The respondents are two men from Algeria aged 21 and 26. The men were part of a transit group consisting of 10 people: two men from Syria, three men from Morocco and five men from Algeria, including the respondents. The group was pushed back from Bulgaria to Turkey at approximately 12 o’clock at night on approximately the 15th of January. It was both the respondents’ first push back.
The transit group left from Edirne and crossed the border into Bulgaria at sunset on approximately the 12th of January. They recalled that the “Turkish army” encouraged them to cross, telling them “good luck” with their journey. They reportedly walked for three days straight through forests, and on the third day, when they stopped to eat and rest, they were apprehended. One of the Moroccan men had gone to the toilet when the authorities arrived at the scene, so he was not apprehended with the rest of the group, recalled the respondents. They also stated that they later met the Moroccan man in Istanbul after they were pushed back and he told them that he had also been pushed back the following day with four other people.
The respondents described that five men in dark blue uniforms arrived at the apprehension site with two Malanwar dogs. According to them, the uniformed men were driving a 4×4 Toyota that looked “brand new” and had a sign on the door. They also commented that because it was night time, they couldn’t make out the colour of the car but they were able to see the front and back lights of the vehicle. When asked what language the uniformed men spoke, the respondents replied, “they weren’t talking to us in English, they spoke a language with each other that we don’t understand.”
When speaking about the physical violence they experienced from the men in uniform, the respondents said: “They started with punching us and beating us up. They had a baton and the first thing they did, they hit somebody in the ear and he started bleeding immediately…and the rest of us were just beaten up.” The respondents further explained that the violence continued for approximately 15 or 20 minutes as the authorities simultaneously stole the group’s belongings from them. Reportedly, the uniformed men searched the transit group and took their jackets, phones, power banks and money. Anything leftover that they did not take for themselves they discarded on the ground, recounted the respondents.
Following the beatings, the group of nine was reportedly loaded into the back of the Toyota with the two dogs. After driving for approximately an hour and 15 minutes, the vehicle arrived at a detention site, described by the respondents as “not a building, but just like a first floor”. When asked to describe the conditions of the drive, the respondents replied, “you can feel the holes in the roads because they were driving very fast so we were suffering in the back with the two dogs.” The respondents also commented that despite not being attacked by the dogs, they had been lucky because they had heard stories of people being attacked by dogs before. “It doesn’t deny that some people before us were beaten up by dogs. We heard that people were beaten up by dogs so we were just lucky not to.”
The respondents then proceeded to further describe the detention site as “a big kind of large caravan” with a desk in the room. However, as it was dark and they were forced to make a line outside of the entrance where they were beaten and searched again, they did not pay much attention to the site and could not describe it in detail. They could not tell if it was a police station or an army station, but the respondents believed it was neither of those things and rather a “random place”.
When asked to elaborate on the authorities present at the detention site, one respondent replied “There were many, I couldn’t really count them.” They also recalled that it was a mix between the men that apprehended them and new unfamiliar uniformed men. They stated: “we think it’s a meeting point for the police and the people who work in the border because they weren’t wearing, the police who apprehended us, the same clothes as the other officers who we met at this building. So they handed us to other people. They were there ‘till we left, the police who apprehended us, and we left with the officers who were working at the border.” They described the uniforms of the men that were at the detention site as “yellow camouflage”, and they reportedly spoke a language the respondents could not understand.
The respondents then recalled how they were not provided with any food or water while they were held at the detention site, and that they did not have access to a toilet, “It wasn’t good conditions.” They further recounted that if anybody spoke while they were being detained, they would get beaten. “Just if somebody speaks or somebody who can’t tolerate the way they were treating us out of the group, they would beat them up. But if you keep quiet they won’t do anything to you.
When asked if they had claimed asylum, the respondents replied:
“There was no occasion. No space for communication and that is the problem in the first place. In order for us to ask for asylum, we should have space to communicate. But there wasn’t. If you speak, they will beat you up.”
Reportedly, the respondents were provided with a translator that spoke “perfect” Arabic to them with a Syrian accent. They were asked about their nationalities, about where they were going and what they were going to do in the future, recalled the respondents. Following this, they were reportedly placed into groups according to their nationalities and two uniformed men took photos of them with phones, or “personal devices”, as described by the respondents. “They can do anything with it [the photos]. They can show it to their friends, to their family.”
After being held for two hours at the detention site, at approximately 10:30 p.m., the transit group was reportedly loaded into a bigger 4×4 truck, “The car wasn’t covered. Like, you know, the 4×4 Toyota. Front and back seats and in the back it’s empty.” The uniformed men reportedly instructed the group to “get on their hands and knees and sit in a circle/line” in the back of the vehicle. The respondents recalled that two uniformed men were in the back watching over the group and three uniformed men were in the front while one of them drove; they were reportedly all wearing camouflage uniforms.
The respondents recounted stated that the drive lasted approximately an hour and half to two hours and the vehicle was driven in a reckless manner, “sometimes when the truck drives fast, we feel like we’re gonna jump out of the car. Not because we wanna jump, but because they drive crazy. So it was also dangerous.” As they drove, the terrain changed from a forest road to a road with little rocks, described the respondents, and once they reached the border fence, the road was aligned with groups of three uniformed men in the same yellow camouflage uniforms as the men in the vehicle.
At about 12 o’clock, the truck reportedly pulled up to a gate in the fence, where three more men in camouflage uniforms stood. The transit group was unloaded from the truck and instructed to walk in a single file through the gate to the other side of the border, recalled the respondents. Reportedly, just before passing through the gate, the uniformed men took photos of the group on their mobile phones. The group was then forced through the gate and beaten by the authorities as they were pushed back: “we got out of the car, they opened the gate and they start taking one by one, and anybody who crossed the gate, they will get punched by this baton. They will get beaten up by this baton on their legs, knees, so they can’t walk anymore.”
Reportedly, once they were back in Turkish territory, the respondents met two men at a “watching point” and another group of three men who tried to send them back over the border to Bulgaria, telling them “go away, go back there”. The respondents said they knew these men belonged to the Turkish army because they recognised the camouflage uniforms they were wearing. They were reportedly kept for a couple of hours before they escaped and managed to get back to Istanbul where they were reunited with the friend they were previously separated from upon apprehension.