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2 Nigerian Students In Croatia For A Table Tennis Tournament Deported At Gunpoint To A Country They've Never Heard Of
In a case of mistaken identity, two Nigerian students are living their worst nightmare.
Alexandro Abia and Kenneth Eboh, both students at Federal University of Technology Owerri in Nigeria, came to Croatia legally for an international table tennis tournament on Nov. 12. After being eliminated early in the tourney, the two decided to make the most of their trip by visiting Pula, an ancient seafront city on the tip of Croatia’s coast.
They both reportedly had visas (which expired on Dec. 3) and flight tickets scheduled to return home on Nov. 18. However, while out on the evening of Nov. 17, they were arrested by police officers who accused them of illegally entering Croatia from Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to Eboh, they had never even heard of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and when asked to retrieve their passports from their hotel, they were denied.
The following day, Eboh and Abia along with a group of Pakistanis were taken to a forest next to the Bosnian border and forced at gunpoint to cross into Bosnia.
“There were men from Pakistan at the border,” said Eboh in an interview with The Guardian. “They had been caught by the Croatians while attempting to cross the border from Bosnia. Police eventually ordered us to move through the woods. I refused and begged them one more time to check our status, but they wouldn’t listen. They kicked me in the back and told me they would shoot me if I didn’t move.”
“They said: ‘You go Bosnia, go, go,’” Eboh tells the New York Times. “I said: ‘Go where? I‘m not from Bosnia.’ But he brought up his gun and said he would shoot me.”
The Croatian government is refuting these claims, saying that the two Nigerian students could not have been abused and deported on Nov. 17 because hotel records show they checked out of their hostel on Nov. 18.
“The police have no record of them exiting the Republic of Croatia legally, nor have the police officers working on combating irregular migration taken any action towards persons with their first and last name,” the Croatian Interior Ministry said in a statement.
The pair eventually ended up in a camp in Velika Kladuša amongst thousands of migrants living in harsh conditions without water or heat and temperatures as low as -2 degrees celsius. Just two weeks ago, they were transferred to an immigration center in east Sarajevo where they are currently being detained.
“We told the truth and we have evidence of it,” says Eboh.
As the students’ story continues to spread, Bosnia and Croatia blame one another for the incident.
“Those people are victims of illegal acts on the Croatian side,” Dragan Mektić, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s minister of security, tells al-Jazeera. “It is obvious that Croatian police forcibly displaced them. 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-Herzegovina illegally.”
Eboh says that they are now fearful of what Croatian police will do to them if they return. “If they take us back to Croatia, we want to have UN escorts with us. We will not go to Croatia without a UN representative. We are scared of the Croatian police after what they did to us.”
But ultimately, after spending weeks in a foreign land, these young men are rightfully eager to return home.
“We want to go back to Nigeria,” said Eboh. “Please, help us, send us home immediately.”