Our country is at war. Here’s my scar. They’re wearing all black – completely black, head-to-toe. So we’re at the frontline of the European Union. In front of me is Croatia and behind me is Bosnia. And there’ve been hundreds of refugees that are camping here, amassing here, trying to get in and they’ve been stopped here and further into Croatia by brute force and often violence. Although the media has gone quiet about refugees trying to get into Europe the crisis never really ended. And in 2018, Bosnia & Herzegovina became the new epicentre of the Balkan refugee route. near the Croatian border, and wait for their chance to cross into the EU. But when they’re caught by Croatian police, many report being robbed, beaten and illegally deported back to Bosnia. And we’re here. You’re staying here? That’s four people. How long have you been here? Uh, eight days. We had nothing when we came here. People were tired. Many have tried games. Hit by the police. Not successful. Coming, going to the forest, coming back… It is like kicking people out of the country as easy as that. As if they are garbage. When I was across the border, actually ten days and nights, I am crossing and walking middle of forest and jungles inside the Croatia. And unfortunately in that time I got a bit sick and I slipped down. So I go to the police station by myself and I told them I’m a refugee and I have a problem and they helped me, first of all. This is my paper that I’m in hospital. And three days and nights I am in the hospital and then they are push back me into Bosnia & Herzegovina with a bad situation. They are take me to the Bosnia and Herzegovina border. And they are hit my phone and broke my phone as well. Who was it? Croatian police actually, yeah. And I told them I want to stay in Croatia as a refugee, so asylum. So you asked for asylum? Yeah. So we’ve just been told to leave by the police. They didn’t really give us a clear reason why. We insisted that we stay, they said you better leave now, so we are. These deportations contravene international law. According to the so-called “non-refoulement” principle, EU countries are obliged to process any asylum request that they receive. They are not allowed to deport a refugee if their claim hasn’t been properly processed and then rejected. But if these widespread allegations are true, then this principle clearly isn’t being respected by Croatia. When they catch you in Croatia they don’t do anything to you, but when they leave you at the border anything goes. Here’s the border, they drop you at the border, they’re wearing all black – completely black, head-to-toe. This is our medicine. For all of us. Why? Because they beat us: I’ve been hit here, here, here. Look, we’re all battered. We travel with medicine. They take your money, they break your phone, on top of that they break your legs. They hit you in the head. They throw you in the river, meaning ‘go and die’. Okay, fine, you’ve caught me – but return me to the border and let me go! Why are you beating me and treating me like this? None of the refugees that we spoke to wanted to stay in Bosnia – and it’s not hard to see why. Bosnia’s cash-strapped government is unable to provide even basic support for them is little more than a muddy field. They’re just burning rubbish in a hole here. Refugees in Bosnia rely on the support of humanitarians and NGOs. No Name Kitchen is a small non-profit that provides food, showers and other support. They also compile reports on illegal pushbacks and border violence based on the testimonies of refugees. Because it’s not just the border of Croatia, it’s the border of the European union. So, it’s definitely not just the decision of ten border police officers but it’s the decision of the European Union and which strategy they want to pass through. The pushbacks are mainly happening from the Croatian side. But we’ve observed as well like the clear cooperation of the Slovenian police. They are detected in Slovenia, they are denied asylum procedure, after they are deported back to Croatia and from Croatia they are being deported back to Bosnia. Also many people reported to us recently that police is pointing the guns against their heads – or, like, placing the guns into their heads. And basically threatening them or using this violence as a kind of politics of deterrence that they trying to put them into big pressure that they don’t want to cross or they don’t try to cross anymore again. It is believed that these alleged pushbacks are the result of pressure placed on Croatia by the EU. In August 2018, an official press release by the German Federal Government stated that “Croatia is not yet part of the Schengen Area, but with its security forces it is doing an excellent job in protecting the EU’s external border”. It’s widely suspected that stemming the flow of refugees into Europe is a precondition for Croatia’s entry into the Schengen Area and the Eurozone. But this border policy is not unique to Croatia. From Hungary to the UK, the story is the same. Frontex, the agency tasked with policing the borders of the Schengen Area, has seen its annual budget grow from €6 million in 