This testimony must be viewed in conjunction with several other testimonies published by the Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN) in January 2021 from this location. Together, they speak to 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 30-year-old Algerian man. Between the 12th of January and the 20th of February, he experienced three pushbacks. All were from Albania to Greece.
Since November 2020, the respondent had stayed at the “Altin Hotel” in Durres, a small port city near Tirana, the Albanian capital. He rented the room with four other North African men. It cost 2 Euros per night per person.
Despite the respondent’s assertion that it was the “Altin Hotel”, the name and exact location of the hotel could not be verified. It appears to be the same one referenced in the January testimony. Rather than official premises, the hotel is informal accommodation commonly frequented by POM. It does not have an online presence.
At around 7:00 a.m. on the 12th of January, men in uniforms identified by the respondent as Albanian police officers knocked on the door of the respondent’s hotel room. According to the respondent, all wore balaclavas and were clad in “black and blue uniforms”.
After opening the door, the respondent and his roommates were led outside by the men in uniform. They were joined by a further 40 POM who were brought from the hotel. They were from Algeria, Syria, Morocco, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tunisia.
The respondent claimed that over 25 men in uniforms were present. That there was such a large number present suggests this was a planned operation. Whether or not staff at the hotel cooperated with the ‘officers’ is unclear.
“We had no idea what was going on.”
Along with nine others, the respondent was loaded into a Hyundai H100. These are small, minibus-like vehicles. The men in uniform then drove the group to what the respondent describes as a police station inside the Port of Durres. They were followed by four other vehicles that brought the remaining POM. Despite the respondent’s assertion, it was difficult to find further information on this station or pinpoint its exact location.
Inside the station, the respondent and his group were placed in a cell. Here, he witnessed four incidents of assault. Several inmates were beaten by men in uniform in the building, who punched and struck the POM with batons. “There is also this with the electricity [a tazor], but they don’t use, they just fire in the air to make us scared,” said the respondent.
More unusually, the respondent claimed that a group of men in civil clothes visited his cell and assaulted the inmates “for no reason”. This left the respondent with extensive bruising on his face. Why these men were allowed to enter or who they were was unknown to the respondent. He alleged they were Serbian, due to the language they spoke, and described them as “so racist”.
According to the respondent, one minor was beaten during this attack.
After four or five hours, the respondent was loaded into a police car which was driven by two different men in uniform. He described the vehicle as the “standard ones” used by the Albanian police.
It was now midday.
The respondent stated that, although the vehicles could only seat six, 10 POM were transported at a time, with some POM in the boot of the vehicle. When asked if there was sufficient space, the respondent simply laughed.
There were five cars in total, carrying approximately 50 POM.
In a squadron, the vehicles drove directly to the Greek-Albanian border. The journey lasted between three to four hours. The respondent indicated that they were brought here.
Upon their arrival, the respondent was taken to what he described as an “official camp”. All 50 POM were gathered together and ordered to stand in a yard surrounded by police buildings. The respondent believed they were made to wait outside due to their large number.
While waiting outside, the respondent was placed in solitary confinement for over an hour after someone sitting next to him complained to the officers.
During this time, the transit group’s photograph and fingerprints were taken.
After a short wait, a Land Rover arrived. It was driven by two men in uniform and had the Albanian flag on its registration plate. The respondent was loaded into the vehicles with six others. They were Egyptian, Syrian, Algerian and Moroccan. Everyone was aged between 20 to 30.
Like the previous journey, the vehicle was too small for the number of passengers, and two POM were crammed into the boot.
“They tell us – go to Greece”.
The vehicle drove into the mountains for 15 to 20 kilometres. The respondent described that it did not drive along roads and followed a random route, often criss-crossing and turning back on itself. As January’s report indicates, the Albanian police purposefully drive in a disorientating manner to prevent POM from knowing where they are, which can impede their future journeys.
The respondent alleged that the officers repeatedly entered Greek territory.
Unlike other hotspots monitored by the BVMN, the 250km long frontier separating the two countries is largely porous, often lacking fencing and clear demarcation.
The vehicle stopped and the men were ordered out of the vehicle. No one knew where they were. At this point, it was dark and snowing. The respondent estimated that it was 11:00 p.m.
Faced with the adverse weather conditions, the six men decided to return to Albania.
As the respondent recalled: “We didn’t want to go to Greece, we tried to come back to the same place [Durres]”.
After waiting for the men in uniform to leave, the transit group set off for Durres. They walked for several days through the mountains in the snow. This arduous journey from the south of Albania has reportedly claimed the lives of several POM in the past.