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We call them sardine cans, because they are completely closed, no air and they stuff you inside so you can’t move at all.

Date & Time 2019-09-30
Location Near Sadilovac, Croatia
Reported by Border Violence Monitoring Network
Coordinates 44.93947995, 15.73937463
Pushback from Croatia
Pushback to Bosnia
Taken to a police station no
Minors involved yes
WLTI* involved yes
Men involved yes
Age 8 - 9
Group size 150
Countries of origin Syria, Iraq
Treatment at police station or other place of detention
Overall number of policemen and policewomen involved 40
Violence used beating (with batons/hands/other), pushing people to the ground, gunshots, dog attacks, forcing to undress, destruction of personal belongings, theft of personal belongings, reckless driving
Police involved Approx. 13 at site of apprehension. A further 27 (some in ski masks) with ten police vehicles

This pushback account is recorded from the testimony of two seperate families, who were both travelling in the same caravan.


Testimony 1, taken on 12th October 2019:

The respondent and his wife joined a group of 150 people who decided to try to cross the Bosnian – Croatian border by foot on 27th October 2019. They were walking for three days until they reached a highway in Croatian territory. Being completely exhausted, on 30th September, the whole group sought shelter in mountain woodland to rest. At approximatelx 02.00 in the morning the respondent was woken up by gunshot sounds.

It was dark and I heard shooting from a gun, I woke up scared. I saw people running and I heard more shots. I realized police was surrounding us. I heard them approaching shooting and yelling ‘sit down'”.

Around 12-13 police officers were surrounding the area where the group was sleeping, pointing guns at them. The group were forced to stand up and make a line and start walking down hill, all while police walking beside them pointing guns at them.

The mountain was very steep and full of rocks. It was very difficult to walk, especially for people in the group that had injured legs from walking previous days.”

They were walking downhill for an hour until they reached the valley where ten police vans were parked.

“We call them sardine cans, because they are completely closed, no air and they stuff you inside so you can’t move at all.”

There was more police next to the vans, they were wearing ski masks covering their faces.

“Those are the ones beating, they were beating us with sticks. Before they put us in vans, they search us completely and they take everyone’s phone and smash it. They put the smashed phones in a big bag and took the bag away.”

Once they were put in vans, they were driven for an hour and a half to a remote area on the green border with BiH. There was a huge bonfire there, prepared in advance. The police made them go out from the vans one by one and instructed them to take their bags and throw them in the fire.

They said to us to take our luggage and throw it in the fire and then stand on the right side next to it. Everyone was forced to do this.”

When the burning of the belongings was done, the police told them to start walking, they were walking between a mountain and a steep valley. Police was escorting them for ten minutes, then they told them to continue walking by themselves, they just showed them the direction from Croatia into Bosnia. They were walking for six hours until they reached Bihać.

Testimony 2: taken on 29th October 2019 with a family of three from Iraq (Father 34, children 8 and 9)

Referring to the same incident, the respondent stated:

I was pushed back two times since I arrived (in BiH). First I want to tell you about my first push-back because the police mistreated us so much, it was horrible.”

The respondent, from Iraq,  and his two sons left Bihać (BiH) as part of a group of 150 people travelling on foor into Croatia. They walked three days through the woods and mountains until they arrived to an agreed location.

We waited the whole day in the jungle until we fell asleep. In the middle of the night, around 02:00 in the morning I woke up with police voices, gun shots and a flashlight pointing in my face. There was around 40 police coming from all sides surrounding us. They gathered everyone in a group and told us to make a line and start walking downhill.”

It wasn’t a long walk down the mountain, at the bottom of which there were seven police vans (“sardines”) with more officers with masks over their faces. Once they arrived to the vans, the police started searching everyone.

There was no police women to search the women, just men searching them. They thought they are hiding something beneath their hijab so they started touching and shaking their heads.”

Men were forced to take off their jackets and they took away everyone’s phone. Some people chosen at random were beaten with sticks. They were put in the vans and driven for around two hours to somewhere close to the border.

The respondent described a fire pit made by the police:

“2×1 meters with fire already burning. They forced us to throw everything inside the fire. They put the phones in a plastic bag and held it over the fire a little bit, pretending like they will burn them, then they took them away somewhere, keeping them for themselves.”

Again they were put in vans, driving around at high speed and on bumpy roads that made people inside the vans start throwing up

We were drinking water from the ground and my son got poisoned from it, he was throwing up a lot. I asked them to take us to the hospital but they refused. They didn’t really talk to us, they just pointed fingers.”

The police stopped the vans by a very steep road (like slide) and pointed the group to start walking in complete darkness without having any possibility to see where they were going. The transit group stubbled down the hill into BiH. They were walking for six hours until reaching a village 30 minutes from Bihać where they took a taxi to return to the camp.