He had already experienced a pushback from Greece to Turkey before.
The respondent is a 22-year-old Tunisian male who was traveling with his 25-year-old friend, also a Tunisian male.
The two people on the move (POM) started their journey on February 9, 2022 at around 11 am from Edirne by taking a bus for one hour to Kırklareli and then continuing by minibus (Turkish: ‘dolmuş’) to Dereköy, where they arrived at around 12:45 pm. Subsequently, they walked for 4 hours on unpaved roads in the forest, resting only for a few minutes in between, until they arrived at the border fence at around 5 pm.
The border site was located in a forest area. The respondent recounts that they had to cross a small river first, then walked for another kilometer until they got to the border, where they waited until the sunset in order to cross in the darkness. They eventually managed to cross the border fence at around 7 pm.
From this point on the two POM walked for 9 days, aiming to reach the city of Burgas in order to buy a train ticket to Sofia. They mainly walked during the night on unpaved roads in the forest and rested during the day in order not to get caught.
On February 19, 2022 they went to the village Bratovo (as recognized on a map) to buy some food and water, which they had run out of. On their way back from the village to the forest where they had been hiding, a man started shouting at the POM and calling them. The respondent continued walking and started to hurry but his friend stopped.
The respondent explained that at this point, the man that had shouted at him and another man started driving towards him in a car. The respondent started running and the car chased him, hitting him with the side of the car eventually. He fell down, got back up and ran into a field, still followed by the car. A third man, who was sitting in the fields and had heard the shouting of the two other Bulgarian men, ran to the respondent, jumped on him and held him until the other two men arrived.
Throughout this incident, the three men spoke and screamed in Bulgarian and so the two POM could not understand anything being said. The men were, respectively, wearing a black jacket, blue jeans and black shoes; a brown jacket and black jeans and the third wearing a black jacket and brown jeans. The respondent assumed that at least two of them were officials wearing civilian clothes but could not give any proof of that. The vehicle they were using and which hit the respondent was a blue Citroen car, also described as “civilian” and not further recognized.
When the respondent was caught by all three men, they immediately started slapping, punching and kicking him. They made him walk to their car where the other POM was waiting until another car arrived after approximately 10 minutes. During this period they waited at the side of a street and were seen by other people, no one intervened. One of the first two men, both of whom the respondent believed to be officials in civilian clothes, asked them about their nationalities and where the rest of their group was. They responded truthfully. At this point, they were neither searched nor were their documents checked.
Eventually, an old green jeep with writing in Bulgarian on its side and a Bulgarian license plate arrived. The respondent identified it as matching the Bulgarian police jeep in the picture below.
There were four men in the vehicle, whom the respondent described as wearing black jackets, pants, and boots. Their uniforms had “police” written on the left upper chest and knee. identified as Bulgarian National Police by the picture below, arrived. They carried firearms in their holsters.
The respondent explained that his friend was loaded in the trunk of the car while he was put in the front seat next to the uniformed men. They kept asking him “Where is group?” in English. They drove into the village and kept circling the village, driving around for about 30 minutes while repeatedly slapping the respondent and asking about “the rest of the group”. Every time he truthfully responded “no group” they would slap him and punch him in the stomach.
After that, they drove from the village to a nearby forest for around 10 minutes. The driving was described as “normal” inside the village but fast outside of it.
Once they arrived in the forest, the two POM were taken from the car and searched. The respondent reported that they were forced to undress and while one uniformed man searched their clothes, the other beat the two POM, by kicking, punching and beating them with tree branches, while they were completely naked. This assault lasted for about 30 minutes.
The uniformed men stole the POM’s phone, money, and their shoes, returning only their clothes.
According to the respondent, another car then arrived, a black discovery landrover with white “border police” writing on the front and a logo on the side. The respondent stated that it corresponded with the Bulgarian border police vehicle in the picture below.
The respondent explained that there were four men in the car, wearing dark green jackets and pants and black boots with “border police” written on the backs and on the sides of the sleeves. He identified these uniforms as matching those of the Bulgarian border police as depicted below. The respondent stated that, among themselves, all of these officers only communicated in Bulgarian.
The respondent and his friend were loaded in the 2 x 2-meter-sized trunk of the black landrover. They were driven for about 1.5 hours in a reckless way: “We couldn’t stand and we heard them laughing in the front seats”. The first hour they drove on paved roads, while the last 30 minutes was on unpaved roads.
They arrived at the point of pushback, close to the border fence within a forest. The respondent described that there was an unpaved road leading from Bulgarian to Turkish territory, which he assumed to be used to control the area.
At the border, there were 5 more uniformed men, 3 of them wearing the same dark green uniform resembling the Bulgarian border police uniform and 2 of them wearing black uniforms.
The black uniforms had “POLICE” written in capital letters in English written on their backs. One of them wore a blue armband while the other one wore a red armband. Both of them wore balaclavas and carried firearms in their holsters while holding plastic batons and tree branches. The respondent recognized the blue armband as resembling Frontex uniforms as shown in the picture below.
The men in uniforms identified as possibly Frontex spoke English among themselves, but the man wearing the blue armband subsequently spoke Bulgarian to the remaining men wearing the dark green uniforms.
The respondent stated that he and his friend were then beaten up for 10 minutes with plastic batons, tree branches and by being punched in the face and kicked in the stomach. The respondent recounts that they specifically punched them in the face and the stomach. Almost all of the 9 uniformed men participated in the violent assault.
Subsequently, they were forced to lay down and to raise their feet. They were hit by the uniformed men with branches on their feet for 2 minutes before they were pushed back to Turkey through a big door in the fence. This was at about 10 am on February 19, 2022.
Foot with injuries from violent assault
In Turkey, the two men walked on unpaved roads through the forest until they found a street sign indicating their location as being close to Şükrüpaşa. Following street signs, they walked back barefoot for almost 10 hours until they arrived in Edirne.
They did not express their intention to ask for asylum because, as the respondent stated, “We couldn’t. They didn’t let us talk if they don’t ask you.”
Neither medical assistance nor food or water was provided, nor were any papers signed or pictures taken during the entire incident.