H-Alter
garaza2_1_copy49861.jpgHalf a year after the publication of our first article on the torture garage for migrants, and almost a year after the first testimony about the garage was documented by organisations, fearsome testimonies of inhumane detention of refugees and migrants continue to arrive. According to the descriptions, the garage in question is still the one in the police station in Korenica.

First testimonies about the garage

Since last year, multiple reports from various organizations, and continuously by Border Violence Monitoring, describe detention and abuse garages, which correspond to a police station in Korenica. The station, due to its proximity to the border, often serves as a detention centre for refugees and migrants which are then being pushed back Bosnia and Herzegovina.It must be mentioned once again that the brutal practices of abuse, detention and pushbacks carried out by police officers at the Croatian border are contrary to national and international laws and directives. They are contrary - and that is even more important than any law and the idea of legality – to the very notion of humanity

The first descriptions of the garage appeared in December last year by migrants who, after crossing the border into Croatia, were taken to a "garage" and pushed back to Bosnia and Herzegovina without being granted the right to seek asylum in Croatia.

In December 2018, as reported by Border Violence Monitoring, a group of Algerians were picked up after crossing the border by police officers wearing camouflage uniforms, which made them look like an army. They were taken to a garage.

"The police station is in front of the garage. The courtyard is between the police station and the garage. The room is small. There are no windows, just a blue door," the caption reads. They said it was cold and they couldn't sleep because of the cold. The officers allegedly spoke to them violently and refused to give them food.

Eventually, with other migrants who were already in the garage, without being allowed to seek asylum, they were driven out into the mountains and sent to walk back to Bosnia for hours. When they got out of the van, the officers lit a fire into which they threw all of their belongings.

According to a testimony in April, a group of men from Syria, Algeria and Morocco, caught near the border with Slovenia, were taken to a garageThe first descriptions of the garage appeared in December last year by migrants who, after crossing the border into Croatia, were taken to a "garage" and pushed back to Bosnia and Herzegovina without being granted the right to seek asylum in Croatia in Korenica and then returned to Bosnia and Herzegovina. They expressed their intention to seek asylum officially, but were denied access to the procedure, although they were legally entitled to it.

"The police brought seven of them to a garage in Korenica, where they were stripped of their belongings. They broke their cell phones, destroyed their chargers. They took their money, cigarettes and food. They even took the glasses from one person. The space inside is just a dirty floor, without blankets, sponges, toilets. They had to lie on it, although it was terribly cold. When they took off their clothes, police officers started beating them on their hands, elbows, legs. All the people were crying”, the testimony reads.

"The police are doing what they want"

"The police are doing what they want," is a comment often heard among numerous refugees and migrants who have been repeatedly pushed back from Croatia. A lot of them end up in Velika Kladuša, a town near the border. We visited Velika Kladuša in May this year, and heard numerous complaints about the horrible treatment by the Croatian police.

The residents of Velika Kladuša, especially those who help refugees and migrants every day, point out that people come from the border come tired and hungry, often with bruises, scars and open wounds. "All these scenes remind me of the last war, the only difference being that there is no bombing," one local comments. Violence by the Croatian border police has thus become a daily issue.

Depiction of the police station in Korenica and the garage (Source: Border Violence Monitoring) Depiction of the police station in Korenica and the garage (Source: Border Violence Monitoring)

The garage in Korenica

Based on numerous testimonies and descriptions of the torture garage, we also visited Korenica in May. At the entrance to Korenica we noticed a police car parked near the forest, and a police officer just walking out of the woods towards the car."The police are doing what they want," is a comment often heard among numerous refugees and migrants who have been repeatedly pushed back from Croatia. A lot of them end up in Velika Kladuša, a town near the border. We visited Velika Kladuša in May this year, and heard numerous complaints about the horrible treatment by the Croatian police

During the winter months, we could read in the news about the "officers of the Korenica Border Police Station implementing new measures to curb illegal migration". Talking to the locals, we found out that the police forces in the area have grown bigger in numbers lately, and refugees and migrants are being intensively searched for in the surrounding hills.

During our short stay in Korenica, a large number of police officers changed in front of the police station, arriving and leaving by cars and vans. In addition to police officers in regular uniforms, there were also some dressed in dark green uniforms. Vans without police tags were also coming to the station and police officers in civilian clothes were present.

The front of the station consists of a large building with many windows, while the interior of the complex is also fenced with a small courtyard where several police cars and vans are parked, with garage-like rooms with blue doors. These rooms overlook the children's playground on one side and there are no windows in that area. There are also Toi Toi toilets in the yard, as it is mentioned in testimonies.

One testimony documented by Border Violence Monitoring states: "We can only go twice a day to the toilet, in the morning and in the evening. For this, we are taken outside to the courtyard, where there are three plastic toilets," indicating that there is a possibility that this is precisely "the garage". Activists confirm that testimonies about the "garage" have become more frequent and increasingly detailed in descriptions.

The Ministry of the Interrior and the abuse of power

Torture practices like those described in testimonies become a means by which the police go beyond their interrogative role, reinforce their power and bypass a role designed to prevent the concentration and abuse of power by the state. The brutal practices of abuse and forcible expulsion carried out by police officers at the Croatian border, and of which there are already continuous and detailed testimonies, are also contrary to national and international laws and directives."They kept us there for more than 12 hours. They didn't let us go to the toilet. People urinate in bottles, the floor is dirty and cold. My friends were kept there for 20 hours. They treated us like animals," Rahim says

The pushback of migrants to Bosnia and Herzegovina without taking into account the individual circumstances of each case, and in particular neglecting their need for international protection even when they are explicitly seeking asylum, the use of coercion and humiliation - are serious violations of refugee and migrant rights - but also an enormous offense done by the Ministry of the Interrior, which is something the Ombudsman already warned the public about.

