Croatian police ‘shoot at’ pregnant migrant women trying to cross into EU

Pregnant women and children were assaulted and “shot at” by Croatian police as they attempted to cross from Bosnia and Herzegovina into the European Union last month.

One woman had her face sliced by a police baton, while her two pregnant friends were also beaten by the police. They have spoken to i about their ordeal but wanted to keep their identities hidden due to fear of further repercussions.

For six months they had been travelling along the Balkan land crossing after fleeing Morocco, taking the migrant path through Eastern Europe with the hope of settling in Spain.

A pregnant refugee inside the Borici refugee camp in the town of Bihac inside Bosnia and Herzegovina told i: “We saw the police and they started shooting at us.

“They caught us and then beat us with a stick. All of us. And we are both pregnant, one month and three months. We told them this and even showed them our pregnancy tests, but they did not care.

“They said if we don’t give them the phone, they will kill us – so they took our phones, our bags, our clothes, passports, everything. They hit me on my back, it hurts but they kept hitting us and beating us like animals.”

A 17 year-old boy was also part of the group of eight who attempted to cross in February, he told i his leg was bitten by a police dog during the ordeal before being assaulted by the police.

A Moroccan woman whose face was sliced by the Croatian police after she arrived into the EU (Photo: Olivier Papegnies)
Refugees inside Borici refugee camp, Lipa, Bosnia and Herzegovina (Photo: Olivier Papegnies)

i spoke to four other different groups of refugees in various migrant camps near the Croatian border who claimed they had been violently assaulted by the Croatian police, before they were pushed back over the border into Bosnia.

Christian, 38, fled Cameroon after he faced persecution for being a homosexual and was sexually abused at his workplace. He was travelling along the Balkan route with two other African refugees, Alexei, 33 and Ismel, 29, who both faced religious persecution after they converted religion from Islam to Christianity.

The three of them were walking along a road in Croatia when the police picked them up and took them into a forest where they beat them with batons, stripped them, took their phones, clothes, shoes, before they were beaten and thrown into a river at the border where they had to stay for hours in sub-zero-degree temperatures while the police laughed.

Christian broke down in Lipa refugee camp as he recounted his experience telling i: “Do I have to kill myself? I left my country because of danger, and now I am in danger here. Where can we go?”

Christian, 38, whose foot was injured by the Croatian police after he was pushed back over the border in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Photo: Olivier Papegnies)

A Human Rights Watch report found that “Croatian police regularly and often violently push back refugees, asylum seekers,” while “frequently stealing or destroying phones, money, identity documents, and other personal property, and often subjecting children and adults to humiliating and degrading treatment.”

The Croatian police did not comment on the allegations but have previously denied any knowledge of police beatings along the border taking place.

A December report by the Border Violence Monitoring Network warned of “an unprecedented rise” in violence at the EU’s border, including beatings, forced undressing and sexual assaults of migrants by state officials, where they estimate 16,000 people have been affected by illegal expulsions.

Silvia Maraone, an expert in migration with Ipsia, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) told i these humiliating pushbacks are increasing and is a “systematic” part of government policy.

This comes after Lighthouse found evidence that high-ranking Croatian officials, including the head of the border police, were part of a Whatsapp group chat which shared sensitive information about pushbacks, including images of refugees tied up in forests.

Alexis, 33, from the Ivory Coast who fled the country after he converted to Christianity (Photo: Olivier Papegnies)

Mohammed, 30, had been travelling along the Balkan route with his wife after he fled Sierra Leon due to “political corruption.”

In Borici refugee camp, he had been recovering for three months, after his leg was broken by a police baton – the third time police had beaten him for crossing into Croatia.

He told i: “I have tried to get there three times, but it is a big problem. The first time they caught me, they beat me up and broke my finger after I tried to block their stick. I went to the hospital; they dressed it up and about two or three weeks I tried to cross again.

“This next time we crossed, I was running, and they caught us after they fire a gun – I was running and I fell down, and I bruised my leg.

“But the most recent time was the worst. They found us walking and they fired bullets. We ran, but they caught us and started to beat me.”

Mr Kamara wants to get to Germany, so he can bring over his daughter and son who are living with his parents in Sierra Leon.

“I can’t contact them because my phone was taken. If I get to Germany I want to go to school, I want to be a lawyer, that is my dream.

“The way I see this journey is you have to try, everywhere there is police, but you have to try, because there is nothing else, we will get there by the grace of God.”

Mohamed, 30, whose leg was broken by the Croatian police (Photo: Olivier Papegnies)

Croatia’s attempts to protect its borders is known as “Korridor Operation” – which benefits from EU funding, with millions of euros sent to Zagreb each year to pay for overtime, accommodation, and food for Croatian border guards.

Despite illegal, violent pushbacks being reported to the EU commission, they have not initiated any infringement proceedings against the country. i reached out to the EU for comment but did not receive a response.

Meanwhile, the EU has pumped heavy investment in security technology along the bloc’s eastern border. In December, the European Commission allocated €259m for “electronic surveillance equipment” along that frontier. This is in addition to the €122m from the Internal Security Fund which Croatia has received from the EU since 2015.

This equipment includes video surveillance equipment, night vision goggles, drones, mobile phone detection equipment, tracking devices, 3D radars, radio frequency analysers, 360 cameras, thermal imaging cameras and surveillance towers, according to experts.

Alexandra Bogos, of the Border Violence Monitoring Network, told i: “The EU are increasing funding on security and giving police more tools to violently push back refugees.”

“This deterrent policy does not work. The EU are treating some of the world’s most vulnerable people, fleeing war and famine in their home countries, like criminals. They are criminalising refugees.”

Those named in the piece and identifiable in the pictures gave consent to be named, have their pictured used and ages provided.