Zaid* is a 37-year-old man from Afghanistan. He is one of around 700 hundred persons stuck in Velika Kladusa, Bosnia Herzegovina- BiH, in the attempt to reach Europe. After having spent some time in Greece, he now tries to reach his family, which is split in camps in Croatia and Slovenia. Zaid agreed to meet us two days after his 19th attempt of crossing the border – only within one year . He was illegally and violently pushed back from Slovenia via Croatia to Bosnia – a so-called chain pushback, common throughout the Balkan routes.
Within our conversation, he referred to two games. First, People on the move (PoM) refer to “the game” as their attempt to reach Europe. It is an ironical name, as they try, fail, and try again as in videogames. Second, he referred to the European governments dumping of responsibility for PoM as game. European countries know that PoM are often severely beaten by the border police during push backs. But in their “game”, they fund or directly enact this violence, relocate responsibility to third countries, while pretending to follow International Law.
Our conversation took place inside a park. Zaid arrived with a 22-year-old man from Afghanistan, because he was worried about his English and asked this young man to translate for him. Zaid was limping, his third toenail is missing, and he has holes of fresh flash in his hands.
Can you tell us something about your last game?
Zaid: We started our game from Velika Kladusa in Bosnia. In this game we were 15 people amongst which families and children. There are two children of 7 years and 10 years old and a lot of teenagers. We walked eight days in the jungle to reach Slovenia. I want to reach the camp; my wife and son are here. After ten minutes we reach Slovenia, the police catch us. It was maybe 6 a.m. and there were four police. They put us in the car. It is a big white van with “policija” written on it. They take us in police station. First, they give a little bit of food than take the photo and (makes sign of fingerprinting) capture one finger. They give paper written in Slovenian. I ask him what this is. I can’t understand. He said sign it.
What do you think this paper was?
Zaid: We don’t know, we can’t read them. They give paper and then deport. When I understand this, I feel bad. We all feel strong feeling of depression in our head. Then, they put us to the van and take us to Croatian police. Two of our friends start vomiting. But they just close the door of the van and deport. We drive for four hours, and they take us to the border with Croatia.
What happens here?
Zaid: The Slovenia police give us to Croatia police. They put us in white van and take us to Bosnian border. The door of the van closes and we go. We walk for eight days and only in some hours we are back from the beginning.
Do you want to tell us what happened to you in the Bosnian border?
Zaid: We were pushed back near the Bosnian border. When this happened, we were stressed and depressed. Once we arrived, 3 police officers in balaclavas waited for us. The Croatian police took our shoes and phones when we got out of the car – one by one into the cold weather. I asked for my phone, I need to talk to my family. But they pushed me, and I fell to the ground. He kicked me with a hard baton in the bare foot. He kicked my fingers and then pushed me on the ground. I not.. there was darkness. I was sheltering my head with my hand and then they take my hand and beat it with a sharp object. I don’t know what was in his hand. I was only trying to survive and defend myself. They beat all males. Women and children were gathered next to us watching and crying so much.
How did you feel when all this happened?
Zaid: Bad. I am thinking to myself: I am not criminal I don’t come here to make a problem. I am simply a migrant who wants to pass the border to get to Italy or central Europe, to join my family. What was my sin? I did not do anything. I am just crossing the border to reach my family. They have not the right to beat us… My purpose was to reach my family nothing else. So why do you do this to us?
Why do you think they are doing this?
Zaid: The European Union makes lot of speech that we are welcomed. They claim to accept refugees, and support the right for asylum. But meanwhile they force the Croatian police and Slovenian police to not let migrant and refugee into the European territory. Ok I am an immigrant, so just deport me. Why do you destroy my phone, what is the problem with my phone? This is not humanity. The Slovenian police handed to Croatian police 300 euros and 80 Bosnian Marks of mine. With money I can buy a phone I can contact my family – it is our tool, but the Croatian police did not give it back. Nothing we had left. My family is in Slovenia and Croatia, I could not contact them in 5 or 6 days. What kind of justice is this? But unfortunately, this is not happening. So why do you do this? They should better tell us that they do not accept refugees so we wouldn’t come from Afghanistan, or other far places. The current generation of Afghanistan is destroyed. All the world knows this. So please let us, the upcoming generation be something. Don’t destroy their future.
What is still driving you to go on the game, when all this violence happens?
Zaid: I want to reach my family. Maybe I’ll die. They will be guessing that I am dying in some place here. The police can shoot me. I just care for my family. I want to reach them – that’s my challenge. But maybe I can die in this challenge because the police is really…
Really what? Zaid pauses and scrolls his shoulder Do you feel protected as an asylum-seeker?
Zaid laughs: I have seen a lot of my friends violated by the Croatian police, it’s not only me
Would you say that such actions became normal at the border?
Zaid: Normal. Yes, normal. One time I had been deported with 17 other people at the border close to Bihac, another Bosnian city. . In the border with Bojna) they once beat a woman. They choked her small daughter, 6 years old, with her chain necklace. Such a naughtiness with migrants is as a game for them. They don’t care they are just making fun, funny moment with immigrants for them.
Which do you think is the biggest problem, the police or the institutions or the law?
Zaid: I tell you; this all depends on the European Union. The laws are made by the European Union so they should control their law and not break it. They are responsible for the law and for all European countries. Union – union means one. They are responsible. I have seen a lot of things, 19 games from here, I have seen a lot. Migrants fear the Croatian police a lot. In the river at the Slovenian-Croatian border two children have drown. The river takes them away, their mother was crying a lot, her two sons died. One time a woman was pregnant the police forced her to cross the river, which was one meter high. They were yelling to her “Go Go”. She lost her child. She lost her child for fear.
If Europeans are not accepting what is happening, why are you building camps with a lot of funding like here. I ask myself why they are spending their money here, you can spend the money so I become a good engineer or doctor in the future. Why are you spending money on me here?
Do you think they don’t want you to enter in Europe?
Zaid: I don’t know, this is politics.
How can you keep going, to try again and again, how do you resist to all this violence?
The translator started to answer this question: This area is a cage. You want to escape this cage – we think like this. It is not good here. You can see how we live, how we survive here, how we cook, we have health problems, we sleep on the floor. This is the reason to go to game. This situation gives us the motivation to go on the game.
Zaid: We are Muslim we have Allah; Allah will help us. When we are in the EU we can have a home. Thats is good for us. I ask you to please share these words, send it to the European Union Leaders, whoever its is, he*she can listen to us, to understand our situation. They can make an easy way for us – it is not only me, but a lot of people are also in similar situations. I am old but there are a lot of young people. Share this in all counties, so people listen to what we immigrants say. We are humans – so why are you treating me like this? We don’t have any criminal regards, same as you. We are also humans. We have sons and mothers. I want to educate my sons.
Do you feel a human here?
Zaid: I ask myself this question when I am exposed to this kind of violence. Am I an animal? Everyone helps an animal that is in a bad condition so why they use violence with us? I have children, why? I can do something for them. They are young, they want to have a future, please don’t break it. If you, or your people were instead of us, what would you do then?
*Zaid is a fictious name to protect the identity of the person who talked to us. We do not know if speaking up and telling ones story may have consequences on their journeys or their request to asylum, therefore together with the interviewee we decided to protect their identity.