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If we had known, we would not have come to Thessaloniki. But I thought we have papers, we have UNHCR documents, nothing will happen to us!

Date & Time 2020-08-27
Location Thessaloniki, Greece
Reported by josoor
Coordinates 40.654674, 22.902305
Pushback from Greece
Pushback to Turkey
Taken to a police station yes
Minors involved yes
WLTI* involved yes
Men involved yes
Age 3 - 50
Group size 80
Countries of origin Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria
Treatment at police station or other place of detention detention, no translator present, denial of food/water
Overall number of policemen and policewomen involved In total between 20-30 officers in uniform 10-15 people in black with balaclavas at the different sites
Violence used beating (with batons/hands/other), theft of personal belongings, reckless driving
Police involved Officers in Greek police uniform, people dressed in black with balaclavas, unmarked white van, prisoner transport vehicle, red lorry

The respondent had been living in Greece for 10 months. He stayed in Patras most of that time and tried to reach North Macedonia several times. In the morning on the 27th of August 2020, he took a bus to Thessaloniki together with three other people. When he left the bus station, 10 police officers came on motorbikes together with two cars with several people in civilian clothes. They asked the respondent and his companions for their papers. All four of them had valid Khartias. The officers took their Khartias, as well as their phones.

Without being told anything about where they were being taken or what would happen to them, they had to get into an unmarked van. The van started driving around Thessaloniki, collecting additional people. When they had put between 15 and 20 people in total into the van, they took them to a place the respondent described as a metro station, still inside Thessaloniki. At this metro station, there were several police cars and some unmarked cars. The officers took all of the people’s belongings, including belts, but they did not take their money. They conducted body searches on everyone. Subsequently, the respondent and the other people apprehended by the police had to get into a car that the respondent described as a prisoner transport vehicle, with official marks of the Greek police.

They drove for around two hours and arrived in a police station, in a very reckless way. Between 30 to 50 people had already been gathered there and they told the respondent that this police station was located in Xanthi. The respondent and the other people apprehended by the police were kept there for around two hours with no water and no food, during which time an additional 10 people were brought in. All of the officers at that police station were wearing the Greek police uniform. The respondent told several of them that he and his three friends had valid papers. The police officers told the respondent and his friends to “just wait”.

After more or less two hours, the respondent and a total of 20 people were taken into the same type of vehicle that had taken them to Xanthi. This time they drove for around 3 hours and arrived in some kind of warehouse. The respondent could not see the building from outside as the vehicle stopped inside the building.

“If we had known, we would not have come to Thessaloniki. But I thought we have papers, we have UNHCR documents, nothing will happen to us!”

Inside the warehouse, there was was a big hall in which around 80 people had already gathered. Three officers in police uniform searched them and beat them with batons. They took all the money from everyone. The respondent had 400€ on him, his friend 200€. The officers also took their shoes. Throughout all of this, the police officers did not talk to the respondent or the others with him.

They had to wait for a few hours. The respondent said the group of 80 people was of very mixed nationalities and ages. He said there were definitely some people from Afghanistan, Pakistan and he clearly remembers one Syrian family with small kids.

After a while, the police divided the people into two groups. The police took one group away first and then came back for the other, which the respondent was a part of. Around midnight on August 27, they had to board a red lorry and were taken to the Evros River. At this point, there were six or seven men in “commando uniforms”, described as black clothes and balaclavas, plus three or four officers in Greek police uniform.

The respondent describes that as soon as they all got off the lorry, one of the “commando” men launched a camera drone that he used to observe activity on the Turkish side of the Evros river. Meanwhile, some of the other officers and commandos got one rubber dinghy ready. Two of the people dressed in black were speaking Arabic, they were the ones who took the boat across the river.

Around 15 people were taken onto the boat at once. The Arabic speakers did not drive the boat but used a rope tied across the river to get it to the other side.  It took around 30 min until all 80 people had been taken to the Turkish side of the river.

“All the way to the border we were crying. When we arrived in Turkey, I could not believe what had happened. I thought I was dreaming.”

They proceeded to walk through the forest, barefoot, until Turkish police found them. They gave them water and let them continue. They continued walking to Ipsala. The respondent says he thinks they were walking for 5 hours in total but was not sure at all. From the main road in Ipsala, they took a taxi to Istanbul (paid by friends upon arrival). They arrived around 8 in the morning, less than 24 hours after they had arrived in Thessaloniki the day before.

“I lost my mind since I was returned to Turkey. I even lost my English. I was an English teacher in Afghanistan, now I can’t even find simple words. I lost all my dreams.”