The respondent, a 26-year-old Syrian man, was part of a transit group consisting of 10 other Syrian people including three male minors aged 11, 15 and 16, that had crossed the border by foot from Turkey into Greece on October 14th 2022.
Approximately six hours after crossing the border, between 10 and 11 o’clock at night, the transit group was reportedly approached by a white Nissan Qashqai with a blue stripe on it driven by two men in green camouflage army uniforms. They were not wearing face coverings, recalled the respondent. He then described how the group had been walking on the side of National Road 53 when they noticed the vehicle approaching, and when they looked in its direction two shots were reportedly immediately fired at the group. The respondent was reportedly shot in his right leg by one of two bullets fired from a pistol owned by one of the two uniformed men. “I heard two shots. The first one didn’t touch anybody, the second one was in my leg.” According to the respondent, once the incident occurred, the rest of the group ran away and he collapsed onto the ground screaming. He then described how he was approached by the uniformed men, put in handcuffs, and pulled over next to the Nissan. The men in uniforms then reportedly spent an hour making calls on devices identified by the respondent as iphones. The respondent noted that he felt the men in uniforms were very stressed and were attempting to get rid of him to relinquish any responsibility for what had happened. Whilst detained, the respondent was searched and had all his belongings stolen including his phone, money, extra clothes and backpack. He explained that he had asked for his phone back to call for help but the men in uniforms would not return it to him; at no point were any of his belongings given back. Reportedly, one of the men in uniforms took a photo on their personal device of the respondent on the ground with his hands handcuffed behind his back after he had been shot. The handcuffs were only removed by the men in uniforms once he was left in the mountains, recalled the respondent.
Injury caused by the bullet on the respondents leg
Approximately one hour later, four other vehicles reportedly arrived at the scene carrying 10 men in blue uniforms. The respondent identified the vehicles as three brown jeeps and one van. All of these men in uniforms reportedly spoke Greek while one man who the respondent believed to be the boss spoke Greek and Turkish; he had arrived at the scene after an hour and was the main point of communication with the respondent. The respondent explained that this man had asked him if he had broken his leg or been shot, and that when the respondent replied that he had been shot while pointing to the man in uniform that fired the pistol, the Turkish-speaking man in uniform got angry at the man in uniform responsible for the shooting. “I told him I was shot so I broke my pajamas under my pants and I showed him the spot where I was shot.” The respondent was then reportedly loaded into a Nissan Qashqai with the man in uniform that had shot him and the Turkish-speaking man in uniform, and driven for about 30 minutes along a paved road until they reached a remote mountainous area near the Bulgarian border where he was unloaded from the vehicle and abandoned there.
The respondent recalled using a charging cable he had been left with and his pajamas (under pants) to tie around his leg and stop the bleeding. At this point it was around 12 o’clock at night. The respondent explained how he then walked through the night for 12 hours until he reached a small village called Nea Santa at about 11 o’clock the following morning and sought help from a woman and her father in their cafe. The woman’s father spoke Turkish so the respondent told him what happened and they called the police, recounted the respondent. When the police arrived he was reportedly brought to Arriana police station where he gave a statement and then he was immediately brought to Komotini hospital. He stayed there for three days but the respondent stated that he was not satisfied with the treatment so he signed some papers given to him by the police and discharged himself. “The treatment was very bad and they didn’t help me. After three days in the hospital they didnt do anything, they just cleaned my wounds a bit and stitched it. I didn’t feel well. I felt that I needed more treatment or better treatment for my leg”.
After leaving the hospital, the respondent reportedly got a taxi to Thessaloniki which he believed he had been overcharged for; the trip from Komotini to Thessaloniki cost him 400 euros. The respondent stated that he had tried to claim asylum in the asylum office in Thessaloniki after being instructed to do so by the police in Komotini but he was unsuccessful multiple times. “They told me “we are not taking any applications now, you have to come back in 20 days.” When I went back in 20 days and reached out to them again they didn’t respond and it was taking so much time so I just gave up.” He then decided to get a lift with some people he knew and make his way down to Athens to seek better medical support.
While he was in Athens, the respondent stated that he had spent his own money to get better medical treatment. He reportedly had surgery on his leg twice while in Athens which was unsuccessful both times. After three months of being in Greece he had no money, support or documents, so he decided to go back to Turkey. “I just wanted to be healthy and to fix his leg so I was very frustrated. That’s why I needed to go to Turkey.” The respondent did not provide specific details of this time period.
After approximately three months since he had been shot, the respondent reportedly made his way back to Northern Greece and when he reached Soufli, men in blue uniforms driving a white unmarked van apprehended him and took him to Soufli police station. Throughout the night they apprehended 10 more Syrian men and 15 men from Afghanistan so in total there were approximately 26 people in the cell. According to the respondent, at about seven o’clock the following morning, the entire group of 26 men was crammed into the same unmarked white van and driven to the Evros/Meric river by men in blue uniforms that had “police” written on them in Greek and Latin letters. They were then reportedly split into two groups and pushed back in two dinghies by “members of the community” – people dressed in civilian clothing and face coverings with batons who spoke with accents from Pakistan and Afghanistan. “They split us into two batches and still we were two much for this boat. The boat was crowded.” The respondent noted that the masked men with accents from Afghanistan and Pakistan usually carried out the pushbacks across the river: “The only thing that police officers do is drive the van to the river and those people from the community will do everything [else]. They will do the whole process of pushing back the people.”
The respondent stated that he did not experience any physical violence during the pushback because of his injury, but had witnessed other people being physically abused; men at Soufli police station in “oily green” uniforms with police written in Latin and Greek letters on their uniforms inflicted beatings with green batons on people whilst conducting body searches, and the masked men orchestrating the pushbacks at the river also hit people with batons if they did not obey their orders.
The respondent noted that he had been pushed back once already a week before he was shot. During this pushback, he recalled that there were men in uniform from Germany, Austria and other non-Greek countries present at the border. He specifically mentioned a bald German man in uniform who is known to be notoriously violent among people on the move. “I believe that the EU army that exists in Greece has an area of 10 kilometres square from the river in which they operate so they are not present beyond that. Above 10 kilometres from the river you will just find Greek officers. I just wanted to say that. These non-Greek men in uniforms were not present during the second pushback detailed above.
It is worth noting that upon returning to Turkey, the respondent got in touch with the transit group he had been travelling with at the time he was shot, and discovered that the whole group had later been pushed back to Turkey.