The respondent, a 36 year old Moroccan man, recounted a violent pushback from Kastaneai in Greece, close to Yenikaden, in Turkey on 20th April 2022. In total he has been subjected to four pushbacks, including this one, with one being from Bulgaria and three being from Greece.
The respondent described how he was travelling in a group of four men, all from Morocco and aged between 32-37 years old. On 18th April 2022, at about 11.10 pm, the group crossed from Turkey, close to the village of Bosna, to Greece. He stated that they had to jump two fences to reach Greece.
As soon as they crossed the border, the respondent described how the group started running immediately to get far away from the border. The respondent reported how they ran through farmlands, for almost 2 km. He continued by describing how they crossed by a dry river and walked near to an unpaved road and church. After this, he stated that the group walked for another 2km until they found what the respondent described as a “main road” that goes to Orestias. They crossed this road and kept walking for two hours until they arrived in what the respondent described as a forest. The group, as reported by the respondent did not walk continuously throughout this time, instead, they had breaks from time to time and rested, as well as sleeping for about 20 minutes when they had a chance, far from the villages they passed through.
After this, the respondent reported that they walked for the whole night until about 5 am on 19th April – meaning they travelled for nearly 6 hours in total. At 5am they rested in a small forest near Rizia. They stayed there until 8pm.
The respondent described how the group continued to walk by night, and crossed a river which was not deep and then they walked for another 10 hours before they were caught. Reportedly, this was about 8am on 20th April. The respondent and his whole group were apprehended. The respondent described how they were caught by 4 men wearing sage green uniforms and 2 were wearing deep blue uniforms with “police” written on the front and back. None of them were wearing balaclavas. The respondent identified the green sage uniform as being similar as pictured below.
The respondent described how these men arrived in two vehicles. The men in blue uniforms arrived in a white Skoda with a blue stripe on the side and police was written on the side, and the other men in green uniforms were in the black Toyota pickup truck. The Toyota had nothing written on it and had no insignia. The respondent identified the images as below to the same as these vehicles.
The respondent reported that the men that stopped them were armed. The men in blue uniforms had handguns and the men in green uniforms had a large gun.
The respondent reported that the group was crossing the paved road when they noticed the black Toyota parked around 700 metres from them. The respondent remarked that they thought it was a civilian car, but then it started chasing them and they ran into a forest. But the car continued to chase them through the forest. At the same time the white Skoda was coming from the opposite end of the road, but it went through an unpaved road to stop them from the front. The respondent said that the group did not want to risk being hit by the car because the other car was right behind them, so they stopped. And then, as reported by the respondent, men emerged from the white car and without saying a word one a man in a green uniform kicked the respondent on his chest immediately. Then, as the respondent continued, the men in blue uniforms approached the group, walking towards them aiming their guns at them. The group had their arms raised up in the air. The respondent described that the men put the guns in their holsters and how they kicked him twice on his calf and ordered him to kneel on the ground.
The respondent reported that the men beat the whole group for about 10 minutes. They slapped him on the face and kicked his shoulders and calves. Then men spoke to them in English, asking “where are you from?”. The group responded explaining they were Moroccan, and when they said this, the men in the green uniform punched everyone, moving from one person to the next. After the kicking and punching, the group had to give up their phones which were not returned to them.
The respondent described that they stayed at this location for about 20 minutes until a white unmarked Mercedes van came to the scene (Image 4).
The respondent reported that inside this van there were two new men wearing civilian clothes – a jacket, black trousers and white trainers. They were not wearing balaclavas. These men did not speak to the respondent, they just conversed to each other in Greek. The responded recalled that they were then driven for 30 minutes in total, normal driving. The respondent could not see outside but he said that at some point there were some potholes they drove across.
After these 30 minutes, at around 9am, they arrived at a detention site. The respondent described the detention site included a building – old walls and a small yard in front of it. This building, as reported, looked very old and was only one floor with the white walls on the outside flaking. Outside of the building, the respondent saw a 2 meter high fence. The respondent described that they entered the building from the back door entering a hallway through which the group was escorted to the cells.
The respondent reported that nearby to the detention site he saw caravans and residential houses. These houses, as reported, were not semi-detached, they were positioned far from each other and surrounded by forest. The respondent mentioned that he did not see any signs or any insignia on the building to suggest it was property of the Greek police or military. However, he saw a Greek flag on the gate of the detention.
Inside the detention site the group was unloaded from the van and group was handed over to other officers. After the hand over, the van that brought the respondent and his fellow travellers to the detention site, including the men that drove the van, left the detention site. Inside the detention site, the respondent saw 5 men and 1 woman. The respondent described that these 6 new “officers” at the detention site were in uniform – 4 were in sage green uniforms, including the one woman, and 2 were in black uniforms, which did not have any insignia or anything written on their uniforms, without balaclavas too. The green uniforms were identified by the respondent to be the same as the image below.
The respondent reported that when the group was unloaded, 2 of the men and the woman approached them and searched the group. The respondent described how the group was forced to stand near a wall in the yard of the detention site and ordered to undress. The group was then searched and the respondent reported that “they even touched our sensitive places” – including by the female officer. During the search, the “officers” reportedly took the groups’ bags, belts, and shoelaces; none of these items were returned either. The search, reported by the respondent took approximately 20 minutes.
