Group of 36 people (mostly families from Syria and nine single men from Algeria) started walking through the woodland near Bihać, BiH. They travelled to a mountain close to Bihać (“the Bihać mountain”) with an abandoned cottage that people on the move use for resting and warming themselves up.
“Croatian police also knows about this cottage, they sometimes come and make a raid, kick people out and take or destroy their belongings.”
After two kilometers of walking, there was another mountain at the bottom of which was Croatian territory. In Croatia they scaled another slope, it was completely dark at 22:00 in the night, with no moon. The group first noticed a helicopter, and hid in the forest, advancing slowly until they reached a highway which they crossed and continued walking up another large mountain for twelve hours.
“We were scared to stop walking because of police. We tried to sleep somewhere but it was very cold and we were scared that the police would come if we didn’t keep moving. It is hard to even eat because of the fear. The mountain was very steep and I had to carry my daughter on my shoulders, but the road was too rocky and we couldn’t see anything so I fell down and tore the muscles in my calf [he shows his bandaged left calf].”
They rested on top of the mountain and continued walking further into the interior. While waiting later that night in the woods, they saw police flashlights from the mountain top.They lay down on their stomachs to avoid detection. By now it was several days into their journey. On 22nd October in the early morning the respondent shared how the first contact with police occured.
“We slept in the jungle. I got up around 04:00 in the morning to catch some fresh air and see the sunrise when I saw four police officers approaching me. They were all holding tree branches about one meter or 1.2 meters long.”
The respondent continues:
“When they came closer they pushed me with the branches until I fell on the floor. The phone fell out of my pocket and the police started stomping on it with their boots. They were getting angry because the phone wouldn’t break, the surface underneath was too soft.”
The police surrounded the sleeping people. The respondent stating:
“I was not allowed to go near my family and I was not allowed to put my shoes back on, I had to walk barefoot.”
Police made them to form a line and start walking downhill. If they did not walk fast enough, the police started shoving their backs with branches to go faster. They were taken to a steel fence with two police cars and two vans parked behind it. They were made to sit down and walk one by one to the police officer who was wearing gloves and started searching their belongings.
“Randomly, if they didn’t like you, they would point at you and say you, take off clothes and made you undress until you were only in your underwear. Then they took the tree branches and started shoving our genitals. It was painful. They were also telling us to give our phones otherwise we will be beaten.”
Their jackets were taken off and searched.
“When they discovered one woman hid her phone in the jacket, they took it and broke it with their sticks. They took jewelry from women.”
Afterwards, the 36 people in the transit group were put in vans and driven around: “driving fast – stop suddenly – driving fast – stop suddenly”. People started vomiting in the rear of the van, there was no light, no air. The van stopped to pick up another Turkish man during the journey. Then the vans stopped and they were unloaded. The respondent stating:
“We arrived to the burning point, we could smell it.”
There was around fifteen police officers waiting for them. The transit group had to go out from the van and put their bag in fire. The last person that came from the van was given a bag with everyone’s phones and told to throw it in the fire.
“They chose random people again and call them to come nearer and when they would approach the police, the person would get beaten with the tree branches. ‘If you say anything, we will beat you’, they said. It is better to shut up and do what they say. The only thing they asked was if we were Afghani or Pakistani.”
The group were shown the direction to start walking, towards BiH, and were made to walk in pairs. They walked around 10 km back to Sedra camp in Bihać, BiH.
“We didn’t try to apply for asylum. How can I apply for asylum or expect to be given protection from a country whose police officers force me to strip to my underwear and starts shoving my genitals with a tree branch in front of my wife and children?”