This testimony is part of a chain pushback from Bulgaria to Greece, and subsequently to Turkey. This account covers the second pushback ordeal of Greece to Turkey, while the testimony “We were begging them [to stop]: ‘please, please’. But they kept beating us and said ‘fuck you’ and screamed at our faces. They kept suffocating me by the neck and punched me” covers the first pushback ordeal from Bulgaria to Greece.
[Continued from the first account] On the 19th of January 2022 around 9 am the respondent and 67 other people on the move (POM) were pushed back from Orestias, Greece to Karakasım, Turkey. This incident was the second part of a chain-pushback the respondent and his two friends experienced. It was the third pushback he experienced.
The respondent is a 32-year-old male Moroccan. He started his journey with two Moroccan male friends, between 27 and 32 years old, from Edirne, Turkey on the 13th of January 2022. In the first place they were pushed back from Ivaylovgrad, Bulgaria to a place close to Mikro Dereio, Greece on January 17th, 2022.
Directly after the pushback from Bulgaria to Greece, assuming it was around 1 pm but not having an exact indication of time and location because their personal belongings were stolen by Bulgarian officials, the group continued their journey. The respondent describes the situation as follows:
“We barely could walk. We walked in the mountains in Greece and we were afraid that they [the police] would catch us and beat us more. We walked for eight hours and we didn’t know where we are. We were lucky to find a small pool of water and we drank from it like we were animals.”
The group only paused for a few minutes from time to time as they were too exhausted.
After that, they encountered a village where they hid in an abandoned farm and slept until the morning of the next day. One member of the group who tried to do the border crossing before recognized the village as Mikro Dereio. The people-on-the-move waited at their refuge until around 8 pm on the 18th of January 2022. Their idea was to hide until it was dark and then find something edible and shoes, clothes, or someone to help them. When they tried to move from the farm they were noticed by dogs that started barking and the group started running back into the forest for almost 30 minutes.
There they rested to catch their breath for around 10 minutes. Suddenly the respondent reported that they saw flashlights heading towards them and although they tried to hide, the lights got closer. A man started yelling at them to get out of the place they were hiding. In total six men in uniforms approached them.
The respondent described that two of them were wearing plain blue uniforms without any insignia or writing on them.
The remaining four men wore olive green jackets and pants with “police” written on their chests and greek flags on their arms.
One of them was reportedly carrying a firearm.
According to the respondent, one of the men wearing uniforms kicked the members of the transit group. Then they took pictures of the group with their phones and made them walk to cars parked nearby where they made them sit on the ground. The men in uniform asked the group to look on the ground and reportedly kicked one of them to lie on his stomach in order not to see anything. The men wearing a uniform consistent with the green Greek border guard uniform spoke Greek to each other while the men wearing the blue plain uniform spoke English, as the respondent reports. They asked the people in the group where they came from; they responded truthfully and told them that they had been pushed back from Bulgaria before.
The two cars which were parked at the site from the beginning were described as “jeeps”. One of them was a grey pickup, while the other one was a blue and white car with “police logo” and identified as a Greek police jeep.
In the meantime, another car, an old Ford Transit Van, arrived and after 15 minutes the uniformed men screamed at the transit group to “go, go” into the trunk.
The van was staffed with two other men referred to as “officers” but wearing “civilian uniforms”. The trunk was three by two meters big. The car drove for about 40 minutes on paved roads to what the respondent describes as a detention site. The arrival there was at approximately 9.30 pm.
The site was surrounded by a one-meter-high fence with barbed wire on top and a small yard. The building was described as old and with a Greek flag at the entrance. Its location was described as on the outskirts of a village with only some houses close to it. The respondent could not recognize any sign proving it was an official detention site except for the Greek flag at the entrance.
Inside the building were around nine people wearing the same olive green uniforms with “police” written on the chest recognized as Greek border guard uniforms. Around four of them wore balaclavas.
The transit group was made to leave the car and to stand against a wall outside the building by the two men in what the respondent referred to as “civilian uniforms”. There they were searched by two of the men in olive green uniforms who put on gloves before searching them. The respondent explained that they were forced to undress completely and had to stay completely naked in the cold for at least five minutes each while their bodies and clothes were searched.
Since all their belongings were taken from the transit group in the first pushback they experienced a day before, the men in uniform neither found nor took anything from them.
After being searched, the group was put into a five by five meters sized cell. The cell consisted of four bunk beds, dirty grounds, and small windows which led air to breathe barely get in. Around 65 other people were already locked in the same cell. Their nationalities were Afghan, Syrian, Pakistan, Moroccan, Algerian, and Eritrean with an age range from 6 to 50 years. The group consisted also of four women and around 13 minors. The whole group stayed in the cell for more than eight hours.
When the sun rose, four men wearing civilian clothes and balaclavas but lacking any signs showing they were officials entered the cell and told the people to get out. They were reportedly speaking Arabic with a Syrian dialect. Outside the building two white Mercedes vans, without any signs indicating that they are official police or border guard cars and without a license plate, waited.
Outside the detention site, five more men wearing civilian clothes and balaclavas holding batons waited. The respondent described that they hit the transit group on their backs to make them get in the trunks of the cars quickly.
The respondent was loaded in the trunk of one of the vans with around 34 other people and driven for around 20 minutes. The way of driving was described as “fast and reckless” and the respondent noted that it was hard to keep standing because of reckless driving.
The destination of the drive was a river in a landscape of big forests with a “small yard” leading to the river. There was a total of 12 men who, according to the respondent, seemed to be in charge, wearing civilian clothing and with balaclavas. All people who had been in the cell were brought to the same place and made to stand in line to be searched. The people were searched one by one; the respondent guessed the men in charge were looking for money. Nothing was taken from him but he saw them stealing the personal belongings of other members of the group.
After that, they were loaded into a grey and white-colored, three by one meter plastic boat with a paddle. The respondent explained that the boat was steered by men speaking Arabic and wearing black uniforms without any logo or writing on them. The respondent recalled that the men were speaking in Iraqi and Syrian dialects.
The people were reportedly made to jump out of the boat in the middle of the river and walk fast in order to not be seen.
All 68 people were pushed back to Turkey in this way at around 9 am on the 19th of January 2022. All of them made it across the river. After that, the group split up and the respondent and his two friends walked to a village with two other Syrian people. After one hour of walking, they arrived at the village of Karakasım where they asked for help, water, and food. After that, they kept walking until they arrived at the town of Edirne around 1 pm on the 19th of January 2022.
The intention to ask for asylum was not expressed as they did not have the chance to speak, as stated by the respondent. The respondent reported that they were not offered food, water or medical assistance at any moment during the incident.