Croatian police violate international law by using brute force against the fleeing Afghan refugees who find themselves trapped in a cold Serbian town.
SID, Serbia — In the border town of Sid in Serbia, an old factory is being used as a shelter for hundreds of Afghan migrants who are trying to reach Croatia every day. Most inhabitants in the factory have walked during the night, through the snowy forests, in an attempt to reach Europe.
Most of them have failed what human smugglers describe as "the game," a dangerous journey on foot which involves navigating the Croatian police who are known for using brute force to push back the fleeing refugees.
Against the odds, they keep on trying to get to Europe. At times, the journey on foot can drag on for months with many walking for 500 kilometres until they reach the northeastern Italian city of Trieste. Most of them are illegally pushed back, according to a 2018 report by UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency. The report says Croatian police pushed back at least 2,500 migrants to Serbia and Bosnia Herzegovina, refusing them their right to ask for asylum.
Most of them have tried "the game" more than 20 times, but Croatian police keep deporting them and forcing them back to the Serbian town.
Kainan, a young Afghan who is currently living in the old factory in Sid, says that he has made five attempts to cross the Serbia-Croatia border, but each time the 18-year-old and his fellow travellers were stopped and beaten by police. Their phones were snatched from them and smashed with sticks.
At times the encounters with police were peaceful. Kainan remembers running into the Slovenian police along with his brother. The duo was surprised when the Slovenian cops offered them some food. Three hours later, they were handed over to the Croation police for deportation. But as the Croatian police pushed them across, Kainan said, they were called back and beaten up for "two to three minutes."
In March, he finally made it to Germany.
Another refugee named Hamza has been caught in limbo in Sid for four years. The 17-year-old Afghan left his home when he was just fourteen. He says he's spent at least 20,000 euros on smugglers. He's trying to reach Belgium, but finds himself trapped in Serbia.