VELIKA KLADUSA, Bosnia and Herzegovina (AP) – Ibrahim Rasool loved his job as a football referee because of his sportsmanship and fair play. But the 33-year-old from Afghanistan says there is nothing fair about the way the EU treats people who flock to its borders in search of a better life.
Rasool told The Associated Press that police in Croatia ignored prayers from a pregnant woman and families with young children and instead deported him and 16 others back to Bosnia as they crossed into EU country this month.
Rasool provided video which he said he had filmed inside a Croatian police car and in a forest on the Croatian border with Bosnia. Croatian police insulted the people trying to enter and asked them to return to Afghanistan, Rasool said.
Croatian police have not responded to a request from the AP for information on the alleged border incident on 10 November.
“The police did not take into account children, pregnant women, women, no one,” Rasool said. “They show (us) weapons, (say) ‘Do not move. Stop. We are police.’
The video provided by Rasool showed people crawling inside a fenced, moving van that included women and young children. In the forest video, men carry a seemingly pregnant woman in a blanket. None of the videos could be verified independently.
Rasool said Croatian police told the group there was no room in the EU for people from Afghanistan, referring to the migrants as “animals” and “dirty people.”
Croatian police have been facing several charges of pushing migrants and refugees back and using violence to do so. The European Court of Human Rights last week ruled Croatia in a pushback case in 2017, after which a 6-year-old Afghan girl was killed by a train.
Although the Croatian authorities last month were forced to suspend three special police officers who were filmed beating migrants with batons while forcing them out of Croatia, they have denied allegations of systematic, widespread abuse of migrants in the border zone.
Rasool and his group have been trapped in a temporary camp near the Bosnian border town of Velika Kladusa. The camp has no facilities other than makeshift tents, but Rasool said it was still better than official migrant camps, “because we are free.”
When he left Afghanistan four years ago, Rasool traveled first to Iran, then to Turkey and Greece. He came to Bosnia two months ago through Albania and Montenegro after staying in Greece for more than three years. Despite having been repeatedly returned at the Croatian border, Rasool and his fellow migrants will again try to cross as soon as they can.
When they reach Croatia, migrants seek to go to Italy or Slovenia before moving on to the richest countries in Western Europe. Thousands of people are still stuck throughout the Balkans looking for a chance to reach the EU.
“We can not stay in Bosnia because the weather (gets) very cold,” Rasool said.
Rasool provided the AP with copies of his FIFA-approved referee certificates and photos from some of the hundreds of matches he handled in Afghanistan. He said he fled his homeland because of disagreements with the leadership of the Afghan Football Federation.
“I want to continue my job, I want to return to my normal life,” he said. “It does not matter which country.”
While in Greece, Rasool trained refugee teams, he said. In Bosnia, he could be seen playing football with children and other men in the camp. Returning home to Afghanistan is not an option, especially after NATO troops withdrew and the Taliban took over again.
But Rasool said his hopes for a brighter future in the West have been shaken by treatment at the Croatian border. The fourth time he tried to cross into Croatia, the police took all his money and laughed at him and others.
“They stole from refugees,” he said. “They think we are animals, not humans.”
He said the Taliban, Croatia and other EU governments are all playing with people’s lives.
“If the EU accepts this” position from the Croatian border police, then it is no better than the Taliban, he said.
Follow the AP’s coverage of migration issues at https://apnews.com/hub/migration