The respondent, a 30 year old Syrian, experienced more than ten pushbacks, three of them within the past month, all between land borders. The most recent pushback he experienced was from Strandzha (BG) to Malkoclar (TR).
He started his journey on February 1 in Istanbul with 10 other males who were all from Syria, and between 19 – 50 years old. They were driven to Edirne by a man in a rented van.
The following evening, February 2 at 8 pm, the same man took them by the same van to an area near the Bulgarian border. The drive from Edirne to the crossing point took 1.5 hours. Still, the group walked an additional 4 hours to the border with an occasional 10-minute rest. The walk was through a forest and on an unpaved road and they reached their destination at 1 am, on February 3.
Once at the border, they waited for 5 minutes to check if somebody could see them. Their location was near to the village Şükrüpaşa.
Their plan was to walk 20 km on Bulgarian territory to a point near route 59 from where a driver would pick them up.
The group walked 7 hours continuously by just taking 5 minutes of break to get to the agreed point. They walked through the mountain and in a forest and arrived at 8 am on February 3. They decided to hide until night and if the car didn’t come by then to pick them up, the guide would find another pickup point that the driver could come to.
From 8 to 10 am they hid in the forest near an unpaved road. The nearest city to that place was Stoilovo, about 10 km away. The spot itself was in a small forest surrounded by weeds and thornbushes. The 11 men were apprehended at 10 am. Uniformed men came and parked on the road close to where the transit group was hiding. The respondent first assumed that it was a normal patrolling car, but later understood that the uniformed men somehow knew about the group hiding there. They came directly to the hidden spot, which was about 400 meters away from the unpaved road.
The men in uniforms were screaming in Bulgarian and seemed very angry but also spoke some words in English. The respondent described them as six men wearing sacramento green jackets with “Border Police” written on their backs, matching green trousers, black boots and an insignia of a lion with the Bulgarian flag stitched on the left arm. The respondent recognized the uniform as the one shown in the pictures below:
The six men arrived in two black landrovers, which also had “Border Police” and a sign written on the side. The third vehicle was a green Jeep with words in Bulgarian written on it and white stripes.
The respondent recognizes the vehicles in the following pictures:
All of the six officers were armed with handguns. Two out of the six threatened the group with handguns, aiming them at the respondent and others, so nobody would run. The other four officers guns were kept in their holsters. The respondent described the guns as small and black.
The officers then started beating, kicking and punching in the face everyone in the transit group for 30 minutes. The beating was described as “random” and “all over the bod[ies]” of the respondent and others in the transit group. They used a metal baton and a broken branch from the trees for the beating. After 30 minutes they left them for 5 minutes and smoked. One of the uniformed men stubbed out his cigarette on the head of one of the respondent’s friends. The friend started screaming, so the man brought the branch and beat him with it for three minutes.
After the beating,- they forced the group to undress until they were completely naked and searched all of them for another 30 min.
They took shoes and everything that was in the bags: money, jackets and phones. In total, they took 700 Euros from the groups and just gave back their pants and shirts.
After beating them up, the uniformed men asked the transit group where they had crossed, who the guide was, and where the group was going. They answered that they jumped from the fence and wanted to reach Sofia and ask for asylum.
“We only asked for our old friend who has a heart disease to get back his medicines which he carries in his backpack. If they wanted, they would never stop beating us – until we are dead.”
The friend who asked for the medicine got hit with the metal baton on his knees until they were bleeding and he could barely walk after that.
“They never care or ask for our documents”. After one hour, at 11 am, the men in uniforms made them step in a line and made them walk to the unpaved road. In order to walk faster, they kicked and hit them with a branch. At site there was another truck waiting for them into which the group was loaded in. The respondent was the second last person.
The truck was forest green in color, with a small window on the top and a small door for the trunk itself. The trunk was 4 by 2 meters in size and had no place to sit. They had to stand barefoot on the cold metal and the weather was very cold.
The respondent identified the truck as the one below:
All 11 people from the group were loaded in the trunk. Two men wearing green camouflage jackets and pants with black boots (which looked, according to the respondent, similar to the Bulgarian army) were driving the truck. One of them was armed with an assault rifle, which was strapped over his shoulder. The respondent recognized the gun and uniform from the picture below:
The two men were standing next to the truck, waiting for everybody to be loaded in and then locked the door. The driving was reckless and fast. All the way on unpaved roads as the respondent and the group were shaking inside the trunk. They could barely stand because of the reckless driving and the injuries sustained from the beating. “The pain was insufferable”.
After 45 minutes they arrived next to the fence, surrounded by forest. The fence had a small door in it. The same men were at site, wearing uniforms similar to the Bulgarian border police and Bulgarian army. Six of them were wearing green sacramento jackets and pants with “border police” written on their backs. Two of them were wearing green camouflage uniforms which looked similar to the Bulgarian army with a Bulgarian flag stitched on their right arm sleeves.
After arriving at the site, the transit group was taken out of the truck one by one and beaten again for 2-4 minutes with a branch until they all ran through the small door to Turkish territory. Everybody got heavily beaten, even on their heads. The friend with the bleeding knees was beaten up even more. Only the men who were dressed in green camouflage uniforms did not participate in the beatings.
The door, according to the respondent did not look like an official door, but rather 2 by 1 meters in size and opening more like a garage door. The officers had already taken all of the belongings from the transit group and they did not search them again before pushing them back.
“We were pushed back in the middle of nowhere, only wearing shirts and pants”.
At 12:30 am they were pushed back to Turkey. “We were lucky, we had to carry our friend who was more injured than us”. They walked for 40 minutes until reaching a small village called Malkoclar where they asked for help from a civilian, who agreed to drive them back to Edirne but at a cost of 300 Turkish Lira per person.
In Bulgaria, the group asked for asylum after they were beaten up and in response to the officers’ questions regarding where they were going. The response was then more heavy beating. “They don’t want us in Bulgaria”. During the whole time no food or water was given nor medical assistance. “We thank god cause we stood alive after all that beating”.