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Between Albania and Greece, there is no fence. Just [...] snow

Date & Time 2021-02-19
Location near Bilisht, Albania
Reported by Anonymous Partner
Coordinates 40.585994, 21.041954
Pushback from Albania
Pushback to Greece
Taken to a police station yes
Minors involved yes
WLTI* involved no
Men involved yes
Age 16 - 16
Group size 40
Countries of origin Morocco, Algeria
Treatment at police station or other place of detention detention
Overall number of policemen and policewomen involved unknown
Violence used beating (with batons/hands/other)
Police involved Albanian police officers, various numbers, 13 English speaking officers with vehicles with registration plates bearing the flags of Germany, Poland, Hungary and Albania

This testimony must be viewed in conjunction with two others. One was published by the Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN) in January, 2021. The other, recorded by the BVMN in the same week, appears to describe the same event. Together, they evince an emerging trend of the Albanian police raiding hotels to apprehend and, ultimately, push back people-on-the-move (POM) to Greece. 

The respondent is a 16-year-old Algerian male. He reports that he has experienced several pushbacks in different locations within the last year. 

Reportedly, the respondent was pushed back from Austria to Hungary and then to Serbia in October 2020. From Serbia, he tried to cross the border back to Hungary near Majdan, in the tri-border region between Serbia, Hungary and Romania. From there, he was pushed back to North Macedonia. He then travelled back to the same place and crossed the border to Hungary again near Majdan. This time, he managed to travel to Budapest, but was then apprehended by police officers on his way to a hotel. He was again pushed back to Serbia. 

In the beginning of January 2021, after some time in Serbia, he reportedly tried to cross the border near Majdan a third time. Here, he was apprehended, beaten up and once more pushed back to North Macedonia by what the respondent described as “the NATO”. In North Macedonia, he was again apprehended and reports that he was about to be pushed back to Greece, but managed to escape. 

Together with two Moroccan men, he fled to Kosovo and onto Albania. They then travelled to Durres, a port city in the west of Albania, arriving there on the 30th of January. The respondent stayed in a hotel in Durres for 20 days. Based on his description, it appears that this is the same hotel discussed in the other testimonies recorded by the BVMN. 

According to the respondent, many people-on-the-move (POM) stay in this hotel “because it’s cheap” (4 people can reportedly rent a room for 10 Euros a night). He doesn’t know the name of the hotel. He described it as a “normal hotel” with double, three- and four-bed rooms. The respondent shared a double room with a 20-year-old Algerian man.

Despite the respondent’s description, this hotel appears to be informal lodging. It does not have a clearly discernible name nor an online presence. 

The respondent described that he had heard from other POM prior to his stay that the owner of the hotel was possibly working with the police. 

“ […] When I went over there people was talking he is a police. […] He said to them, the owner of the hotel, he said that I am policeman.”

He had also heard that pushbacks had happened from this hotel before. However, he decided to still stay there because “it was cheap” and he thought that “nothing would happen”.

“[…] Yeah, I have an idea they would take people from here, but everything was normal, so [we] think [it’s okay]… Cause it’s long time didn’t happen.“

On the morning of the 19th February, at 7:00 a.m., the respondent reports that he and his roommate were woken up by a series of loud knocks on the door. 

“When the police came they start to knock, they said “open the door, open the door!” so they didn’t open the door, and after that they start to call them like “police, open the door!” so they open the door.”

Three officers referred to by the respondent as Albanian police entered the room and ordered them to take their belongings quickly. They escorted them downstairs to the entry hall of the hotel. There, the respondent states that the police gathered around 40 people. The group consisted of POM from Algeria and Morocco, all men, four minors. The respondent explained that most of the group were hotel guests, and around 8-10 people were apprehended on the street outside and brought to the hotel. 

The respondent estimated that there were 12 officers in the hotel. He described them as wearing dark blue uniforms and balaclavas. In the entry hall, they reportedly beat “some of the people” who were complaining about the apprehension with metal telescopic batons. The respondent himself reports being beaten on his legs.

“When they was beating them they said: ‘we are the Albanian police, it’s good yeah?’, and beat him, ‘you think the Albanian police is good, yeah!?’ and beat.”

The owner of the hotel and his wife were reportedly talking to the police officers. It appeared to the respondent that they were complicit, because of their conversation and because he had heard the rumours before from other POM that the owner was working himself with the police. 

“He said the owner of the hotel and his wife they was talking to the police and he said the owner of the hotel is a police. It’s himself a police.”

