At around 9 am on December 19, 2021, the respondent, a 24-year-old Syrian man, was pushed back from Rezovo, Bulgaria to Sislioba, Turkey. He was traveling in a group with 9 other Syrian men ranging in age from 17 to 25 years old, who were also pushed back.
The group left Edirne with at around 4 pm on December 18th. They were driven for two hours and then got out and walked for another two hours until they arrived at the border fence near the village of Kadere. After waiting for around one hour, they cut the barbed-wire fence and crossed into Bulgaria. The respondent recalled seeing numerous cameras but did not see any officers. It reportedly took the group around ten minutes to cross the border, after which they continued walking in the forest, making sure they avoided roads to stay hidden from officers.
They continued walking for almost 10 hours, stopping just four or five times to rest along the way, with the aim of arriving to Burgas and taking a train to Sofia. The respondent estimated that they had walked 40 kilometers when they decided to stop at 7 am and rest at a spot between a chapel and a dirt road near the village of Vizitsa. While they were resting, they saw a person walking nearby who screamed, “Police! Police!” and they all began to run away.
The respondent recalled, “We started running and we heard dogs coming behind us and then they started biting us.”
The three dogs were described as black German Shepherds.
The dogs continued to attack them for around 15 minutes, during which time six officers reportedly approached them. The officers wore green shirts with “police” written on the back as well as matching pants and black boots. One of the officers wore a balaclava and they all were carrying what the respondent described as “old Russian guns.”
The officers stopped the dogs from attacking the group but reportedly began to beat them themselves. All except the one holding the dogs kicked, punched and hit everyone in the group with branches for around five minutes. Then, one of the officers spoke to the group in English, saying “Phone. Money.” He also asked them where they were from, how they had gotten there, how they crossed the border, and if there was another group coming. They answered, “We are Syrians seeking asylum and we crossed from the fence.” The respondent said, “Once I said that he became angry and he kicked me in my chest.”
The officers reportedly took the men’s phones and told them to enter the pins or patterns so they could unlock them. Then they made the men stand up and began searching them one by one, reportedly taking everything they had. The respondent said, “They looked everywhere in your body and clothes, even touching sensitive places to see if you were hiding money anywhere.” The officers made the men take off their jackets and shoes to check if they were hiding anything, and did not give them back, despite the cold weather. They also took pictures of the men, some individually and some in groups.
After around 20 minutes, the officers had taken all of the men’s phones, jackets, shoes, backpacks and money, a total of 300 euros. The respondent recalled: “One of the officers looked at a phone and then put it in his pocket. When they liked one of our things they kept it for themselves.”
Then the officers made the men walk ten minutes—still barefoot—to the cars. They had to put their shoes and jackets in their backpacks, which they were forced to carry and then put in the backseat of a black car that had “police” written on it. The dogs were loaded into the trunk of this car as well. The men were put in the trunk of the other car— described as a green jeep with Bulgarian writing on it.
The respondent recounted: “Imagine a trunk that only can accommodate three people at most. They loaded 10 people inside it. At some point I really couldn’t breathe at all because it was so crowded.”
He estimated that it measured around two by three meters.
They were driven for around one hour, with a driving style that the respondent described as “insane and fast.” The road was paved for the first three kilometers and then unpaved the rest of the way. Along the way, the respondent saw trees and mountains as well as two villages. After a while he could also see the border fence through the small window in the trunk. The other car followed them until the unpaved road, when they went in a different direction.
Finally they stopped at a spot on the side of a mountain in a wooded area, where the group found three soldiers in addition to the three officers who had gone with them in the jeep. The officers, described as “soldiers” were wearing green camouflage uniforms and carrying large firearms.
The three officers that had driven the jeep made the men get out of the trunk and told them to kneel on the ground. The respondent recalled: “I really couldn’t see much, you know, they make you look at the ground, hands behind your head, like you’re a criminal and you don’t know who’s going to kick you next with those boots that they wear. It’s really painful and they don’t give you time to look.”
Then, the respondent reported that the officers screamed at the men in Bulgarian and kicked them and beat them with branches for around ten minutes. The respondent said: “When they kick you or hit you with the branch they don’t care if you die or not. They were just having fun beating us. They could have just opened the door and pushed us back, but they let us wait to be their toys.”
Finally, the officers opened a small door in the fence, pulling it down to reveal a small hole that the men were forced to crawl through. The group walked through the forest for almost 30 minutes, at one point crossing a stream with water above their knees, still barefoot and jacketless. They arrived at a small village called Sislioba, where a man working in a cafe helped them call a friend who came and paid for two taxis to take them all back to Edirne, a three-hour-drive away.