2005 to €320 million in 2018 – an increase of over 5,300 per cent. But while the EU pours money into fortifying its borders, refugees keep drowning in the Mediterranean. Since 2014, more than 16,000 people have died making the sea crossing and Europe seems more concerned with raising barriers than saving human lives. This raises an awkward question: is the EU trying to deny the right of asylum to those who need it to survive? Having heard so many allegations of illegal behaviour by the Croatian police, we decided to travel across the border to speak with Damir Butina, who’s the chief of the border police in the nearby town of Cetingrad. There, we received a blanket denial. The Croatian police, in all its dealings with any individual, whether they be citizens of the Republic of Croatia, the European Union or other countries, treats everybody the same – that is professionally and in accordance to the law. I can categorically reject all claims and accusations that you have cited in regards to the Croatian police acting illegally. I’d just like to add that I can only assume that when you speak of injuries, the breaking of mobile phones and so on, that can possibly be the outcome, that is, the result or consequence of internal conflicts and intolerance between certain ethnic groups. There is some truth to Butina’s claims. According to information that we received by the end of October, there had been 145 registered cases of refugee-on-refugee violence, one of which was fatal. But in this same period, 47 cases were attributed to the Croatian police. So while violence between refugees does happen, it’s still very hard to believe that the police are victims of a conspiracy and that all of the refugees that we spoke to were lying. So, we’ve just been told that just here there’s an abandoned building where refugees are living. Apparently many of them in there have been injured as a result of the pushbacks from Croatian police. We’re going to go check it out now. They caught me three times. After walking for seven days they caught us and put us in jail. Then they locked 15 of us in a car… I mean, you can’t breathe in there. When you get out of that car you feel like you’re dead. Your whole body, all of it. After seven days, the exhaustion, your body is broken. In the middle of the night they transferred us to locked cars. In the cars they turned up the air conditioning to full blast while we were locked in the back. This continued until we got to the border area. At the border we were handed over to a soldier… Or military police? Special forces? We didn’t know what he was. We were locked in a car for eight hours. At that moment I fainted. I have diabetes and high blood pressure I felt I would die in that moment because the oxygen had almost run out. I started banging on the door and someone came after half an hour, I really needed the toilet. A man would yell at me to shut up and stay quiet and I don’t know what else. When I was really desperate, they let me go to the toilet. But as soon as I got in, he started banging on the door after about half a minute, he didn’t let me finish. I truly consider this a type of torture, but done in a way that doesn’t leave any injuries. They were speaking in Croatian, they slapped me like this. They made us sit like this for nine hours. Our legs were destroyed. Firstly, we didn’t come from our countries for no reason. Our country is at war. Here’s my scar. I have diabetes and I got this scar in Syria, okay? In the bombings. No one wants to settle in Croatia. We know they won’t give us asylum in Croatia. We need asylum, here, look. We’re not here for fun. We’re here for asylum. Our country is at war. So that can only be described as completely horrifying. That many human beings in one building with no electricity, no toilet, no water is just really, really horrendous. And from talking to them the question that happens over and over again is “why?” – “why are they beating us? You know, take us out of your country, that’s fine. But why are you beating us up? Why are you insulting us? Why are you smashing our phones?” It’s really quite traumatising. There have also been allegations that the Croatian police have been trying to criminalise solidarity. In March 2018, Dragan provided support for a group of Afghan refugees who had already crossed into Croatia. He was charged with human trafficking and fined around €8,000. Speaking to the local media, Dragan rejected the charges and said that the police were trying to make an example out of him to deter others from providing help. So, since the last time we were here, they’ve completely evacuated this protest camp. It seems like it was done in a rush because there’s still half-cooked food, clothes, baby shoes, teddy bears. They refer to this trying to enter Europe as “the game” here, but it just doesn’t seem like fun at all. What we’ve seen in Bosnia shows how hostility towards refugees at the heart of Europe manifests as violence at its borders. It seems that European politicians prefer to keep refugees out rather than stand up for them. And until this changes, the violence and the pushbacks will only continue.