The officers then divided the people in groups of five or six and loaded them in police cars. The cars were described as blue and white with police inscriptions. The respondent described the brand of the cars as “H1”.  The respondent was loaded into the vehicle with 5 other people, two Algerians and three Moroccans. He explained that the car was too small for six passengers, so three of them were placed in the trunk. 

In groups of five or six, the 40 POM were driven to a police station located in the port of Durres. The respondent estimates that it is located here. They were held in a yard outside of the station for several hours. He reports that around 30 officers were present at the station. Some of them were reportedly wearing red uniforms and others plain clothes. 

Albanian police uniforms

At the police station, the POM’s phones were confiscated.

The respondent described that the officers would take people who were “making problems” inside the station to beat them with batons. He explained that some people harmed themselves with knives in order to be released. 

“There is some people like they cut themselves [points on upper body] like you know, to let them out.”

While they were held in the yard, a civil car arrived. The respondent documented that “a woman, a man and a girl” in civil clothes came out of the car and distributed bags of food to them. The food packaging was described as bearing the flag of the European Union. 

“A woman and a man and a girl. […] Maybe it’s her daughter.”

Later, at around 3:00 p.m., the group of 40 was loaded in a bus that “looked like a tourist bus”. It was driven by a man in plain clothes. Two officers were inside the bus. Some passengers were handcuffed.  The respondent described that the bus was escorted by two police cars – one drove in front and one behind. In each car there were four officers. Allegedly, every 30 minutes, the bus stopped and the officers changed “shifts”: the two inside the bus were replaced by others from the police cars. 

The group was driven close to the Albanian-Greek border. The respondent documented that the drive lasted 3 hours. However, they were driving very slowly due to heavy snowfall. 

When the road became too narrow for the bus to pass, it stopped and the group was unloaded. The respondent doesn’t know the exact location, but he described that it was some kilometres away from the official border crossing of Bilisht

They were awaited by four officers. Two of them were reportedly “old men” and two “young guys”. The respondent described that they were wearing dark blue uniforms that looked slightly different than the other officers’ uniforms (shirt and trousers instead of one-piece).

The group was ordered to walk for approximately seven kilometres. They were accompanied to the border by the four officers. At nightfall, approximately around 7:30 pm, the group reached the Greek border. The respondent described that they were walking on a small road in the hills. The road was passable for average cars, but not for a bus. From the respondent’s description, it could have been in this location, however, this is just an assumption made from his description of the surroundings and the road. 

The border was not marked. When they arrived there, it was still snowing heavily.

“Between Albania and Greece, there is no fence. Just normal and just snow.”

The Albanian-Greek border

The officers are reported to have given the people their phones back that had been confiscated at the police station, and then left them.

After that, the group split up. A part of them went back to Thessaloniki, others decided to spend the night where they were and continue the next day, whereas the respondent together with 16 other people walked immediately back northwards to Albania. 

After a one-hour-walk, at around 9:00 pm, the respondent reports that they were approached by four police cars. The respondent alleged that the vehicles had registration plates bearing the flags of  Germany, Poland, Hungary and Albania. They all had a police inscription on the side. 

The respondent reported that a total of 13 officers exited the cars. They were wearing either dark blue or black uniforms (the respondent couldn’t define the colours as it was dark) and balaclavas. They reportedly looked “different” than the Albanian officers. He also stated that he thought they might have taken an armband from their upper arms before approaching the group. 

The officers were all male and described by the respondent as “ big guys with slim uniform”. They spoke in English to each other. 

A very similar description of such officers as well as vehicles with German and Polish registration plates was given in the January testimony.  

The group of 17 was reportedly apprehended by the officers, split up in three groups and one group after the other loaded into another police car – this time described as an Albanian “H1” again. They were driven to a “small camp” close to an official border crossing. The respondent couldn’t recall the location of the camp. 

He described that the camp consisted of containers with beds inside and toilets outside. Each container had space for four to seven people. The group was accommodated in this “camp” for one night. The respondent reported that Albanian officers were guarding the camp. 

The respondent reports that it was explained to the group by the officers that they could stay there for “just one night”. According to the respondent, no other people apart from his group were staying in the camp. 

On the morning of the 20th February, they were provided with breakfast. Then, they were loaded in land rovers in groups of seven. Again, this was described similarly in the other testimony from the same week. 

The officers drove them to the Greek border, again to an unofficial border crossing, but in a different location than the day before. The drive took 20 minutes. After that, they were unloaded from the land rovers. The officers told them to walk further on the road they were on, and then left. 

As the respondent described, one man in his group could barely walk due to a severe injury on his leg. The officers were not considerate of his health condition. 

“One was like broke, so broke. His leg was so broke, and they told him you have to go, to walk.”

The respondent then travelled to Thessaloniki.