On the morning of February 1 at approximately 06:00, a 30-year-old Syrian male along with three other men and one minor were pushed back from Kosti, Bulgaria to Avcılar, Turkey. This was the respondent’s fourth pushback from Bulgaria to Turkey.
On the previous day, the respondent and three other people-on-the-move (POM) had been driven from Edirne to the Turkish-Bulgarian border. At around 23:00 that evening, they reached Bulgaria. With the help of a guide, the POM continued walking. After five hours of walking through the forest, the group of five took a rest for 15 minutes. After walking for another three kilometers, they decided to again take a break (see Image 1).
Crossing a paved road near to their resting spot, the men and minor were then stopped by the light of two cars. Four armed men wearing deep forest green jackets resembling Bulgarian border guard uniforms jumped out of the vehicles (see Image 2). The respondent stated that on the backs of their jackets was written Border Police in English. He reported that they “came out with their guns from the other side of the road [as if] they were waiting for us. We couldn’t move or do anything…they caught us.”
Now under the uniformed men’s control, the POM and guide raised their hands in the air. The respondent reported that the uniformed men “immediately started punching us in the face and one of the men came and kicked my friend in the nose with his boots… They then kicked us to move us from the road to the forest.” During the initial beatings, the respondent reportedly kept repeating “camp, camp.” The uniformed men gave no verbal answer, but the respondent speculated that his asking to be taken to a camp was “probably what made them more angry.” The uniformed men kept beating the respondent, regardless of what he said. The time was around 4:00 am.
Away from the road and hidden from any onlookers, the respondent then saw two additional men dressed in the same uniforms appear (see Image 2). The two men began questioning the POM. Reportedly, one of these two men would ask a question “and then hit us with a wood baton…when we made a sound because of the pain, they [would] laugh and sneer at us.” This questioning and abuse continued for around five minutes. Everyone in the group was hit with the batons, even the minor. “The man in the Bulgarian border guard uniform said to us: ‘Money phone, no problem. No money, no phone…big problem.'” The POM were addressed only in English. When one of the men discovered that the minor was hiding money, they slapped him and then kicked him. As the minor cried, the uniformed men took the money, while another uniformed man kicked him and told him [the minor] to ‘shut up’. The abuse continued for around two minutes. The group’s shoes, phones, and money were all taken. Altogether, 200 euros were confiscated from the group. None of their personal items were ever returned.
Barefoot, the POM and guide were then forced to walk around 400 meters to the men’s vehicles. Both of the cars were black land rovers with Border Police written along the side (see Image 4).
The group was then loaded into the land rover’s two-by-two-meter trunk. With all five inside the vehicle, the car began to move. During the 40-minute drive, the respondent reported that the combined freezing weather, limited space, and lack of windows made it extremely difficult to breathe. Being driven fast and recklessly along an unpaved road, the respondent could feel the muddy ground underneath them as they drifted. With the car stopped, the five travelers got out of the trunk. Six men dressed in deep forest green uniforms were present but masked in balaclavas – very probably the same uniformed men but this could not be confirmed because of the balaclavas.
Near them, they saw the Bulgarian-Turkish border fence with a two-by-one-meter door. Before pushing them back, the uniformed men reportedly forced two of the travelers to clean the vehicle’s tires. The other three, including the respondent, remained seated on the ground with their heads in their hands. When the respondent raised his head to look around, one of the uniformed men reportedly kicked him and pointed his finger down – indicating that he should turn his focus back to the ground. When the two POM finished cleaning the tires, the men in sage green reportedly kicked them back into line with the others. This humiliation and beating lasted for around 30 minutes.
The time was approximately 6:00 on February 1.
Turning their focus to the fence, the uniformed men pulled the lever to open the door and forced the POM and guide to crawl through to the other side. As they passed through, one of the masked men was slapping some of the POM on the head while saying, ‘fuck you’. All four POM and the one guide were pushed back.
Barefoot and cold, the group began walking. After three hours, they ran into a lumberjack who pointed them toward Avcılar. Reaching the village after around two hours, they were able to call for a taxi, which took them the remaining way back to Edirne.
When asked whether medical support, food, or water were offered during their captivity, the respondent said no. He explained further, saying that the men in uniforms…
“…gave us all [only] humiliation and the beating. Do we look [like] criminals? Did [I] hurt anyone? We lost our family. The little kid lost his parents in the war and he barely found hope to leave…[otherwise he would have died]. And, all we find is this. I’d rather [they] kill me than humiliate me in this way.”
From apprehension to pushback, the respondent only heard the uniformed men speak English and Bulgarian. No food, water, or medical support was offered nor were translators provided during their pushback. Neither photos nor fingerprints were taken.