Text: APC Photo: APC
Subotica, Horgoš, Kelebija, Kikinda, July 20, 2019. – APC/CZA staff regularly visit border areas in northern Serbia, migrant and refugee reception camps and open locations where migrants and refugees are located along the borders with Croatia, Hungary, Romania and BiH. APC / CZA mobile teams talk with refugees, provide them with legal information and psychosocial assistance. Through conversations with refugees, APC / CZA mobile teams gathered information about the migrant and refugee situation at the mentioned borders, about the main problems, crossing borders attempts, violence, inhumane and illegal treatment and violation of the rights of refugees and migrants, as well as illegal push-backs conducted by the police along the northwestern borders of Serbia.
The APC/CZA collects information on the situation in camps, the living conditions of migrants and refugees and their treatment by camp administrations, representatives of institutions and citizens, respect for the rights of asylum seekers and migrants, problems, potential discrimination, violence, trafficking, smuggling and other challenges of asylum and migration in local communities.
APC/CZA lawyer and psychologist help refugees to report violence, corruption, discrimination, smuggling, crimes, labor and other exploitation, trafficking, assist them to express their asylum intention and to apply for asylum if they seek refuge in Serbia. In addition, the APC/CZA psychosocial team provides psychological assistance and empowers migrants and refugees, helping them to cope with stress and other consequences of violence, injuries, inhumane behavior and illegal push backs, helping them to obtain health care and get a caregiver if they are unaccompanied minor. The APC/CZA teams help them to get social protection and assistance from local centers for social work and the APC/CZA team also empower migrants and refugees to overcome existing challenges and threats and reduce their own vulnerability.
Through work on the field, talks with migrants and refugees and insight into the local situation, from July 08 to July 19, 2019, APC/CZA mobile team identified current problems, challenges and practices in the north of Serbia and along north- western borders of Serbia.
Push-backs by Croatian border police
APC/CZA staff members visited the camp in Kikinda on July 11 and talked with J.S. (30, Bangladesh) who was in the group of 55 migrants who were pushed-back by Croatian police during the first week of July. He said that during the first week of July, a group of 55 migrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan had organized a crossing into the Croatian territory near Sid and entered the Croatian territory about 50 km away. Croatian police then spotted them and stopped them. They ordered everyone to sit on the ground and then they photographed all the migrants present there. Police officers seized all the phones and smashed them. They searched the migrants and confiscated their money. Half of the migrants caught were forced to sign a document they did not understand because there was no translator present. There was no communication between police and migrants. None of the migrants present were allowed to speak for fear of physical punishment. Each of the 55 migrants in the group received hits in the the head and body and the police also kicked them. No one sustained serious injuries during the beating. After the beating, the migrants were put into several police vehicles and police drove them to the border with Serbia near Sid and ejected them in the cross-border area. From there, migrants crossed to the territory of Serbia on foot. They returned to Kikinda by taxi and bus. During this push back, migrants did not see the Serbian police.
S.A. (26, Bangladesh) has been in Serbia for a month and during this time he tried to illegally cross Croatian territory only once, at the end of June. While attempting to cross, Croatian police caught him near the Sid border crossing, took his phone and he received a hit in the head. He was not allowed to express asylum intent at this encounter with police, nor was there any communication between S.A. and the police. Police pushed him back not far to the Sid border crossing, where he crossed into Serbian territory on foot and returned to Kikinda by bus. There were no Serbian police present during this push-back.
S.A. (19) from Pakistan, who is staying in Sid, said that he had tried to cross the Croatian border 5 times at various locations. He has been in Serbia for 3 months and was met by APC / CZA officials at a camp in Sid. About a month ago he tried to cross near Apatin, across the river, in a boat. There were 15 of migrants in the boat. After crossing, they walked for 15 hours, when they were caught by Croatian police. Police officers recorded their personal information and took pictures of them, after which they were pushed-back to Sid. There was no violence, he says. He also added that there are frequent attempts to cross to Croatia near Bački Breg over the small river.
S.A. (23, Pakistan) has been in Serbia for 12 months and was met by APC / CZA officials on 11 July in Kikinda. He described his illegal border crossing when he managed to reach Slovenia. It happened 12 months ago, in July 2018. He said that a group of 23 migrants from Pakistan went to BiH, hand moved to Croatia from there, then from Croatia to Slovenia, when they were spotted by Slovenian police officers. He said that during the arrest by the Slovenian police, they spent 5 days in jail. After stating that they wanted asylum, they were not allowed to contact an asylum procedure lawyer, but after 5 days they were transferred to Croatia and taken over by the Croatian police. A group of 12 unaccompanied minors who were with them at the time remained in a closed camp in Croatia, and they began the asylum procedure, he said. The other 11 adult men were then pushed back by Croatian police officers at Velika Kladusa in BiH. Bosnian police were not spotted on this occasion.
