Two Nigerian student table tennis players wrongly deported to Bosnia by Croatian police who mistook them for undocumented migrants have finally returned home, according to Bosnian media.
Abia Uchenna Alexandro and Eboh Kenneth Chinedu, who arrived in Croatia on 12 November to participate in the fifth World InterUniversities Championships, had regular visas granting them permission to be in Croatia when they were stopped in Zagreb by the Croatian police on 17 November, the night before their departure.
“We tried to explain that our passports were in the hostel and that we had a regular visa, but they [the police] paid no attention to what we were saying,” Chinedu told the Bosnian website Žurnal.
The officers allegedly mistook them for undocumented immigrants, put them in a van and transferred them to the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina where, that day, Croatian authorities had gathered together a group of migrants who were intercepted as they were attempting to cross the country.
“I begged them one more time to check our status,” said Chinedu, “but they wouldn’t listen. They kicked me in the back and told me they would shoot me if I didn’t move.”
Uchenna and Chinedu eventually ended up in a camp in Velika Kladuša, Bosnia-Herzegovina, where thousands of migrants are stuck in tents without water or heating with temperatures as low as -2C.
The pair were later transferred to an immigration centre in east Sarajevo, where they have been held until their departure to Nigeria.
“We want to go back to Nigeria,” Chinedu said last week. “Please, help us, send us home immediately.”
‘‘After 16 days at the immigration centre, the Nigerian students have left BiH’’, Zurnal reported.
“As the Nigerians expressed their wish to return to their country of origin, the foreigners service contacted the competent embassy of Nigeria in Budapest, which expressed its willingness to pay for the the return of its nationals to their home country,’’ the Bosnian news website Klix.ba reported. “On Friday the pair left for Nigeria from Sarajevo with a flight via Istanbul.’’
The plight of the two students has made the news around the world and sparked a row between Croatia and Bosnia.
“Those people are victims of illegal acts on the Croatian side,” Dragan Mektić, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s minister of security, told al-Jazeera. “It is obvious that Croatian police forcibly displaced them.”
When contacted by the Guardian, police in Croatia denied any wrongdoing. The police raised doubts over the table tennis players’ intentions “Police officers have already witnessed cases of individuals who make an attempt, even abusing their participation in sports competitions in Croatia, to remain in the country or continue their journey illegally to other European countries,” the police said.
When asked why they allegedly deported the Nigerians to Bosnia, knowing that they had entered Croatia legally with a flight to Zagreb, the Croatian police denied stopping the men, suggesting the students had voluntarily missed their return flight.
“The Croatian police did not take any action towards these persons nor did it deport them, they added in statement sent to Guardian. “We have information about their legal entry into Croatia, but not their exit, which, according to their return tickets, was supposed to take place on 17 November this year.’’
However, the Guardian has obtained a copy of the Nigerians’ flight tickets corroborating the students’ claims: their return flight was supposed to take place on 18 November and not on 17 November, as claimed by the Croatian police.