses visible from there, on the Croatian, as well as on the Bosnian side. One of the walking officers apparently had a health problem with this right leg, as he was humping. The other two officers followed close-by in the car, driving slowly on the nearby road, seemingly to watch them.
“We took a shortcut. If we go on the road it would take longer, so the police was just walking next to us. The car was going on the road, in an angle that it could see us, always. And when there was a place that they could not see us, from the car, they would just circle, just to see us. […] just behind us, basically, they didn’t go too far.”
Reportedly, the officers just told them to cross back into Bosnia and waited to watch them a little northwest from up the hill. Still, the respondent related that he felt the officer they talked to the most, seemed rather inexperienced about the pushback and treated his family comparatively respectfully compared to other experiences in previous transit attempts.
“We went there and the police said ‘Okay, maybe you try next time.’ I said ‘It’s my over 40th time that I try. When should I do it?’ He was like ‘Sorry, I cannot do anything.’”
The 18-year-old recalled the officers kept watching them from the top of the hill with binoculars, as they had to walk downhill back to the Bosnian side; after over 20 minutes of walking upon turning around he was still able to see in the distance the officers holding up binoculars in their direction. Ensuingly, it took the family one hour of walking until they arrived back at their makeshift home close to the town of Šturlić.