APC / CZA officials also visited the camp in Sid on July 15, where they heard more allegations of push-backs conducted by Croatian police. A.S. (25, Afghanistan) and N.M. (39, Afghanistan) stated that they crossed into Croatian territory not far from Sid on 13 July, along the Sid-Tovarnik railway line, with two other migrants from Afghanistan. They walked through a nearby forest in Croatia. At that time, they were met by the Croatian border police. There was no communication between the police and the migrants, except for the order to remain silent. They were not formally recorded. They stated that there were 7 police officers in two border police patrol vehicles. They ordered to migrants to kneel down. Police searched their bags and pockets. They took their money, took off their pants and threw away their shoes. Their phones were confiscated and then smashed. After this, the police forced them to return on foot on the way from where they came from Serbia. The migrants did so, barefoot.
A.S. (16, Afghanistan) stated that on July 8 he crossed on foot into Croatian territory near Sid in a group of 18 migrants from Afghanistan. They were met by Croatian police (migrants did not enter deeper into Croatian territory), and violence against migrants immediately began. Police ordered the migrants to line up and remain silent. They were slapped with batons on the body, slapped and kicked for several minutes. The police took their phones and broke them. They also took away their money. They were then put into two vehicles and transported near Serbian territory from which they were ordered to return on foot to Serbia. The migrants did so, and during their return they did not see members of the Serbian police.
A.A. (20, Afghanistan) told APC / CZA officials that he crossed the Croatian border on July 8. He entered the territory of Croatia for 8 km, near the highway number 55. There were 13 of migrants in the group, all from Afghanistan. After being spotted and captured by Croatian police officers in a truck parking lot, they were taken to a parking lot where they were kicked by batons. A.A. said that everyone was beaten, except for the youngest migrant, a 12-year-old boy who was spared. After being photographed, police officers put them in a van and brought them to the Serbian border near Tovarnik, where they were pushed back into Serbian territory. They did not spot the Serbian police during the push back, and there was no communication with the Croatian police.
Chain push-back of migrants from Slovenia and Croatia
APC / CZA officials met B.A.A.U.J. (26) from Algeria in Sid on July 15, who said that on the previous day, on July 14, he had been pushed-back from Slovenia and Croatia. He and his friend from Algeria came to Serbia 10 days ago. On foot, they crossed the border with Croatia near Batrovci, and in the trailer of the cargo truck made an unnoticed appearance in Slovenia. They left the truck in Ljubljana and were stopped on the street by Slovenian police. He says they both asked for asylum immediately, but were told there was no asylum. Police handcuffed them and took him and his friend to a closed camp. As he describes it, he signed a document stating his personal belongings at the time of his arrest, and that he did not sign anything else. They photographed him and took his fingerprints. After spending the night in a closed camp, his personal belongings were returned and in the morning they were transferred to the border with Croatia where they were handed over directly to the Croatian police. One of four Croatian police officers beat them and confiscated their phones and money (40 euros) after they were brought to the border with Serbia, near Sid. They showed them with their hands to go back to Serbia, which they did. They did not see the Serbian police, and they came to a train station in Sid, where they were found by APC / CZA officers.
Attempts at crossing the Romanian border
S.A. (26, Bangladesh), whom APC / CZA officials met during a visit to the camp in Kikinda on July 11, also tried to cross the Romanian border on July 06, near Mokrin. With three other migrants from Bangladesh, they crossed to the Romanian territory on foot near Mokrin. The Romanian border police spotted them shortly after crossing the border and stopped them. Officers searched them, took them and shattered any phones they found. Also, the police officers took all of their money. They were not allowed to communicate with police officers and were told in English that Romania does not like migrants.
Then, Romanian policemen, seven of them with batons started to hit migrants. One of the migrants took a strong hit in the head. After the beating, Romanian police contacted Serbian police and agreed the place of handover of the captured migrants. Serbian police took over the migrants, but did not process or record them, only allowed them to return on foot to Kikinda camp.
A.H. (34, Bangladesh) reports that the number of Bangladeshis trying to cross the Romanian border is increased and that it is impossible to cross that border. His last try to cross the border happened two weeks ago (late June). He went from Mokrin towards the border, about an hour’s walk from the camp. There were 4 people in the group, and how A.H. further explained, around midnight, after crossing the border on foot, they were stopped by 2 police vehicles, with 8 Romanian police officers. According to him, 4 officers took 4 phones from migrants and 145 euros and started hitting them with batons and kicking them. A.H. says that two of his acquaintances received very strong blows from the baton in the head, causing the cracking of the skin on their heads, and in a short time be covered in blood. The police officers didn’t take their fingerprints, they just took pictures of them. After beating and taking their phones, they were told to go back to Serbia. When they crossed into Serbian territory on foot, they met with Serbian police, who told them “Do not go to the Romanian border” and put them in a police vehicle and drove them to the Kikinda camp. A.H. tried to cross the Romanian border 4 times, in the last 2 months.
According to information from migrants from Bangladesh, up to 50 people try to cross the Romanian border each week, including singles and families from Bangladesh and Pakistan who are staying in Kikinda, as well as singles from Afghanistan staying in a camp in Obrenovac. During the push-back, Romanian police use excessive physical force, striking and kicking migrants with batons.
