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They threw pepper spray in our eyes, it burnt...

Date & Time 2022-10-21
Location Šturlić, Bosnia
Reported by No Name Kitchen
Coordinates 45.06315982, 15.74571371
Pushback from Croatia
Pushback to Bosnia
Taken to a police station no
Minors involved yes
WLTI* involved no
Men involved yes
Age 26 - 26
Group size 80
Countries of origin Burundi
Treatment at police station or other place of detention
Overall number of policemen and policewomen involved Approximately 30
Violence used beating (with batons/hands/other), kicking, pushing people to the ground, insulting, pepper spray, threatening with guns, gunshots
Police involved Approximately 30 Croatian officers; 1 blue police car; 2 white police vans with blue stripes; 1 white car with blue stripes

The morning of the 21st October, the respondent, a woman from Burundi aged 26 years old, was pushed back together with a group of 80 people from the Croatian side of the border, to the Bosnian side, near the town of Velika Kladuša.

On the 19th October, Wednesday, the respondent left the city of Bihać with a group of 80 people to attempt to cross the Croatian border. The transit group consisted of children and their families, and single men and women, all of them from Burundi.

The group left Bihać around 3pm and walked for 4 hours and a half until they reached the Croatian border. The respondent stated that it was dark when they arrived, so they decided to stay there for the night and cross at sunrise. She didn’t remember the exact location, but she recalled that it was in the middle of the forest and that before arriving to the border they passed by two buildings that had “Police” written on them. She also stated they knew it was the border because of the wire fence and signs.

Reportedly, the group stayed at that spot for the night, and around 5 am, on the 20th October, they crossed the border. They started walking in Croatian territory and at around 8 am, when they were about to reach a bigger road, they were reportedly apprehended by the Croatian officers. The respondent reported seeing a big light and a navy blue car, described as small, in the forest, surrounded by what she referred to as officers. Not far away on the road, the respondent could also see two white vans with blue stripes and a smaller car with the same features.

When the members of the transit group saw the car and the officers, they sat down and raised their hands, as a sign of peace. The respondent reported that there were 15 officers, dressed in dark blue uniforms and balaclavas covering their faces. The description of the vehicles and the officer’s uniforms could match the description of the Intervention Police.

Reportedly, as soon as they were spotted, the officers switched off the big light and started to shoot with their guns in the air to scare them. They approached the transit group shouting “go back“, chased them and beat them, according to the respondent. She reported that all the group members were hit, including women and children; the women were pushed, kicked and beaten on the back. The men, reportedly, were beaten even harder with batons, as well as kicked with knees and feet, all over their bodies. Moreover, the respondent declared that one of the members of the group was hit so hard that the officers thought he was dead.

“On a même pas vu qu’il n’allait pas bien, c’est la police qui s’en rapprochait puisqu’il ne respirait pas, il ne bougeait pas, et ils sont allés voir s’il était mort. La police a soulevé l’homme, il semblait être mort. Le policier a cru qu’il était mort et a dit “finish”, et nous on a commencé a crier et a pleurer “.

(We didn’t see he wasn’t okay, it was the police who came near him because he didn’t move or breathe, they wanted to check if he was dead. The police lifted the man from his arm, he seemed to be dead. The police officer thought he was dead and said “finished”, then we all started shouting and crying).

After that, the respondent explained that the group had to wait on the ground at the same spot during the whole day, from 8am until it was dark. Reportedly, their basic needs such as water or food were not met, neither was any medical assistance was given. Moreover, the interviewee declared that the officers would eat and drink in front of them, and they would refuse to give anything to the group members when asked.

“Les enfants ont commencé a pleurer, parce que il faisait froid, et ils avait faim. La police, ils mangeaient même devant les enfants.  Les policiers mangeaient, se partageaient du lait, des biscuits… et si une mère leur demandait de la nourriture pour ses enfants, ils refusaient ”

(The children started crying, since it was cold and they were hungry. The police officers ate even in front of the kids. They ate, they shared milk, biscuits between them… and if a mother asked for food for her kids, they would say no.)

During the day, the respondent stated that the officers would laugh at them, and humiliate them by playing music from their country of origin, and laughing at it.

“Ils se moquaient de nous dans leur langue, mais nous on comprenait qu’ils se moquaient de nous. Ils nous ont injurié aussi, parce qu’ils disaient fuck you ”

(They were making fun of us in their language, but we would understand they were laughing at us. They also insulted us, they said fuck you).

Besides, as the respondent declared, one of the members of the group was feeling sick, and when medical assistance was asked this was refused. When it was dark, reportedly, an officer that seemed to be the “boss” arrived and told the group he would provide medical assistance if they followed him. They complied with the order and soon they realised they were heading to the Bosnian side of the border, so they stopped. The officers, at that point, started laughing at them, saying that they would never help them.

“Quand nous avons bougé, ils nous disaient, “vous êtes stupides, on vous a menti et vous avez cru qu’on allait vous donner de l’assistance médicale” (When we moved, they started telling us that we were stupid, that they lied to us and we believed they were going to give us medical assistance).

In this whole time, the respondent stated that they had expressed the intention to ask for asylum several times. The answer to this request was denial, with officers reportedly using sentences such as “The asylum is finished” and “You will never get to our country“; “We don’t care if you die here, you won’t get into our country“.

They stayed at the same spot during the night of the 20th October, with some different officers guarding them. Reportedly, it was very cold, and none of the group members had blankets or any way to heat themselves; meanwhile, the men referred to as police officers that stayed for the night made a fire to heat themselves.

According to the respondent, the next morning, the 21st October, while the transit group was asleep, a new group of 15 officers arrived to the spot. Reportedly these officers woke them up and ran after the group to force them to the Bosnian side of the border; they used pepper spray against them, even against children. The respondent declared to have been beaten, kicked and pushed by the Croatian police.

Ils nous ont jeté les lacrymogènes dans les yeux, ça brulait les yeux, on se couvrait, on a courru, c’était un grand terrain. Ils nous ont battus avec les pieds, ils nous chassaient jusqu’à la frontière de la Bosnie” (They threw pepper spray in our eyes, it burnt the eyes, we covered ourselves, we ran, it was a wide terrain. They beat us with their feet, they chased us to the Bosnian side of the border).

In addition, the interviewee stated that one of the officers was also affected by the pepper spray and got his eyes hurt. This made him upset and he reportedly took his gun out and pointed it directly at the members of the group.

The respondent described that transit group then ran towards the Bosnian side of the border. During the run, one of the people had an asthma attack. After walking for 5 hours, and being lost for a while, the respondent, together with a group of 42 people, arrived at Polje, close to Velika Kladuša.

The location of the push back is not certain but the description of the places and distances mentioned by the respondent makes it likely that the incident happened around the area of Šturlić, between Bihać and Velika Kladuša.