The 4th of November, Friday, the respondents, a 22 year old man and a 22 year old woman from Congo, were pushed back from Croatia to Bosnia in the surroundings of Velika Kladuša, together with a group of 25 people.
The transit group consisted of around 14 people from Cameroon and around 15 from Congo, including kids and women, the youngest member being 2 years old and the eldest 50 years old. As declared by the respondents, the transit group left Šturlić around 2am on the 4th of November heading to the Croatian border. They walked for a hour and a half and then decided to have a break. They rested for 2 hours and then walked for 45 minutes to get to the Croatian border in the area of Komesarac.
Once they crossed the border, the respondents state (they do not remember the exact position) that they went into a forest and ended up on a paved road. After walking for around 30 minutes they arrived at a small village in Croatia in the area of Komesarac. As soon as they got to this small village the group was apprehended by some people, who the respondents refer to as “the Croatian border police“.
Reportedly, 2 police vans approached them, described as white, with a blue stripe on them. The respondents report that 4 police officers were inside the vehicles, a woman and 3 men. As the scene is described, the police authorities got out of the vehicles and told the transit group members to stop and sit. The group obeyed the orders and sat down.
The officers started counting the people, they asked for their nationalities and gathered some information about them. The people could not even express their intention to ask for asylum. The respondents state: “No, they wouldn’t let us talk at all, it was really brutal. The way they asked for things made us even shiver”.
One hour later a new police officer appeared at the spot: he is described by the respondents as being “the boss“. As for his appearance, the respondents describe him as a tall, bald man, dressed in the same dark blue uniform with the difference of the yellow insignia he had at the level of his chest. This officer allegedly arrived in his own car, a small white car with blue letters on it.
The respondents report that from the moment he arrived, the situation started to get more and more violent. He came out of the car shouting; the respondents did not understand what he was saying, but they state that it felt like insults, he would also shout “go back!” to them. He ordered the rest of the officers to take the group members’ phones. Then he started going around, coming and going and calling people, the transit group did not understand what was happening.
Reportedly, some minutes later, a new police vehicle got to the place, this time a black van. Two officers came out of it, two men dressed in black jackets. The respondents declare that these men’s uniforms were different, they didn’t belong to the same kind of police. During the interview they call them “fast intervention police”, and the description of the uniform could match the uniforms usually worn by the Croatian Intervention Police.
“Quand un officier de l’intervention rapide est arrivé, avec un arrogant impossible, il a commencé à piétiner les autres, il a commencé à nous menacer, il a pris nos téléphones… Vous, vous allez retourner, vous n’avez pas le droit” (When the fast intervention officer arrived, with extreme arrogance, he started confronting the other officers, he started threatening us, he took our phones […] “You, you are going back, you don’t have the right to be here””).
Allegedly, these new officers only stayed at the spot for a short period of time, around 30 minutes, then they left. The respondents declare that overall they stayed in the same spot for around 4 hours; meanwhile, the temperature was very cold.
Afterwards, a new van arrived at the place with two new officers inside. This time it was a white van. The respondents state that at some point the “boss” gathered the officers, and they started talking and told the group members to stand up. Reportedly, once all the group was standing, they shouted “Control!” and started searching them. All the electronic devices were taken from them: chargers, power banks, etc… “but they didn’t touch the money”. The women were searched by the female police officer and the men were searched by the male officers.
“Comme ils nous ont fouillé très gentiment, ils nous ont fait croire qu’ils allaient nous donner une solution, qu’ils allaient nous emmener quelque part. On pensait qu’ils avaient eu pitié de nous, mais pas du tout” (As they searched us gently, they made us think they would somehow give us a solution, that they would take us somewhere. We thought they took pity on us, but not at all).
After being searched, the group was separated and loaded into two different police vans: the group from Congo in one van and the group from Cameroon in the other one. As the respondents state, all the 14 people from Congo were put in the same van; they didn’t have enough space so two of them had to sit on the floor of the van. The driving was described as reckless: in facts, some of the people of the group threw up and felt sick during the trip. After driving for around 30-45 minutes, at around 11 am, the group members were dropped off in a spot in the middle of the forest (45.140914, 15.775214). The respondents state that they were already on the Bosnian side of the border when they were dropped off. The officers showed them a path and forced them to follow it.
“Et après ils nous ont envoyé dans un endroit très isolé, ils peuvent faire tout ce qu’ils veulent, que personne peut témoigner…” (They then dropped us off in a very isolated spot, they could do whatever they wanted, no one would witness it).
At this point, the two respondents agree that they felt really scared. Reportedly, some of the people started crying, asking for forgiveness and for help. But the police officers would refuse, and keep shouting “go back” and telling them that they would never get to Croatia. Then, one of the respondents states that he saw the so-called boss taking something out of his belt, and saw how he threw the pepper spray at the men in the group; 6 of them were sprayed, including himself.
“Ils nous ont emmenés jusqu’à la frontière, ils nous ont jeté violemment… Même moi j’ai été victime de la violence, on m’à mis du gaz lacrymogène aux yeux. Et il y avait un frère Camerounais qu’à vraiment été batu, on l’à mis du lacrymogène et on la batu trop fort, il à même perdu la conscience” (They took us to the border, they threw us violently… Even me, I was victim of the violence, they used pepper spray in my eyes. There was a brother from Cameroon that had really been beaten, they used pepper spray on him and they beat him badly, he even lost consciousness).
Apart from the spray, police officers also started kicking and beating the members of the group, and finally chased them into the paved road. Moreover, as the interviewees report, one of the members of the group had her 2 years old child in her arms when the police officers approached her, the child was torn from her violently, and put on the ground. Then, they sprayed the mother’s eyes.
“Ils basculaient les femmes, ils frappaient… Ils ont arraché le bébé de la maman et puis le pompaient, c’était très triste.” (They pushed the women, they hit them… They ripped the baby from the mother and then sprayed her, it was very sad).
Reportedly, the pepper spray impeded the transit group members to move or walk, their eyes hurt too much and they needed some time to rest and put water into their eyes. Once they could see and walk again, they walked away from the police officers towards Velika Kladuša. As the respondents and other members of the transit group state, some of the people were badly hurt and were not able to move until hours later. Then, in less than an hour walking, they arrived at their destination in Polje, near Velika Kladuša.
The respondents state that this episode was really traumatic and stressful for them, it was the first time they tried the “game” (attempt to cross the border and get to EU) and they were shocked by the violence used by the Croatian police.
“Moi aujourd’hui même j’avais du mal. Ça m’a vraiment stressé parce que c’était ma toute première fois à voir des choses pareilles. Je n’avais jamais vu ça et je n’étais pas du tout bien aujourd’hui”. (I was struggling even today. It really stressed me out, it was the first time I saw something like that. I had never seen that and I was not at all okay today).