On December 11, 2021 around 7:30 am, the respondent and 12 other people on the move (POM) were pushed back from Golyam Dervent, Bulgaria to Doğanköy, Turkey.
The respondent is a 37-year-old male from Syria who was traveling in a group of 13 people, all of whom were Syrian. There was one 20-year-old woman and two minors involved, one 4-year-old girl and one 17-year-old boy. The oldest in the group was 60 years old.
On December 10, 2021 the group left Edirne, Turkey at around 9 pm and was taken close to Hamzabeyli at the Bulgarian border where they arrived around 10:30 pm. They were taken by a driver in a van. From there they walked about one hour and roughly 3 kilometres through what the respondent referred to as a “military zone” until they reached the border fence at around 11:30 pm. After hiding between trees close to the border fence and waiting for approx. 20 minutes the group was able to cross the border to Bulgaria through a hole in the fence at around midnight.
After crossing through the fence the members of the group crossed an unpaved road, which the respondent assumes to be used for border control, running and hiding in a forest close by until the whole group gathered there.
From there the POM walked through the forest on slippery roads for five hours (approx. 10 kilometers), pausing only for a few minutes in between, until they reached their destination, from where they were supposed to be picked up. The respondent marked the location, which was subsequently identified as close to the village Valcha. The group reached the destination at around 6 am on December 12, 2021 and gathered at a place on a hill from where they could watch the main road close by, waiting for around 20 minutes for the next driver to arrive, whom was supposed to take them to Sofia.
After a short time, they noticed the lights of two cars on the road.
After around 20 minutes, at 6:30 am the “angry-looking” officers speaking Bulgarian approached the group and started to scream and hit everyone, including the woman, with batons for approx. 15 minutes. The assault included kicking and punching. While the assault continued in the form of beating and screaming, the group had to gather their belongings and walk-in line to a place near the police cars. Through kicking they were forced to kneel down and to put their hands on the back of their hands while the officers used torches to check their faces. When the woman, carrying the 4-year old female toddler, started to cry, the officers told her to shut up and continued to scream at her in English. The group were photographed individually, using the personal phones of the officers.
The six officers wore green uniforms with “police” written on their backs, consistent with Bulgarian Border police jackets. The jackets had “border police” logos, identified as Bulgarian border police insignia on them. They carried small guns.
The group was searched one-by-one by the officers, starting by emptying their bags and repeatedly asking for “Money, money!”. “We were afraid”, stated the respondent. They started to search their pants and bodies. “We took of our clothes and they searched them. It was deeply cold and they let us undressed in front of the woman”, being left only with their underwear for approximately 30 minutes. The male officers took the shoes of the woman and searched her as well, without undressing her. While she was being searched the woman cried. The searching officer continuously moved his hand on her back and told her to shut up.
The group’s money, shoes, jackets, power banks, food supplies and bags were taken away from the respondent and his companions. None of the items were returned. The respondent stated:
“One of us was wearing sneakers. [Before the officers started searching us,] two of them were talking about the sneakers which we could understand through the communication of their eyes. He kept showing his interest in getting the shoes and approached [the one wearing the sneakers] and started beating him until he removed the shoes.”
After this incident the group were loaded in the trunk of two black land rovers with big tires.
The respondent and 6 other people were loaded and locked in the 2-by-1-meter sized trunk of the car: “Imagine how we collided with each other. We could not sit and stood only barely. We were breathing to each other’s faces – it was hard to breathe”.
The drive to the border fence took about 20 minutes with a “reckless” way of driving.
“The driver was having fun by getting on the potholes in the road. We were going up and down and we lost our balance. He didn’t care that we have an older man [60 years old] with us”.
Both cars parked at the same spot on the border fence with a small door. This door was described as not being an official entrance but rather an unofficial door used “when they [the Bulgarian border police] need to push back people from it”. The respondent experienced two similar pushbacks before.
The group waited for a few minutes, arbitrarily being kicked by the officers, until they were literally pushed back to Turkey through the small door in the fence. They started with the woman and the 4-year-old toddler and continued with the rest of the group. During the incident, everyone was hit with batons on the back for approx. 10 seconds. The officers kept saying “No Bulgaria, understood?!”. This happened at 7:30 am on December 11, 2021.
After the pushback, the group walked for approximately four hours through an area of small mountains and forests until they reached a village, identified as Doğanköy, were they asked a farmer for help and to call a taxi to Edirne.
The group was not provided with medical assistance, food or water at any time. The officers took pictures of the group individually with their private phones before they searched them.