We sent a request to the Ministry of the Interrior asking for comment on the charges for violence and torture by the Croatian police, as well as for the case of a "garage" connected to the Korenica police station. We also asked them whether, given the testimonies that have been a constant since December, they responded to the allegations and devoted themselves to a thorough investigation into potential offenses and exceeding of police authority in Korenica. We did not receive their response until the conclusion of the article in May.

We did, however, get their reply a week after the first article on the torture garage was published. They admitted that they had detained larger groups of people twice in the garage, but only "to keep them away from the wind and cold."Torture practices like those described in testimonies become a means by which the police go beyond their interrogative role, reinforce their power and bypass a role designed to prevent the concentration and abuse of power by the state

"People were brought to the station in Korenica for criminal investigation and were supervised by police officers in the police station's fenced-in yard next to the garage premises, as the detention facilities did not have sufficient capacity to hold a larger group of people. However, due to unfavorable weather conditions (wind and cold), police officers removed vehicles from one of the garage's premises to allow persons outside the yard to enter the room, thus avoiding the wind and cold, until the end criminal investigation", the ministry stated in the explanation.

The Ministry of the Interrior has repeatedly used similar manipulative "explanations" and its own euphemistic "new terminology", so this explanation comes as no surprise. Given the traumatic and terrifying testimonies of refugees and migrants, the explanation of "providing protection” and "getting away from the wind and cold" contains a special dose of shameless oppression and distortion of reality.

Namely, half a year after the publication of our first article on the torture garage, and almost a year after the first testimony about the garage was documented by organisations, fearsome testimonies of inhumane detention of refugees and migrants continue to arrive. According to the descriptions, the garage in question is still the one in the police station in Korenica.

Photos showing how people are kept in the garage in Korenica Photos showing how people are kept in the garage in Korenica

Fearing for their safety, everyone in the photo hid their faces and did not want to talk to reporters any further. It was important to them that there was some evidence of the horror of the garage and the inhumane treatment of the Croatian police. They are scared and still in shock because of everything that happened to them. They just want to move forward, they want the opportunity for a better life.Given the traumatic and terrifying testimonies of refugees and migrants, the explanation of "providing protection” and "getting away from the wind and cold" contains a special dose of shameless oppression and distortion of reality

Two other young men tell us about their recent experience in the garage. Mahmud* tells us how the police caught them in the middle of the night, around midnight. He was in the woods with two friends, and as it rained heavily, they took shelter in an abandoned house, where another family sheltered from the rain.

They were intercepted by police officers on their way out, and Mahmud was the one who told the police anout the family who stayed in the house because he feared they would become ill, and he was especially concerned because there was one girl with disabilities.

"She had issues talking, she was screaming loud, looking very sick. I thought she wouldn't be well in the cold and so I told the cops about them, I thought it would help her. But they didn't do it in the end. They took us to the station, kept us in the garage all night. They didn't give us water or food, we couldn't go to the toilet. They didn'tThe front of the station consists of a large building with many windows, while the interior of the complex is also fenced with a small courtyard where several police cars and vans are parked, with garage-like rooms with blue doors want to do anything to make it easier for the girl", Mahmud recounts his experience.

When asked if they were allowed to request asylum, he said that at the mention of the asylum, the police officers only laughed sarcastically. "I've never experienced so much hatred before. Because of that night, we hate Croatia. They cursed our mothers, insulted our religion. I don't understand why they treated us like that, we weren't violent, we didn't do anything wrong", he concludes.

Rahim* was also detained in the garage on two occasions. His description of the garage is in line with the description made by others the testimonies to date. We send him photos of the station in Korenica, and he confirms that he was detained there.

"They kept us there for more than 12 hours. They didn't let us go to the toilet. People urinate in bottles, the floor is dirty and cold. My friends were kept there for 20 hours. They treated us like animals," Rahim says.

"They kept us there for more than 12 hours. They didn't let us go to the toilet. People urinate in bottles, the floor is dirty and cold. My friends were kept there for 20 hours. They treated us like animals," Rahim says. "They kept us there for more than 12 hours. They didn't let us go to the toilet. People urinate in bottles, the floor is dirty and cold. My friends were kept there for 20 hours. They treated us like animals," Rahim says.

"They deported us all back to Bosnia in one van, about twenty of us, broke our cell phones and beat some people. All this happened about When asked if they were allowed to request asylum, he said that at the mention of the asylum, the police officers only laughed sarcastically. "I've never experienced so much hatred before. Because of that night, we hate Croatia. They cursed our mothers, insulted our religion. I don't understand why they treated us like that, we weren't violent, we didn't do anything wrong", he concludestwenty days ago," Rahim explains about the last detention in the garage, in August. He's still in shock because of everything that's happened to him.

When confronted with the new photos from the garage, the Ministry of the Interriror once again said it is true that people were kept there, but denied the accusations of not giving them food or water and said the migrants in question were checked by the doctors and were in good condition.

"The police station is small. We can leave people outdoors, under the sun and rain, or place them in that space. It is not an ordinary garage, there are ceramic tiles on the walls, there is a toilet in the yard. Would it be better if they were out?", they added in an official statement.

It must be mentioned once again that the brutal practices of abuse, detention and pushbacks carried out by police officers at the Croatian border are contrary to national and international laws and directives. They are contrary - and that is even more important than any law and the idea of legality – to the very notion of humanity.

* The names of the interviewees in the article have been changed because of their fear for their own well-being and life.