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In the night, in the snow

Date & Time 2021-01-16
Location Southeastern Albania
Reported by Aid Brigade Sarajevo
Coordinates 39.9148125, 20.3446875
Pushback from Albania
Pushback to Greece
Taken to a police station no
Minors involved no
WLTI* involved no
Men involved yes
Age 30 - 30
Group size #N/A
Countries of origin Algeria
Treatment at police station or other place of detention
Overall number of policemen and policewomen involved unknown
Violence used exposure to air condition and extreme temperature during car ride, gunshots
Police involved Albanian police

This testimony must be viewed in conjunction with another that was published by the Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN) in January 2021. Together, they speak to an emerging trend of the Albanian police raiding hotels to apprehend and, ultimately, push back people-on-the-move (POM) to Greece.
The respondent is a 30-year-old Algerian man. Between the 12th of January and the 20th of February, he experienced three pushbacks. All were from Albania to Greece.

Back in Duress, the respondent checked into the “Altin Hotel” in Durres, a small port city near Tirana, the Albanian capital.

This time, however, he was reluctant to stay there and only slept in the room to take a shower and wash his clothes. In a given week, the respondent stayed there for one or two nights. In the respondent’s words, “I sleep outside. I was too scared.”

When asked why Durres was a popular destination for POM, the respondent explained: “because there is a port there, and they want to go to Italy directly with a truck”. “Many, many, many are Egyptians”, he continued. In 2016, it was estimated that 143,000 Egyptians resided in Italy.

“Same thing, same story”

Before continuing, it is notable that the following sequence of events is mirrored in the January testimony.  Given this, it is likely that both describe the same pushback, albeit from two different perspectives and with a degree of variation that this entails. Indeed, the former asserts that the pushback happened on the 17th, whereas this respondent stated it was on the 16th, although he was not unsure of the exact date.

On the morning of the 16th of January, while he was asleep, a group of men in uniform that the respondent identifies as Albanian police officers came to the respondent’s hotel room. Hearing a bang on the door, the respondent tried to flee by jumping off the balcony but was apprehended by the officers. “I knew what would happen to me if I stayed,” explained the respondent.

As before, the respondent was apprehended, brought outside and loaded into what he described as a “big bus”. Besides those from the hotel, he observed that other POM were rounded up “from the street, from the cafes.”

One difference between this occasion and the last – one that would later prove catastrophic for the respondent and his group – is that the men in uniforms rushed the POM to exit from the hotel and did not allow anyone to gather their personal belongings. Money, mobile phones, and, crucially, winter clothing were all left in the room.

The testimony gathered in January revealed that many were forced out of their rooms in only  T-shirts.

50 POM were placed in the bus.  Escorted by three cars the respondent identifies as police cars, it drove directly to the border. The journey lasted around four hours. According to the respondent, two POM were handcuffed during this journey. It is unknown why.

Echoing the January report, the respondent described an incident that occurred en route to the border. Following the insistence of one passenger that he needed to go to the toilet, the bus pulled over to let some of the men relieve themselves. Seizing this opportunity, one POM fled into the woods. The police officers pulled out their firearms and discharged several shots into the air. This caused the man to fall to the ground and he was subsequently apprehended by the officers.
As the respondent said, “the refugee was scared, when the police started to shoot, he went down”. The man was unharmed.

“In the night, in the snow.”

The bus passed through a small village onto a dirt track where it stopped around 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. All the passengers were unloaded by the officers who led them on foot to the Greek-Albanian border. After an hour’s walk, the officers ordered the group to carry on alone and they returned to the bus.

Again, it was dark and the terrain was coated in a thick blanket of snow. With several lacking winter clothing due to their rushed exit from the hotel, this placed the group at acute risk of hypothermia and exposure. Average nightly temperatures in the border region range between -3 and 4 degrees Celsius in January.

As the respondent recalled, “it was hard because of the snow. There [was] one Algerian, with a broken leg, with the sticks [crutches], two sticks.

“We tried to go back to Albania again.”