Thursday, December 5, 2019

Croatia police wrongly deports Nigerian table tennis players to Bosnia (photo)

Croatian police have deported two Nigerian table-tennis players to Bosnia and Herzegovina, claiming they were in the country illegally, despite the pair having arrived in Croatia with valid visas.

Abie Uchenna Alexandra and Kenneth Chinedu, students from Owerri Technical University in Nigeria, arrived in Zagreb on November 12 to participate in the sport's World University Championships in Pula, according to Hina, the government-owned national news agency.

Following the table tennis tournament, they headed from Pula to Zagreb, scheduled to fly back to Nigeria via Istanbul on November 18.

The pair settled into a hostel on November 16 and the following day went to explore the city, reported the Sarajevo-based Zurnal. They were stopped by police as they got off a tram, and arrested as they were not carrying their documents with them.


"They took us to the police station. We tried to explain who we were and that we had left our documents in the hostel. They didn't pay attention to what we were saying," said Chinedu.

He said police officers then put them in a van and said they were "taking them to Bosnia". They drove the pair to the border, along with several others, and dumped them on the Bosnian side, near a forested area.

"I refused to go into the woods," said Chinedu. "The officer told me he would shoot me if I didn't move."

After being chased, they reached the Miral Camp near Velika Kladusa in Bosnia.

That was two weeks ago.

Chinedu said they immediately contacted one of their fellow students who had stayed back in Zagreb, and asked him to send them their passports.

However, they now faced a new problem: they were stuck in a camp and their Croatian visas were due to expire when they were due to get their flight home.

The students complained to representatives of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which runs the Miral Camp, where it was confirmed that the students had been staying in Croatia legally.

Dean Sinkovic from the Faculty of Economics and Tourism in Pula confirmed to Al Jazeera that the students were competing in the table tennis tournament, that they had visas and an invitation letter from the university.

Emir Prcanovic, director of the Your Rights Organization, which is currently providing legal aid to the Nigerian students, told Al Jazeera that the documentation from the Croatian consulate proves the students' legal status.

Alberto Tanghetti, a representative of the Inter-University Sports Committee and the organiser of the competition in Pula, said there were a total of five participants from Nigeria - four students and a professor - and confirmed they all had valid visas.

"The two students were participating in the competition, they had a Croatian visa, return plane tickets from Zagreb to Istanbul and from Istanbul to Lagos," Tanghetti said.

Hina, meanwhile, announced "the Ministry of Interior does not know how these students ended up in Bosnia", adding "their legal departure from Croatia has not been recorded".

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