On Friday, 7th October 2022, a 20-year-old man from Burundi was pushed back from Croatia to Bosnia in the area around the Croatian forest of Mali Obljaj. He was part of a group of 31 people from Burundi, Burkina Faso and Iran.
On the 7th October, the group crossed the Croatian border, and walked through the forest for about one hour. The transit group consisted of men, some women and 3 families. After one hour walking, in what the respondent described as a small road surrounded by the forest (45.2231519, 15.9474804), they saw what they referred to as a police van, described as big, white with blue lines and with a big antenna on the roof: they think that tool helped the authorities to spot them:
“Je pense que c’est comme ça qu’on nous a repérés” (I think that’s how we were caught).
Apart from this vehicle, the respondent stated that there were two other vans, described as big, white, with no windows and with bars. The description given matches the Croatian police vans usually used to transport people.
The respondent described the men that apprehended them as officers dressed in black clothes and he reports that on their clothes he saw the writing: “Intervention”. The uniform is very likely to be Croatian Intervention Police uniform.
“Il y avair des policiers, et dans ses habilles je vois, dans sa langue, quelque chose comme Intervention” (There were some police officers, and on their clothes I saw, written in their language, something like Intervention).
When they were apprehended, the respondent reported that they were separated depending on their country of origin. Some of the officers took Iranian families and children into a van, and left. Then, they took the people from Burkina Faso into another van (the respondent afterwards received information that they were also sent back to Bosnia) and left as well. The group of people from Burundi, consisting of 15 people (children and women included), was held in the same spot from 7am to 5.30 pm, which can be seen in the video. The respondent reported that they were sitting on the ground, and that for the whole time they didn’t have access to water, food or the toilet.
One hour after the group was apprehended, another van arrived, described as black with no windows. One of the officers in this van searched all their pockets, as the respondent stated, took all their belongings (phones, headphones, chargers, power banks), and put them into a bag. The items were not given back until 7pm, when the group was brought back to the border.
“Il y avait un policier, plutot gros, qui nous a cherché toutes les poches, ils ont mis tous les téléphones dans un sac, des chargeurs, des écouteurs, power banks” (There was a police officer who searched our pockets. They took everything we had in a bag, phones, chargers, headphones, power banks).
According to the respondent, at around 5.30pm, the whole group was taken into a van. The van was described as white, with no windows and bars outside, and police lights on the top of the van, in the front and back. After an approximated 30 minutes driving, the vehicle stopped in a small road in the Croatian forest, and dropped the group there (45.2252647, 15.9902727). The respondent stated that he thinks they didn’t go directly there, but took a longer way to arrive.
When they were dropped, the officers gave them their items back, and then told them to go back to Bosnia. The respondent reported that officers were running after them to scare them and force them back into Bosnia, so they ran into the forest towards Bosnia.
“Ils nous ont dit de partir. We don’t need you, we don’t want you in our country, puis ils nous ont chassés. Il y avait des filles, des enfants, on leur a dis, il y a des enfants, il y a des aches, amènes les et laissez nous. Ça fait trois jours qu’ils n’ont rien mangé.” (They told us to go, “we don’t need you, we don’t want you in our country”, after that, they chased us. There were kids and women, we told them that there were children and minors, that they could leave us there but please take the children back, it had been three days since they last ate).
The respondent explained that after they ran into the forest, once they were alone, the group tried to go back again, taking another route. But, minutes later, they saw a van coming, similar to the one that pushed them back, around 6pm. When they saw it, they sat on the floor and raised their arms, shouting “we need your help“, as the respondent reported. One of the girls in the group had asthma and she was feeling sick, so they asked for help from the officers.
The respondent explained that the officers came out of the van, put on their balaclavas to cover their faces and took out batons. Most of the people in the group started running, but some stayed there. The respondent stated that the ones that stayed (most of the men in the group), were beaten by the officers with batons, mostly in their backs.
After that, all the group ran into the forest towards the Bosnian side. The respondent stated that it was already dark and cold, and that they were really afraid, because they couldn’t see the way and because they thought they could get shot.
“Et là on se disait, qu’est ce que va se passer maintenant? mon téléphone était déjà éteint. C’était trop dangereux, ça faissait noir, on pouvait nous nous tirer desous” (We were wondering, what’s going to happen now? My phone was dead. It was too dangerous, it was dark, they could shoot at us).
The group started going back to Bosnia, but they were really tired and cold. The girl with asthma was feeling very ill, and two of the members of the group had to carry her on their shoulders.
The respondent stated that they started walking back around 8pm and arrived in Glinica (Bosnia) around 4 am. On the way, they tried to contact a number they refer to as IOM, to ask them to take them back, as they were tired, cold, and sick. The respondent recalled that the contact they spoke with, supposedly IOM, told them to call 112, which they didn’t do because they knew that police authorities wouldn’t have helped them. The contact also reportedly sent an email address.
2 days after this incident, some of the group members still had wounds and pain in their back.