Abia Uchenna Alexandro and Eboh Kenneth Chinedu, Nigerian table tennis players and students at the University of Technology Owerri, were wrongfully deported to Bosnia after taking part in a sports tournament in Pula, Croatia, The Guardian reports. Organizers of the event are now demanding that the students be immediately returned to their home country.
Chinedu and Alexandro, both 18, were reportedly picked up by Croatian authorities on November 18—the night before they were scheduled to return to Lagos—in the country’s capital Zagreb. They had visited for the fifth annual World InterUniversities Championships, which took place outside the capital in the city of Pula, and competed in the table tennis tournament. They were exploring the city afterwards and say they were approached by two officers while getting on a train and asked to provide identification.
“On entering the tram we were stopped by the police. They took us to the police station,” Chinedu told Bosnian news site Žurnal. “We tried to explain who we were and that our documents were in the hostel. They did not pay attention to what we were saying.”
In an interview with Žurnal, they described feeling scared and helpless after they were accused of being undocumented immigrants, and told they were being sent to Bosnia. “We don’t know what time it was, but it was dark,” added Chinedu. “They took us out of the station and put us in a van. They drove us to an unknown place. Two police officers told us ‘you are going to Bosnia’. I’ve never been to Bosnia. I came by plane to Zagreb, I told them I didn’t know Bosnia. They told us no, you are going to Bosnia. After a while, the van stopped and we were pushed into the bushes. I refused to go into the woods, then the cop told me if I didn’t move he was going to shoot me.”
The young men, who first traveled to Croatia on November 12, were forced across the Bosnia-Herzegovina border and sent to a refugee camp in Velika Kladuša, where thousands of refugees are stuck living in substandard conditions that are worsening as the weather gets colder. International Organization for Migration (IOM) volunteers at the camp confirmed that the young men were in Croatia legally and possessed the correct visas. Upon learning Chinedu and Alexandro’s story, they contacted representatives at World InterUniversities to inform them of the situation, reports Al Jazeera.
The Croatian Interior Ministry has defended its officer’s actions, claiming that race wasn’t a factor in the young men being targeted and deported. “Statements that Croatian police discriminate [against] individuals based on the colour of their skin are unacceptable,” a spokesperson told Al Jazeera.
Bosnian authorities claimed that the actions of the Croatian officers were, in fact, illegal. “Those people are victims of illegal acts of the Croatian side,” Dragan Mektić, Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Minister of Security, told Al Jazeera. “Respecting legal procedures, we now have to take them back to Croatia…It is obvious that they have Croatian visas, that they are in Bosnia and Herzegovina illegally. From their statements, it is obvious that Croatian police forcibly displaced them and we have to bring them back there.”
Several online are calling out the Croatian government for its human rights abuses, and are accusing them of racial profiling. “A lot of things stand out when it comes to this, but one thing to really recognise is the dehumanisation,” wrote journalist and analyst Samira Sawlani on Twitter. “[Two] young, Nigerian, Black men- not being given the opportunity to make their case/show their documents etc. Because they cannot be human, it’s impossible.”
You know- a lot of things stand out when it comes to this, but one thing to really recognise is the dehumanisation.
2 young, Nigerian, Black men- not being given the opportunity to make their case/show their documents etc.
Because they cannot be human, it’s impossible.
— Samira Sawlani (@samirasawlani) December 5, 2019
Croatia has been constantly criticized by human rights organizations for its treatment of migrants, and has often been accused of illegally sending people attempting to cross the border back to Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Boris Miletic, the mayor of Pula, where the tournament took place, denounced the actions of Croatian police.”The actions of the Croatian police who condemn people based on their skin colour in a 21st-century European country are shameful and deserve every condemnation.”