After the search, the respondent described that they were escorted into cells. The cell where he was detained was about 5 x 6 meter the floor was covered in mud. Inside, as reported by the respondent, there were four mattresses with no covers, the walls inside the cell were grey and there was a smelly toilet inside. Inside the cell, the respondent saw names carved into the wall.
When the respondent was brought to his cell, he saw that there were already 7 people detained, of which, all Syrian men aged between 25-30 years old. In the evening, more people were brought in. At the end of the day, according to the respondent, a total of 80 people, of which 2 women, and 5 minors were detained. The age range of the group was between 16 and 45 years old, and the nationalities of the people mentioned by the respondent were: Syrian, Iraqi, Kurdish, Pakistani and Afghan.
Throughout their ordeal the respondent stated that they were not given any food or water, they were not forced to sign anything, there was no translator present during their detention, and they did not have their photos or fingerprints taken.
The respondent stated that after 8 or 9 hours in detention, four new perpetrators appeared to remove the now 80-person group from the cell. These four perpetrators, as described by the respondent, were wearing camouflage green jackets, short sleeve shirts, and sage green pants.
The respondent described that people were instructed to leave the cell and once outside, they were beaten with tree branches in order to make people “move fast.” Outside, there were two vans where people were loaded in. The respondent explained that women and minors of the group were not spared from being beaten.
Outside the building, the respondent saw approximately 20 new men in uniform. The respondent saw men in black uniforms, blue uniforms with “police” written on their shoulders, sage green uniforms, and civilian clothes with camouflage short sleeve jackets and sports trousers and balaclavas. The respondent was not able to identify how many officers were of each uniform because he did not have time to look around as they were being loaded into the back of vans.
The respondent did not recall the brand of the vans but mentioned that they were white unmarked without licence plates without windows in the back that prevented the respondent to look outside. Inside the van, there were 30 people inside. The respondent remarked that the driving was really fast and the driver would suddenly pull the handbrake and they would hit the side of the van. The responded mentioned a bumpy road with potholes as they drove along.
The respondent reported that after a 15 minutes drive the vehicle stopped. The people were forced to leave the van and in order to speed the process the respondent said they were beaten with wrenches. Outside, the respondent said they arrived in a “big forest on the side of the river” around 8/9 pm without any buildings in close proximity.
The respondent mentioned that there were around 80 people at the pushback site. Here the respondent saw 6 more perpetrators – 2 were wearing green camouflage uniforms, with a Greek flag on their left arm, similar to the Greek military, and 4 were wearing civilian clothes with balaclavas. In total there were 12 people in uniforms at the pushback site, including the new 6 as well as 6 that drove the 3 vans. These 6 men were dressed in: sage green uniforms (two of them), and civilian clothes (four of them).
The respondent described that the people in uniforms, pictured above in Image 13, were holding “big guns”, and the people in civilian clothes were holding “branches”.
The respondent reported that people in green camouflage uniforms were speaking in Greek and some of the 4 in civilian clothes were speaking Syrian Arabic. The respondent said that 2 of the civilian-clothed people were driving the boat, while the other 2 searched the group.
The respondent reported that the perpetrators in civilian cloths told (speaking in Arabic, Syrian dialect) the group to give what they were hiding before searching them. Everyone was forced to sit down to wait for their turn to be searched – searching lasted about 3 minutes each. The respondent reported that the group were ordered to stay in a line and not to make any sounds to be heard by Turkey soldiers on the other side. The respondent saw that women were searched by male perpetrators and that the minors were also subject to being searched. The respondent mentioned that we had to “give all what we are hiding before they searched us and found it [anything that was hidden]. They told us not make any sounds to not be heard by Turkish soldiers maybe when they push us back”
While waiting the respondent mentioned that some people were beaten randomly; “Every time they got the chance to hit you or kick you”.
The respondent waited for 2 hours at the riverside, before he was loaded into the boat. The respondent reported that he was in one of the last groups to cross the river around 10pm at night on 20th April. This boat, as described by the respondent, had a blue and white colour, and was 3 x 1 meter in size. Each crossing with the boat included 8 people, accompanied by 2 of the Syrian-speaking men in civilian clothes and balaclavas. The boat was paddled across the river. The respondent remarked that the boat was unstable, “the weight was much more than the boat can accommodate and even the water get inside it”.
The respondent described that in the middle of the river, there was a “small sad island that contained few trees”. Some people of the group were dropped on this little islet but some were taken across the river and dropped in the middle and made to cross through the water. The respondent described that the 2 people in civilian clothes that sailed the boat were telling people “walk on this way not to drown”. The people who were abandoned on the islet could walk in the river to get to Turkish territory because he water level was not too high – between chest and waist.
The respondent described that after the group arrived in Turkey, they tried to walk and get away fast from there as the group noticed a fire that had been made by Turkish soldiers. The respondent and the other people in his group were were afraid of being caught. Therefore, as mentioned by the respondent, they kept walking for almost 30 minutes until they arrived at the main road in front of a gas station and a hotel.
“We couldn’t walk anymore. Our feet start to hurt and with the cold water I felt a big pain on my feet and barely could walk. One of our friend was hiding 20 euros, we stopped a taxi and he took us to Edirne for 20 euros. He wanted more but we told him that thats all we had on us”.
The respondent explained he did not claim asylum as the perpetrators did not ask them if they wanted to claim asylum. “If you speak, you will get beaten”.