On the 12th of January 2022, the 25-year-old respondent and four other males aged 15 to 50 years old were pushed back from Prisadets, Bulgaria to Hüseyinpınar, Turkey. This was the respondent’s fifth pushback from Bulgaria. All five people-on-the-move in the transit group were from Syria.
The respondent reported that three days prior to the pushback, the group traveled to the Turkish-Bulgarian border. They reached Bulgaria at around 20:30 on the 9th of January and continued to walk for more than two days with almost no rest – covering around 60 kilometers of distance.
Running low on water and food, they took a half day’s pause in a forest near the town of Planinovo. At approximately 15:00 on the 12th January, the group was approached by a man dressed in a blue uniform. The respondent reported that the man in uniform pointed a firearm at the group and began shouting: “[He] threatened us with [an] old russian gun and screamed at us in Bulgarian…from his facial expression, we understood that he meant [for us] not to move,”.
Another two men in uniform arrived at the scene, and moments later, a green jeep carrying two additional officers arrived, recounted the respondent. Each of the male officers were dressed in the same blue uniform worn by the first officer, referred to by the respondent as a Bulgarian police uniform.
The respondent reported that the five people in the transit group were told to hand over their jackets, shoes, phones, and money of which nothing was returned. In total, approximately 500 euros was confiscated. One by one, the officers reportedly began searching and questioning the men, using a combination of broken English and Turkish when addressing the transit group. At this point, the respondent asked for asylum to which one of the officers responded, “No camp. Camp closed. No more Arab. Go Syria.” The respondent was subsequently beaten by officers, he recalled.
The respondent then went on to describe how the three uniformed men who had arrived in the jeep began aggressively beating the transit group; hitting them with their fists and kicking them. He recalled that the beatings were “random…they just kicked [us] anywhere. The boots they wore [were] hard like rocks; when they kick you [it’s] like they hit you with metal.” According to the respondent, no one – not even the minor – was exempt from the officers’ abuse. The violence lasted for approximately ten minutes.
At about 16:00, a black discovery Land Rover arrived at the point of apprehension. Three more men wearing sacramento green uniforms resembling the uniforms of Bulgarian border police emerged from the vehicle and, as described by the respondent, forcefully loaded the transit group into the Land Rover.
As they climbed in, the respondent reportedly asked one of the uniformed men if they were going to be taken to a camp, to which the officer replied, “Yes, no problem….car Sofia”. Having been transported in this car during a previous pushback, the respondent guessed that the officer was lying. With all five people loaded into the two by one-meter trunk, the car drove towards the Turkish border. Outside the car, the respondent could see another small town an estimated five kilometers away before they entered a wooded area. The driving was reportedly fast and reckless. Reflecting on the incident, the respondent noted:
“You know the feeling of being locked like sheep….you [lose] your dignity. All that you wanted [was] to stay [a]live…running from war. Then, you find yourself humiliated; you become a toy. No one wants you in [their] country. We understand that we are nothing in their eyes.”
According to the respondent, the car came to a stop along the Bulgaria-Turkey border at around 16:45.
Pulling at their shirts, the officers forced each person out of the trunk. The respondent recalled only forest in his direct surroundings, and a bit farther off, he could see large wind turbines. He reported that he was forced to kneel in a line with the other men and fix his eyes on the ground, and that the transit group then endured another round of violent verbal taunting and physical abuse. Concentrating their blows to the backs and shoulders, the respondent described that the officer repeatedly kicked the four men and the minor.
The transit group was then pushed back to Turkey through a door in the border fence, described by the respondent as measuring around 1 by .5 meters in size with a handle that pulled down from the top to open. He reported that the five people were pushed through the door, and immediately landed on a slide that dropped them into the Evros/Meriç River. Wading through the frigid water – reaching around one meter in depth – all five eventually made it back onto Turkish soil. Walking for around one hour along an unpaved, mountainous road, they soon reached Hüseyinpınar where they contacted a taxi to drive them the rest of the way to Edirne.
The respondent stated that at no point during his captivity was he offered food, water, or medical support. No photos were taken, nor fingerprints taken.