On September 8th, 2020, 22 men aged between 16 and 32 years old – all from Afghanistan – left the Šturlić area of Bosnia on foot to get to Croatia. They were sleeping in the forest and woke up the following morning at around 6:00 am. The primary respondent reported that they crossed into Croatia sometime that morning.
At around 3:00 pm, they saw 12 or 13 members of what the respondent called “border army” waiting for them ahead, with a camouflage car parked several meters away. These men were described as wearing military green uniforms. They were not able to give the exact point of apprehension, but reported that it was in a hilly area still close to the Bosnian-Croatian border, and did not recall passing any significant landmarks. One respondent thought that because the “army police” seemed intent on intercepting them, they had been aware of the groups presence in the “jungle” for some time, and inferred that the officers had been tracking them prior to apprehension. The respondent attributed the camouflage color of the car to why they might not have noticed the police previously.
The officers yelled at the men “Stop!” before firing several rounds in an unspecified direction. The men complied with the order and sat down. After they sat down, the army officers inquired as to their names, ages, and countries of origin, writing them down in a notebook. They then frisked the entirety of the group, and confiscated telephones (eleven or twelve between the twenty-two of them) as well as their money, food, and water, and power banks. The primary respondent, a thirty-two year old man from Afghanistan, had three hundred euros taken from him at this time. They were then driven in one “army van”, different than the camouflage car they saw in their initial apprehension, to an area that was described as similar to a parking lot; the respondent believed that it was some sort of army center.
The group and the army officers waited for about an hour at this center, before Croatian civil police showed up to take them to the border. The entirety of the twenty-two person group was then loaded in a single van and driven to the Bosnian-Croatian border. This van did not have windows or any source of light. Because of the amount of people in the van and the lack of windows it was extremely hot and difficult to breathe.
The drive to the Bosnian-Croatian border took what the respondent said felt like two to three hours, in which the driver took very sharp turns and drove very quickly. When they arrived at a stretch of the border about two kilometers from Velika Kladuša, the group was taken out of the van one by one. Because the van did not have any windows, the people in the van could not see what was happening outside, but were able to listen. Several of them began to cry as they waited for their turn.
When the primary respondent was taken out of the van, he reported that six officers in black masks and uniforms were waiting outside. He described them as “like animals, tall and big”. The officers stripped him of his jacket, shoes, shirt and pants, leaving him in his underwear. One officer asked him “Are you smoking?”. When the respondent replied with “No, sir, I am not smoking,” the officer proceeded to use a baton to hit him squarely in the middle of his chest. After he beat the respondent for some time in this area, this officer said “Ok, no smoking for you now”. The six officers then lined up in rows of three across from each other and told the respondent to go to the middle of them, trapping him in between. The six officers proceeded to beat the respondent concurrently in a systematic fashion; the respondent described that one officer would beat his head, another his feet, another his torso area, one officer on each arm, and one on each leg. He said that the beatings came in such force and in such great amounts that they felt as though they were coming down upon him “like rain”. After several minutes of this beating, one officer screamed “Go quickly, run back to Bosnia!” Because the severity of the beating made it difficult to quickly flee, he slipped when attempting to run away. One officer then roughly pushed him facedown to the ground, grabbed his left leg to drag him backwards, and beat him on his left foot once again. After repeating their command for him to run to Bosnia, the respondent was finally able to run across the border, though he slipped several times once again while attempting to be quick in order to elude the officers.
After running about three to five hundred meters, he slowed down and tried to find the rest of his group. His sixteen-year-old brother likely had a broken arm; many other members of the group also sustained significant injuries. The group then walked back (with great difficulty) to Velika Kladuša.