A large transit group of 48 young men started their journey in Bihac, Bosnia-Herzegovina on the morning of 10th October 2019. After passing the border to Croatia on foot, they headed north across the undulating terrain of Croatia’s interior. Over the course of six days they walked through the forests, sustaining themselves by only small rations of food since they were avoiding cities and other places of attention. On the evening of October 15th they were somewhere in the north western part of the Karlovac county, a 2 hour walk from the Slovenian border.
Not long after dusk a buzzing sound in the sky caught their ears. Steadily approaching, it turned out to be the whir of a surveillance drone, which had targeted them from afar and hovered over them for a couple of minutes. The group tried to walk away quickly uphill, only to be ambushed by a unit of ten officers when they reached the top. They were described by the respondents as wearing olive uniforms like that of Special Police and were coated in camouflage patterns. The officers had circled the transit group.
At gunpoint, the group was made to sit down and ordered to hand over weapons of any kind. Supposedly, some members had with them knives which were given into police custody. The police then quickly “identified the smugglers”, as the ones that had been leading the group with GPS and apparently being the only ones in possession of smartphones. Without further frisking, the 50 people were led down the hill to a narrow road, where three additional officers dressed in the light blue Polos and navy blue shirts, coherent with descriptions of Temelnija police, were awaiting them with a white van.
The big group was then divided to fit into the van that would transport them in two rounds to their destination close to the Bosnian border. This was also described as the moment, in which the men saw their guides (identified as the smuggling agents by police) for the last time, since they had been separated from the others. The four respondents entered the back of the van as part of the first round, together with another 15 persons. It was then when one of the officers in green uniform would spray the inside of the van with a form of gas, that caused feelings of nausea and unconsciousness among the people inside. The door was then closed shut, leaving them in total darkness.
“So the police officers put a gas on [us] in the van and [we] felt vomiting and tears from the eyes and dizzy feeling”
It followed a drive in the van, that lasted for approximately three hours according to the respondents. In respect to their condition throughout that ride it was stated by all four respondents:
“[we] understood that we are alive but don’t understood anything [else] … and we were alive but not able to move”
When their transportation came to a halt, the backdoor of the van was opened and the men were ordered outside, finding themselves inside a courtyard from what they believed to be a police station. At the spot the three officers present, being identified as the same squad the group encountered after their apprehension by the officers in green uniform, started to strip search them. According to the respondents they were relieved of everything they had with them apart from the clothes they wore.
This included backpacks, tents, personal belongings and, as stated by three of them the amounts of 60, 80 and 350 Euro. No photos or fingerprints were taken, as the group never entered the building of the police station. They were at no point made to sign any documents. Neither had they explicitly expressed their intention of claiming asylum, telling the authorities they would not want to stay but rather transit Croatia. Following their statements, the officers informed them that even if they were asking for Asylum they would not get it.
“We did not even see a pen.”
Although the situation inside the police station did not last longer than 10 minutes, the group was exhausted from their journey and the gas that they have been exposed to during their transport. Asking the officers for food or water, they were denied.
“we were so badly hungry, but they didn’t give anything to us. [we] asked for water, but they didn’t give it to us.”
After the frisk had ended and their belongings were confiscated, the group was ordered back into the van again. It followed a short ride of around 10 minutes after which the men encountered themselves at the shore of a river, when descending the vehicle. The three officers commanded them to run through the river, being the border to Bosnia. One of the officers would swing for them with a police baton, missing most but still managing to hit a few of the men in their backs. The group, soaking wet after the crossing, made its way into Bosnia direction Velika Kladusa. They would walk for around ten kilometers to find an open space encampment of migrants where they would spend the night.
The following day they received the news that the two men that have been taken into separate custody allegedly were brutally beaten up by Croatian officers before being pushed back. According to the respondents, they belived the two men had even been fatally wounded during this ordeal, dying later in BiH hospital. However, Border Violence Monitoring Network was not able to confirm the validity of this accusation at the time this report was published.