Bosnia, Croatia, June 2nd 2019: Are You Syrious reports about yet again another case of brutal police violence against people who tried to cross the Bosnian/Croatian border at Velika Kladuša. Last month, Youssef died in the border town. One of the people who died because of “hidden violence”.
Are You Serious, No Name Kitchen and the Cars of Hope collective again and again reported about police violence by Croatian police against people who tried to cross the Bosnian/Croatian border in Velika Kladuša. I personlly saw dozens of people that returned to Velika Kladuša with broken arms, broken legs, bruises, other injuries and broken smart phones. They all told the same stories over and over again. They were beaten up by Croatian cops at the Croatian side of the border. That was in 2018, but the violence continues.
Today Are You Syrious posted a few tweets about another case of police violence at the border. Are You Syrious tweeted:
Two of them were severely beaten with batons and kicked to the ground. Phone was broken, little money they had was taken. They were examined by the doctors and were waiting to get back to the camp or a tent that was to be set up after the fire inside the Miral camp in Kladuša …— Are You Syrious? (@areyousyrious) 2. Juni 2019
They feel they are voiceless and have asked multiple times why the police was torturing them, saying we must go to the European Parliament and denounce this behaviour. But, telling the EU they are doing something they decided&support in the first place doesn't make sense anymore.— Are You Syrious? (@areyousyrious) 2. Juni 2019
The news comes just one day after the Miral camp in Velika Kladuša burned down to the ground.
The Miral camp was burned down to the ground. A few days ago Izbjegličke priče published a story about Youssef, a young man in his early 20’s who died in lats month. The case of Youssef shows that apart from the voilence at the border, there is a lot of “hidden violence” at the EU borders. Border closures kill, not only at the Mediterranean sea, but also on land. Often hidden, but as deadly as at sea.
Here is the story of Youssef (Originally published by Izbjegličke priče):
Remembering Youssef: Tracing the hidden violence along the EU’s external border
The body of Youssef is now lying in the morgue in Drmaljevo. The police investigated an abandoned house in Velika Kladuša, where the young man was temporarily living with other migrants. … The police stated that there were no traces of violence on his body, adding that the death occurred during a sleep.
Excerpts from the Facebook group ‘Migranti BiH’ (19/05/2019).
I met Youssef the first week I arrived in Velika Kladuša (Bosnia and Herzegovina). He was a tall young man, in his early 20’s, very skinny, with dark black hair, and gentle contours on his face. I saw him walking in the main square, looking tired and with each step, his chin was falling. When we started talking, he occasionally closed his eyes for few seconds, but when I touched his shoulder to ensure he was fine, he opened them and continued in conversation like nothing happened. He said that he had just returned from the Croatian border and showed me bruises and scratches around his chin, arms and belly.
After seeing a doctor, we went for a coffee. Slowly pulling from his cigarette, he described how the Croatian authorities had caught him and violently brought him back to Bosnia; a narrative that I would hear almost daily for the following eight months. The border patrols had smashed his phone, stole his money, ripped his passport apart, laughed at him when he asked for asylum, and then took him to the Bosnian border, hit him several times with batons and shouted at him to run back to Bosnia.
Later, Youssef talked about his mother, how much he loved her. He asked if he could call her from my phone. He hid his cigarettes and said: “My mum still sees me as a small boy, she does not know I am smoking”. When the camera opened, his mother was surprised and happy to see him. Youssef attempted to give her a smile, but she started crying and told him to come home. He refused because, as he said, he left his country to help his family; not to “fail”. At the end of the call, he promised his mother that he was going to keep trying to reach Europe.
Youssef then told me that he was born in Benghazi (Libya), where his father was killed during the civil war. After his father’s death, Youssef’s mother took him to her home country, Morocco, where he occasionally worked as a waiter but struggled to find a stable job. He recalled playing football tirelessly in order to avoid thinking about a life, which he described as “unemployment and misery”.
