Mohammed: Tortured for seeking asylum
Mohammad is a Syrian refugee who fled his country to escape the war. He has been on the move since 2017 and had spent time in Bosnia, where he volunteered with local NGOs who provided help and support for refugees.
In Sarajevo, because of a lack of reception facilities and the difficult realities of being an asylum seeker, he was living on the streets. Mohammed met some European volunteers while in Sarajevo and decided to cross the border to Croatia and seek asylum in Europe.
He crossed the border from Bosnia to Croatia with a couple of friends who are European citizens near the town of Strmica and had planned to go to Golubić. However, when they crossed, they were detained and taken to the police station in Knin. At the station, they were separated, and he was interrogated without the presence of a translator and without being informed about his rights. As a result, it was very hard to understand one another.
Mohammed and his friends were placed in separate cells in the police station overnight. Two of the friends were kept upstairs and later told him that they tried to force them to unlock their mobile phones, which they wouldn’t, and were forced to sign a document written in Croatian that was not translated orally and was not explained to them.
The next day around 3pm they interrogated him again and claimed he had paid his friends €1000 to get him across the border. Mohammed was asked to sign a statement to this effect. He refused. They were ultimately all told that they would be released. However, Mohammed remained handcuffed, and while being escorted by the police, he was shoved and grabbed and kicked in the stomach. He was taken to a separate room at the station where he was threatened.
Mohammed was taken to another room in the station and was told by a police officer that he was being taken to jail, to Trilj. He was there with four police officers. He explained that he didn’t want to go to jail and that a judge had said he was free, but the officers instead pressured him to sign a document in Croatian that he couldn’t understand. Mohammed resisted but one of the officers caught his arms, and the other caught him around his neck and slammed him at the wall, demanding him to sign the declaration. He continued to refuse, and the treatment got worse. They ultimately forced him into a van and drove aggressively to Trili, where he was left at a detention centre.
At the centre, he was asked to sign a document for the camp, which he signed but he was not given any information about his rights or anything. The officers in Trilj spoke very little English. Mohammed’s mistreatment continued. After asking for the return of his cigarettes, one officer caught him by the arm and took him to a hallway where he punched him in the face and drew blood.
Mohammed’s friends were able to find him, and by shouting over the fence they were able to get information and contact a lawyer on his behalf. The lawyer was prevented from visiting him because of requirements to make an appointment at least two days in advance. However, after that, his treatment by the police completely changed, and he was finally able to claim asylum.
As of January 2020, Mohammed was still in Zagreb and seeking to file a criminal complaint for the assault. At no point was Mohammed ever informed of his rights or given access to a translator or any other support services.