The respondents are three Moroccan men aged 21, 23 and 24, who were apprehended near the town of Demir Kapija in North Macedonia and subsequently pushed back to Greece in the early hours of 16th or 17th February. The transit group was apprehended at these coordinates along with another 30 year old Moroccan man. The respondents had not previously experienced a pushback and prior to their attempt to cross into North Macedonia had spent four months in a detention centre in Greece.
The respondents crossed into North Macedonia between midnight and 1am on 14th February and walked for two days before being apprehended in the early hours of the morning, while walking along some train tracks. The respondents described the officers who apprehended them as police and described their uniforms as dark blue with the word for ‘police’ written on the back. The respondents believed that the officers had been hiding in some vine trees next to the train tracks before they appeared and ran towards the transit group. The officers reportedly apprehended two members of the group and handcuffed them, while the other two ran away. One of the respondents reportedly ran and fell on the train tracks, badly injuring his knee in the process. He subsequently hid in the forest but was found by officers using torches. “I couldn’t move so it was easy for them to apprehend me, but the other member of our group managed to run away,” the respondent explained.
One respondent explained that these officers were dressed differently to the officers they encountered at the border, who reportedly wore uniforms with a flag on the arm.
I couldn’t move so it was easy for them to apprehend me, but the other member of our group managed to run away.
After being apprehended, one of the group members was reportedly asked by an officer why he was in North Macedonia. When the respondent replied that he was running away [from Greece], the officer reportedly grabbed his hair and pulled it back. The respondent told the officer where he is from and explained that he did not want to return to Greece because he spent four months in a detention centre there. The officer then reportedly brought the respondent to a more senior officer, who immediately started beating the respondent and slapping him in the face. The respondent explained that he tried to protect himself from the slapping, which made the senior officer “very angry”. The officer who initially apprehended the respondent then intervened and explained the respondent’s story to the senior officer.
One of the officers reportedly spoke English. One respondent believed that the officer who slapped him spoke English as well but did not wish to communicate with the respondent. Between them the officers reportedly spoke a mixture of Greek and Macedonian.
He tried to protect himself from the slapping, which made the senior officer “very angry”
During their apprehension, all members of the group reportedly experienced violence in the form of beatings from the officers. The respondents reported that the officers apprehending them threatened to send dogs after the friend who managed to run away, if the group did not call him. The respondents also reported that the officers took photos of them using personal mobile phone devices (this practice has been documented in previous reports of pushbacks from North Macedonia to Greece).
The group were then reportedly told to take their shoes off and were made to walk for approximately 15 minutes to a vehicle which they described as a dark blue coloured Sprinter van with no writing on the outside. The respondents recalled that there were rocks on the ground, making it difficult to walk to the vehicle without their shoes on.
There were two officers in the Sprinter van, who were reportedly wearing similar uniforms to the officers who apprehended the group, and balaclavas. The respondents recalled being put inside the back of the van, which they described as being prison-like, with metal bars which made it feel like a cell.
During the entirely of their detention the respondents were handcuffed without shoes.
The respondents were reportedly driven “very fast” for approximately 15 minutes before arriving at a detention facility, likely to be Vinojug Temporary Transit Center, a facility close to the border where people are routinely held prior to being pushed back to Greece (see BVMN’s February 2022 monthly report). The respondents noted four officers working at the Transit Center whom they believed to be North Macedonian police, due to the emblems on their uniforms. During the entirety of their detention at this Center the respondents were reportedly handcuffed and without shoes.
While recounting their arrival at the Center, one respondent explained: “We were very scared because we didn’t know the rules there [at the detention facility]. But they had a translator so as soon as we talked to this translator he calmed us down a bit. He told us that we would not be handed to the Greek authorities. He said: ‘don’t worry, you will just be pushed back. Everyone experiences this. You just go back across the border and try again, you might make it.’” The respondent reported that the translator wanted to advise them “as a brother”.
The translator also reportedly advised the group regarding the behaviour of different kinds of police officers at this border: “If you see the police officers who have no grade, no country flag, nothing on their uniforms, please avoid running away. They’re going to get you anyway, with dogs. Just give up if you see them because they’re from Frontex.”
After arriving at the Transit Center, the respondents were taken straight to a cabin building which had an office inside it. In this office, the respondents reportedly had their information taken, including fingerprints and photographs. The officer taking their pictures used a camera rather than a personal mobile phone.
The respondents did not report any ill-treatment at the Transit Center apart from denial of food and water by the officers working there. They were reportedly given water by the translator.
After having their information taken, the respondents were reportedly taken in an old green Jeep to the border with Greece. The respondents believed the officers driving the car to be North Macedonian police and recalled that they were wearing balaclavas. When describing the interior of the vehicle, one respondent said that it “felt like we were sitting on a tank of a car. There were no seats and they drove very quickly. The officers driving the vehicle were laughing at us.”
It felt like we were sitting on a tank of a car. There were no seats and they drove very quickly. The officers driving the vehicle were laughing at us.
After driving for approximately 5 minutes, the group reached the border. It was around 4am. The group was reportedly told to get out of the Jeep and cross through the border gate to Greece. The respondents did not report that any violence was used by the officers at this point. After the group passed through the gate, the officers reportedly used torches to follow their movements and check they were not attempting to cross the border again.
The group reported that the officers confiscated their food and their friend who had escaped had the group’s power bank with them. Without these items, they were not equipped to attempt another crossing so decided to go back to Thessaloniki.
When asked if they expressed an intention to apply for asylum at any point, the respondents explained that they did not ask for asylum because the communication with the officers detaining them was not very good. One respondent explained further: “We also didn’t ask because we tried already in Greece to apply for asylum and we had to spend four months in detention. So it’s probably not a good idea. For us, Moroccans, it’s obviously not going to work.”