Morocco, as a former French and Spanish colony, played its own role in the current wealth of European states; a feat achieved through the poor wages and the extraction of the country’s resources, enabling the consumption of cheap products in the West. Youssef wanted to provide for his family, not for pleasure or fun, but for survival. He said that at the age of 17, he decided to travel to Spain and find work.
While the European citizens on holiday have no struggle to legally enter Morocco and reach the country within two hours by plane, Youssef lacked legal channels and never completed his journey after more than three years of attempts. He borrowed 100 euros from his relative and travelled partly with smugglers and partly alone by walk through Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Serbia, and then to Bosnia, hoping to cross to Croatia, Slovenia, Italy and then to Spain by bus.
In the months that passed after meeting Youssef in Velika Kladuša, he told me about his 16 other unsuccessful “games”; border crossing attempts. His “games” always left him with more marks of violence, forcing him to return to life on the streets and in different abandoned houses.
One day, we went out for a coffee in the same restaurant as always, however this time a waiter stopped us before we found our seats: “Sorry, you have to leave. Boss said no migrants here.” The next months, we did not even try to enter a café or restaurant together as Youssef, like many others, feared of the same reaction.
As time passed, I saw Youssef’s body becoming skinnier. His eyes became watery and tired and his speech became slower as well. He mumbled more. He told me one day that he was regularly using tramadol, an opioid pain-killer, to forget the reality for a moment. As his use of the drug developed, we began seeing less and less of each other. The last contact we had was at the beginning of winter.
Last week, I called a friend who informed me that a man in Velika Kladuša had died. She sent me Youssef’s photo, explaining that he had overdosed in a squat. Youssef’s friends said that he felt severe pain in his body while fasting during Ramadan and took an extensive amount of pain killers that killed him. Local radio and news announced that Youssef died by natural causes as “police found no traces of violence on his body”.
For the last days, I have been remembering Youssef in my mind and tracing the everyday violence in his life that eventually killed him. Perhaps these wounds were not the type that were visible on his body in the moment of his death, however their impact was just as deadly. I have been counting all of the harms that he talked about during our interactions: hazardous games [irregular border crossings] that he took while attempting to pass through the closed transit routes and border guards; systematic push-backs and attacks in border zones; enclosure in the harmful living environments of abandoned houses and squats; and most importantly, the fear of failing to escape these all.
Thousands of other displaced people passing along the border in Velika Kladuša — surviving, suffering, and in some cases dying — have been perturbed by the same harms. Some of these harms are perpetrated directly, when a border guard strikes open flesh with a baton and visible bruises or bleeding appears. Most of these harms, however, operate indirectly. Youssef’s loss of life reminds us how violent border systems have retain the ability to kill, albeit without visible wounds.
Kafka, in his book Before the Law (1915), describes a narrative of a foreigner coming to the gate and asking a gatekeeper for admittance to the Law. The gatekeeper denies him the entrance and says:
“No one else could ever be admitted here, since this gate was made only for you.”
Kafka’s story, like the one of Youssef, ends by the man waiting at the gate until he dies. Both narratives show how borders are sophisticated machines. Borders inscribes laws onto a person’s body based on their skin colour and place of birth, then disallow them to seek protection, locking them into harmful environments in transit zones.
Tracing the violent strategies that lead to the deaths of people on the move is crucial, as ignorance only reinforces the silent and invisible cycle of brutality behind the borders, resulting in more unseen deaths. This article attempts to trace the memories and harms that preceded the death of a young person.
Youssef was a young beautiful man who loved his family and wanted to live better; a basic motivation and wish for us all. I hope that Youssef’s memories, which I attempted to account into this text, can bring more powerful reflections on borders than the daily news about another migrant dying without traces of violence in the Balkans.
In memory of Youssef Mchichou, born 1997 in Libya and died 2019 in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Author: Karolína Augustová
Kafka, F. (1915/1998) ‘Before the Law’, cited in The Trial. New York: Schocken Books.
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