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Detention and violence in Bulgaria after being pushed back

Date & Time 2020-08-13
Location Silistra-Ostrov border crossing, Romania
Reported by Collective Aid
Coordinates 44.1177002, 27.2767904
Pushback from Romania
Pushback to Bulgaria
Taken to a police station yes
Minors involved no
WLTI* involved no
Men involved yes
Age 23 - 23
Group size 1
Countries of origin Iran
Treatment at police station or other place of detention detention, denial of food/water
Overall number of policemen and policewomen involved 21
Violence used beating (with batons/hands/other), sexual assault, forcing to undress
Police involved 15 Romanian and Bulgarian border officials (in border police uniforms, unknown exact numbers of each), at least 1 Bulgarian 'soldier', 1 police van, 1 police car, 5 Bulgarian detention centre officers, 1 other member of Bulgarian detention centre staff (believed to be a doctor))

The respondent, a 23 year old man from Iran, crossed inside a truck from Bulgaria to Romania on the 13th August 2020, at the Silistra-Ostrov border crossing. He reported that at 21:00, once the truck had entered Romanian territory (which he was aware of due to the GPS location on his phone) it then backed up across the border where the rear door was opened and he was instructed by a group of border officers to leave the vehicle. The respondent reported that there were both Romanian officers (with “BORDER POLICE” written on their uniforms in English) and Bulgarian officers (with Cyrillic writing on their uniforms). The respondent reported that the border officials were working together as the Bulgarians did not speak English (and neither did the first border official he interacted with, who was Romanian). 

Once the respondent had exited the truck, he reported that he was taken into a building on the Bulgarian side of the border crossing by a Bulgarian ‘soldier’, while border officers went to speak to the truck driver. In this building, the respondent was detained overnight and reported being threatened with jail time (5 years). The border officials questioned him and at first did not believe he was Iranian, suggesting that he was from a European country. During the questioning they instructed him to open his phone and when he asked why he reported that one of them slapped him across his face. The respondent spent eight hours in this building and was not given any food or water, despite asking for it.  

The following day (14th August 2020) at approximately 05:00, the respondent was transferred in a van to an office of the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior. From here, he was put into a police car and taken to Lyubimets Detention Centre (close to the border with Turkey, and approximately a 5 hour drive away). The respondent said that while being processed to enter the detention centre, him and another person-on-the-move (male, from Syria, age unknown) had to strip naked.

First the Syrian man was interrogated naked and while this was happening the respondent was ordered to undress. When he removed his shirt, one of the 5 officers present (a short, bald and muscular man) noticed that the respondent had money hidden (300 EUR) and slapped the respondent on the face. When the respondent was fully undressed, he was taken (naked) behind a closet where he was again slapped by the officer.

In reaction to the strike to his face the respondent made a noice. The officer, who then made sexual hand gestures and noises towards him, mocking the respondent as if he we deriving sexual pleasure from being struck. None of the other officers intervened when this happened, and neither did the other staff member who was also present in the room, whom the respondent believes was a doctor as he was wearing a ‘doctor’s uniform’ i.e. a white coat. The respondent reported that the ‘doctor’ was sitting behind a computer, writing down his possessions (including 2 phones and 2 power banks) to be put into a safe. This incident took place between approximately 02:00 and 02:30 on the 15th August. 

The respondent spent 10 minutes in the room where this took place. He reported that the detention centre staff present there only spoke Bulgarian and laughed at him when he spoke English. The respondent wasn’t given his own clothes or possessions back (he was given a white set of clothing/uniform) before being transferred into a 6m² cell which he shared with 8 people. He reported that other cells of the same size held up to 15 people. The respondent was initially not allowed out of this cell for 15 days (supposedly due to Covid quarantine, however this was not communicated to him or the other detainees).

After 15 days, he was allowed outside for fresh air and spent another 11 days in Lyubimets before being transferred to Harmanli camp, at which point he was given his possessions and clothes back. In the camp he was subject to another two week quarantine period, however during this time he was brought out of quarantine to meet with IOM staff who told him he had to either claim asylum in Bulgaria or be deported to Iran. Therefore, he registered an asylum claim in Bulgaria however he left the country and crossed into Serbia once the quarantine period in the camp had elapsed.