H.A. (36, Iran), who is staying in a camp in Sid with her three sons (16, 5 and 3 years old), reported of an attempt to cross the Romanian border, which happened at the end of June. H.A. and her sixteen-year-old son Hadi described, the smuggler called them to come to Belgrade first, from where they were brought to Kikinda, and after that to Mokrin by car. From there, they were walking on foot to the border they crossed at night, walking 7 km inside Romanian territory when they were spotted by Romanian police. As they describe, Romanian police officers took them to a police station, took pictures of them and took their information. She asked for asylum, told her story, but police told her that she had to return to Serbia, which they said was a safe country. She didn’t receive any paper from the police. H.A. then returned with her children to Serbia and then went to Kikinda. They didn’t see our police on their return. They left Kikinda and went to Belgrade and from Belgrade they went to Sid.
Violent push-backs by the border police of Bosnia and Herzegovina
During a visit to the camp in Principovac on July 15 and talks with migrants who are accommodated there, staff of the Asylum Protection Center heard numerous allegations about push-backs conducted by the police of Bosnia and Herzegovina at the border with Serbia. S.A. (23, Pakistan) stated that a group of 4 migrants from Algeria were pushed illegally by the Bosnian border police to Serbia while trying to cross into Bosnian territory on July 7. The police officers took away were all the money they owned, as well as their phones. After an unsuccessful attempt to cross the border, the migrants returned to camp in Principovac.
The migrants with whom the APC / CZA officials spoke in Principovac stated that migrants are attempting to cross the Serb-Bosnian border on a daily basis in groups of 10 to 40 people. Bosnian border police conducts illegal push-backs of the migrants and confiscate their phones and money.
These allegations are also confirmed by W.I. (25, Pakistan) who left Principovac camp on July 10, in a group of 10 migrants from Pakistan, and traveled to Bosnia and Herzegovina across Jamena and Sava by boat After entering BiH, the group walked for three hours along the river, when they were stopped by the Bosnian border police. Police officers took their phones and about 500 euros. There was no violence against migrants by the Bosnian border police. Then, they were transferred by police boat to the territory of Serbia via the Sava river. There was no communication with police officers nor did the migrants express their intention for asylum. They did not meet the Serbian police during the push back.
Illegal returns of migrants to Serbia by Hungarian border police
APC / CZA officials spoke to migrants in Subotica who also shared their experiences of illegal border crossings. While visiting the open location near the railway station in Subotica on July 17, 2019, APC / CZA officials spoke with H.M. (17, Afghanistan) and R.A. (15, Afghanistan). They tried to cross the Hungarian border illegally the night before, on July 16. А.Н. (20, Afghanistan), who was also in this group, described that a total of 13 migrants went to the parking lot near Horgos border crossing and got into the truck trailers. They were then spotted by Hungarian police officers on a scanner. After their photos were taken, the Hungarian police officers took away the money from some of the refugees. А.Н. stated that they took away 100 euros from him and that no physical force was used or their phones were confiscated. A.N. stated that migrants who are staying at the open location near the train station are trying to cross the border this way on a daily basis. M.V. (15, Afghanistan) told the APC / CZA officers that his brother A.V. (14, Afghanistan) reached the Hungarian-Austrian border two days ago (July 15) in a truck trailer, but was spotted on a scanner by Hungarian police and arrested and returned to Serbia. Asked if he knew where his brother was now, he said he had been taken to a closed camp near the Austrian border and was waiting for his brother to contact him.
H.S. (16, Afghanistan) came to a train station in Subotica from a camp in Krnjaca a few days ago to try to cross the Hungarian border. He made his first attempt to cross the Horgos border crossing on July 15 by hiding in a truck trailer. The Hungarian border police captured him using a scanner, pulled him out of the truck, and then kept him in a room at the border crossing for two hours. No one addressed him, nor was there any communication between him and Hungarian border guards. Then they photographed him. They did not exert physical force on him. He was transported by police vehicle to a security fence near the Horgos border crossing and was pushed through a small door in a fence into Serbian territory, where there was no Serbian police.
On July 19, APC / CZA officers visited an open location near Subotica train station, home to over 50 migrants, singles, women and families. The presence of smugglers is noticeable at this location. When visiting the site, APC / CZA officers spoke to an unaccompanied minor M.O.A. (16, Afghanistan) who tried to cross the border with Hungary the previous night (18 July). According to him, a group of 25 migrants, mostly from Afghanistan, got under the wagon and drove for about 25 minutes to the Horgos border crossing. Hungarian border police officers used lamps to illuminate the space beneath the wagons, spotted migrants and pulled them out. They were photographed and filmed. M.O.A. said that the Hungarian police officers confiscated a total of 20 phones, which they smashed and dumped into wagons, but M.O.A. kept his phone in his shoes. According to him, the Hungarian police officers hit them with a baton several times and kicked them, but they did not suffer any major injuries. After the push-back, they walked back to the train station for 4 hours. During this push-back, none of the migrants asked for asylum, nor was there any communication between the migrants and border guards.