The respondent is a 24-year-old man from Morocco, who traveled with a 20-year-old man as well from Morocco. This was his 6th pushback, as he had already been pushed back once from Greece to Turkey, and four times from Bulgaria to Turkey.
The respondent and his friend started walking from Edirne on 17.01.2022 at 8 pm for nearly a day towards Hamzabeyli, from where they were planning to cross the border. The day after, at 5 pm on the 18th they reached Hamzabeyli. From time to time they rested for 10 minutes. After arriving at the border, in order not to be seen from anywhere, they hid in the cold for a while in a big forest. The respondent described the fence as 5 meters high which is barbed everywhere. Cameras are placed on the fence in order to control the area.
The respondent and his friend kept waiting for 3 hours near the fence but in the forest and hid behind trees. At 9 pm on 18.01.2022, they crossed into Bulgaria. After crossing they started walking fast in the forest and tried to stay far away from the highway 7 of D535, which they saw on the map. They walked through the forest and mountain for 10 hours for about 25 km with resting only 15 minutes 4 – 5 times.
“We couldn’t sleep. If we sleep in that weather we would have died and we had really nothing to stop the cold from getting in our clothes. They were really cheap and barely could protect us from the cold wind”.
Their destination was Sofía.
At 7 am on the 19th, they arrived at a small city and found a spot near agricultural land where they rested and hid in a small hill between the trees and high weeds for the day. It was near Elhovo, Bulgaria.
“We didn’t stay long, they caught us in there”. The two had put their bags as pillows to get some sleep to continue walking at night, when it’s dark. “So we put our heads on the bag for 30 minutes only”. Then suddenly, the respondent reported that officers were kicking them to wake them up. They continued slapping and screaming at the respondent and his friend.
“We woke up afraid and they kept kicking us and threatening us with weapons in front of our faces to keep kneeling”. In total four men, identified as “officers” by the respondent, were kicking them randomly. Two of the men were dressed in Sacramento green jackets and olive green pants with black boots, similar to the uniforms worn by the Bulgarian border police. The two other men were wearing forest green woollen shirts and olive green pants with black boots. On the back they had written “Border police” with insignia and Bulgarian flags stitched to the uniform.
According to the respondent, these men, identified as “officers”, started searching the bags and throwing everything on the ground and then searching the respondent and the friend one by one. They took their jackets and gathered them together with the other stuff. They were reportedly told to remove their shoes which were then also collected with the other things. After that, the officers searched their pants and asked for phones and money in English. Amongst them, the respondent could hear them speaking only Bulgarian. They didn’t speak much, only a few English words like “Go, Stand up, where are you from”.
The respondent recounted that they took everything: phone, money (50 Euros), backpacks, food and water. “They cut my pants with a knife to get where I hid the money and slapped me for that.” One of the officers brought a branch and asked the respondent to stretch out his hands and reportedly started beating his outer palm with the baton to punish him for hiding money, about 5 times, each time for 10 seconds. “He was even upset about me having an old phone and started giving me that look, then he broke the phone and smashed it with his foot”.
In total all the events described above lasted for around 1 hour. The officers reportedly set fire to the belongings of the respondent and his friend, and kept smoking while they were kneeling barefoot and had to watch the fire. Then they walked for 5 minutes barefoot and were told to stay in line. The car was parked on the side of the road. It was a black land rover with big tyres and “Police” written in white on the front.
The respondent described being loaded into the trunk which was 2 by 1 metres in size. It was dark and locked and they couldn’t see anything. The officers started driving to the border for about 30 minutes on an unpaved road. There were many potholes on the way that made them bump into each other in the trunk. The officers parked the car and let the respondent and his friend stay in the trunk for almost 15 minutes; he said he could hear them outside talking. “I was totally afraid and scared. I thought they were planning to kill us”.
In a previous pushback, 2 months earlier, one officer shot at people to stop them. This knowledge contributed to the respondent’s fear of being killed.
The officers opened the door and took them outside. As the respondent’s hand was hurting, one officer reportedly asked him “What’s wrong?”, told him to show his hands and hit him with a police plastic baton again on his back. He laughed and told the respondent to walk. The respondent added that they kicked him to walk faster.
According to the respondent, the officers opened a door in the fence and pushed them back to Turkey. It was a 1,70 meters by 0,50 meters door on the fence which had to be pulled from the top to open a small window through which one had to crawl to cross. The area around was forested.
In Turkey, the respondent and his friend walked for 4 hours, until reaching Dereköy at 3 pm, still the 19th of January 2022.
They walked on a paved road until getting a ride to Edirne by a Turkish man in a trunk.
“We lost everything, we didn’t have any chance to survive if we go to other place”.