The interview was conducted with a 24-year-old Bolivian girl, who spoke on behalf of the rest of the group of 5 people, all of them from Bolivia, 2 men and 3 women between the ages of 20 and 30 years old. They left Bihac (Bosnia), on Sunday, 2nd November at 3.30 pm. and headed towards the Croatian border. As soon as they entered the forest, they began to hear animal noises, possibly coming from wolves or dogs. They got scared and began to walk faster through the forest, following the online maps and trying to hide from the lights and noises.
At one point they reached a river that they had to cross, but they were close to a ravine and the water was very cold. While they were there they saw some lights above them that they identified as 3 or 4 drones. At some stage, they also lost internet connection so they could not follow the maps anymore. Because all of this, they decided to turn back, reportedly followed by the drones the entire time. It was already dark and cold.
When they saw an easier spot to cross the river, one of the men prepared to go in first, but at that moment they saw some lights right in front of them and were apprehended by two people described as wearing dark-blue uniforms, carrying embroideries that stated: “Granična”, that they identify as “Croatian police officers”, who had probably already spotted them before. From the description of the uniforms given by the respondent, is likely that they belong to the Croatian Border Police unit. The respondent believes that at that point they had not yet crossed the border into Croatia, but they were close. The officers, who were driving two cars and had dogs with them, made them stop and asked them where they were from and where they were going.
Reportedly, the group followed them to a hut where there were more police cars. In total, the respondent recalls seeing 10 people described as police officers and 5 vehicles, 2 or 3 cars and 2 vans.
The respondent reports that at that point the officers went on checking their belongings, first the 2 men’s and then the women’s as well. The men’s bodies were also searched, while the women’s would be searched later. Reportedly, the officers took all their phones and put them in a handbasket with the chargers and other belongings, including all their passports. Then they were loaded into police cars and driven to a building they describe as an office/police station in Croatia, about 30 minutes driving from where they had been taken.
There, a person described as a “middle-aged policewoman” (they knew was called Akira because they heard other agents calling her by name) took the women into a room. The respondent reports that she once again checked everything they were carrying, and rudely took the earphones off one of them.
At no point did they offer a translator, and only one of the women was able to speak English. Reportedly, the woman officer also searched their bodies, painfully squeezing one of the women’s breasts.
Afterwards, the respondent states that the group was loaded back into one van to take them somewhere else. Before that, however, the officers asked everyone for their phone passwords and wrote them down in a notebook. Once in the car, the officers did not return any of the things they had taken from the group members, and they also stole one of the women the only bag she had left, which contained clothes and a wallet with all the money and other documents. They thought they would get their things back later, but that was not the case.
A that point the officers took them all to a place the respondent claimed to be where the authorities drop everyone that they catch attempting to cross the border, which consists of an old house and a couple of other buildings, in a wooded area with nothing else around apart from these buildings. The entire surrounding road was littered with clothes and objects from other people who had passed by earlier. When they got there, they once again asked for their belongings, but the officers who had taken them there said that they did not have them and did not know where they were. At that moment, the respondent reports that they were all feeling overwhelmed with desperation, they begged them to give them back their things. Reportedly, the officers ignored them.
They were emotionally devastated because they could not have their belongings back, and they were extremely cold. Not only was it night-time, but the respondent report that for all the time they had been in the car, the officers had had the air conditioner on to make sure they were even colder. After getting off the vehicle, they decided not to move from the place where the car left them, even though the police yelled them to “Go! Go! Go!”. They did not move because at that point they had nothing (“no phone, no passport, no money”), and they did not want to leave. Besides, they were tired of walking, and it was cold, and they could not see anything. One of the women even knelt to beg them to give them back their things, but according to women respondents, the officers simply laughed at her.
“All our suffering has made them laugh”.
The respondent reports that when they were dropped off, more officers arrived, with dogs, reportedly in an attempt to intimidate and frighten them. After a short while, when the officers left, they went into one of the huts close by, where they realised there were cameras. Then, they recall two other people described as “police officers” appeared and forced them into a car.
At that point, the respondent states that it was around 5 AM. They thought the car would take them back to the police station or the camp, but the officers drove them for an hour and left them in the middle of a forest, where there were trees and “danger” signs with skeletons and radiation symbols all around – it was likely a minefield.
They could not sit there or touch anything, so the only option was to walk. Before leaving them, the officers had told them that the nearest village was 1 km away. They walked for a long time until they reached an intersection with two signs, one with “Bosnia” written on it and the other one they cannot fully remember, but it had the Croatian flag and the name of what they think was a town. They took the road to Bosnia, and walked for over a hour, without seeing a single house or a village, only deep forest. As they did not reach anywhere, they went back in the direction of Croatia.
Along the way they recall coming across a wolf with a bloody mouth. They continued walking until two more people identified as police officers (also wearing the dark-blue uniforms) appeared, an older and a younger one, with a dog. The respondents state that they did not treat them as badly as the others, that they listened to them, and afterwards talked among themselves and made some phone calls. They brought them to another police car. Along the way, the people on the move continued to ask for their belongings, explaining that the officers had stolen their passports, and saying Akira’s name. They were all searched again, forced to put their hands behind their necks and opening their legs.
This time, they did not wait for a female officer to come, and the same man searched the entire group. These agents also kicked them. The group members identified all the agents they were met with as members of the Croatian border police force (Granična). Each of the times they were different officers, although some of them had their faces covered by balaclavas.
The respondent also claims that all of them knew who Akira was, and that they frowned when they talked about her: “there is a big problem with her“, the officers said, reportedly. The respondent also affirms that several of the agents beat up the men in the group, and some of the women as well; they state that they also grabbed them aggressively. One of the men – the respondents highlights that he was the one with the darkest skin, so they thought he was being discriminated because of that – was also pinched and scratched. Eventually, according to the respondents, two other officers (carrying weapons described by the respondents as “big guns”) took them back to where they had first left from.
One of the last agents gave them two small water bottles and three mandarins. Because they were worried that they would be taken back to the minefield, this time at night – part of the day had already gone by – and with more wild animals, they headed towards the path that the police had initially indicated to them. Along the way, they found some clothes and remains likely left by the people who had walked by earlier.
They found a passage that took them about half an hour to reach Borici camp in Bihac. They arrived at the camp at dinner time (on Thursday the 3rd), and they report that they ate as if they had never eaten before, since did not eat for 2 days.