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Thessaloniki police reportedly destroy people-on-the-move's legal documents

Date & Time 2020-08-29
Location Greek-Turkish border, near Ipsala, Turkey
Reported by Anonymous Partner
Coordinates 40.9618152, 26.34639139
Pushback from Greece
Pushback to Turkey
Taken to a police station yes
Minors involved no
WLTI* involved no
Men involved yes
Age unknown
Group size 102
Countries of origin Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Algeria
Treatment at police station or other place of detention denial of access to toilets, denial of food/water
Overall number of policemen and policewomen involved 24<
Violence used destruction of personal belongings, threats of violence
Police involved 4 plain clothed officers, 20 police officers (Thessaloniki), unknown number of Greek police and soldiers at the Greek-Turkish border, riot vans

The respondent is a 28-year-old man from Algeria. At 19:00 p.m. on the 29th August 2020, he and a friend (another Algerian man of a similar age) were at a train station in Thessaloniki, Greece. A large group of people-on-the-move (POM), exceeding 30 people, had gathered at the station intending to board a freight train to North Macedonia.

While waiting for a train on the railway tracks, an Afghani man warned the respondent and his friend that two plain-clothed police officers were approaching. The men fled to the other side of the station, however, they were apprehended by another pair of plain-clothed officers. The officers did not display their police IDs.

Meanwhile, an additional 20 Greek police officers dressed in blue uniforms entered the station and apprehended 30 POM. All those detained were collected together and told to sit on the ground near the tracks. According to the respondent, the police “searched everybody” and “broke all of their mobile phones.” “They break their phones because they need the phone for maps,” he explained.

The respondent reportedly also witnessed the police officers “tear apart” the documentation of two people-on-the-move. He remarked:

“One Syrian guy had a police paper and another Afghani guy had a white card, and they destroyed them.”

White cards, or International Protection Applicant Cards, are provided to individuals who have lodged an asylum claim in Greece.

Following a short wait of under one hour, the 30 detainees were loaded onto a “big blue bus.” This description matches that of the riot vans used by the Greek police. The inside of the van was partitioned into 12 cells and the group was distributed among them. The van then drove for 10 minutes to what the respondent called “a closed police station.” Based on the duration of this journey and the site of apprehension, this is presumably Thessaloniki Police headquarters. Here, they waited for 10 minutes and a further 12 POM were loaded into the van; one in each cell.

“No one asked [where] they [were] bringing us. No one from the police tried to explain to us the situation. Everyone was scared.”

Now 42 in number, the group was transported to another police station. The respondent could not remember exactly where they were brought to but suggested it was either Lasmos or Xanthi (North-Eastern Greece). Both locations correspond to the journey time of two hours experienced by the respondent. The respondents friend stated he thought that they were in Lasmos.

After a wait of four hours, in which everyone remained in the van parked outside the station, four vehicles arrived into which the group was loaded. The respondent testified that these vehicles were “normal white vans without windows.” They were then taken directly to the Greek-Turkish border. The drive lasted two to three hours.

When asked if he attempted to claim asylum, the respondent replied,  “we knew they would push us back to Turkey, so it doesn’t matter if we would ask them or not.”

At the border, the respondent was received by what he described as a contingent of Greek police officers and soldiers, wearing balaclavas and armed with batons. He could not determine their number. The officers and soldiers corralled the group of POM into a concealed, wooded area near the Meric River.

Following threats that they would “beat them” if they were not quiet, the respondent claims that the security forces asked if anyone in the group spoke English. Three men, whom the respondent alleges were Afghani, replied that they knew the language and were subsequently escorted away and “spoken to” by members of the force.

With nine others, the respondent was later loaded into a dingy. It was manned by the same three English-speaking Afghani men who the Greek personnel had summoned earlier. The respondent couldn’t say what motivated these men to pilot the dingy, nor the content of their ‘negotiations’ with the officers, as it took place out of sight and earshot.

While he was being ferried across the river, the respondent saw another “bus of sixty” arrive at the riverside. These POM were presumably pushed back in the same fashion over the river.

The precise location of the pushback is difficult to ascertain. On their approach to the Greek side of the border, the respondent documented passing a “small village” and driving down a “mud road” to reach the river.

Once in Turkey, he met two soldiers from the Turkish Army who informed him that he was in the “Ipsala area”. The respondent’s walk from the site of the push back to Ipsala took one and a half hours.

During the entirety of this episode, the respondent was not given any food, water, or allowed to go to the toilet.