The respondent is a 30-year-old Tunisian man who explained that he was pushed back from Pythion, Greece to Çakmakköy, Turkey on January 30, 2022. He had reportedly previously been pushed back four times from Bulgaria and one other time from Greece.
The interviewee reported that on January 28, 2022, he and his four friends, all Tunisian men between the ages of 21 and 37, were evicted by Turkish police from an abandoned house where they had been staying in Edirne. They used the little money they had – only 100 lira – to buy some food and then they set off for the Turkish-Greek border at around 7 pm. The respondent explained that after walking for two hours, they arrived at a spot along the border near the Turkish village of Bosna. There, they reportedly hid in a field about 500 meters away from the fence for around 30 minutes, while they scraped the mud from their shoes and waited for the flashing lights they saw (presumably of a patrolling border control car) to go away.
The respondent stated that at around 9:30 pm, the men jumped over the fence and immediately hid in a dry river, before continuing and walking for about three hours. At that point, they found themselves in a grape field, where they hid among some trees from a car (that they supposed was from the police) they saw patrolling the area.
The car was described as white and blue, had a siren, and had “police” written on the side of it in English. Inside, the respondent saw two men dressed in dark blue jackets and pants.
He stated that after an hour, at about 2 am, the car drove away and the group began to run, hoping to get to a “dark place or any mountain to feel safe and not be caught”. The respondent recounted :
“[We ran] for 30 min until we arrived at an unpaved road. We started walking on it and we kept walking all night. In the morning we chose to rest and stay hidden. We couldn’t walk in the daylight—any police could see us or any citizen would inform the police and they would catch us and push us back.”
He said they walked for about four hours, or until 7 am when they hid in a wooded area approximately two kilometers from the village of Sterna. There, the respondent said:
“We all tried to sleep to gather our strength. We didn’t want to use what we bought because we knew it would not be enough for the road to Harmanli. It was suicide journey – we knew we didn’t have enough food or water and we still had four days before we would get to Harmanli. We slept all day until it was 4 pm, [then] we waited until it got dark and we continued our journey.”
At 7 pm, the five men began to walk again. The respondent recalled:
“We continued walking through fields and we filled up our water bottle from a small pool we found on the road. It was raining hard and muddy and it was cold—a deep cold that makes it hard to walk.”
He said it was difficult to continue due to the freezing temperatures and muddy terrain. After about two hours, they stopped to rest for 30 minutes and then continued on for another two hours. According to the respondent’s testimony, at that point, they arrived at a river close to the Greek village of Rizia. They looked for a way to cross without passing through the village, but “the river was high and the current was fast,” so they decided their only option was to go through the village. The respondent said: “We thought that since it was already night they would not see us crossing and we would be safe; no one could stay outside in that cold weather.”
He explained that they approached the village, doing their best to stay hidden until they arrived at a paved road that crossed over the river. The respondent said it was partially flooded but that it was their only option to cross to the other side. On their way, they passed a cafe located along the road they were forced to take. Since it was around 2 am, they assumed it would be closed, however, there was a man working inside who saw them as they ran by. The respondent recounted:
“We tried to make it fast and run. We were afraid that he would call the police and I think he did, because once we made it to the end of the road we found them waiting for us at the crossroads.”
The respondent reported that there were two jeeps in white and blue color that looked like Greek police cars, accompanied by eight men wearing blue pants and jackets like Greek police uniforms. The cars had both writing in Greek as well as “police” written on them in English. The jackets were also described as having Greek writing on them and “police” written in English on the front and back, as well as an insignia on the arm.
The respondent recounts that the five men had been walking, thinking they were safe when the uniformed men turned on the cars’ flashing lights. Four of them reportedly began screaming “Get down! Get down!” at the group and threatening them with handguns, forcing them to kneel and put their hands in the air.
The respondent recalled:
“They immediately started kicking me because I was sitting in the front. And then they kicked my friend and one of them brought a plastic bag and told us to put our phones in there. We only had one phone; once I put the phone in the bag [one of the] men dressed like Greek police asked me in English, “Did you try to cross before?”
The respondent added that the group lied and said it was their first time, to which the uniformed man responded “Yes, yes” and smiled. Then he took out a plastic baton, told them to stretch out their arms, and proceeded to hit each of them on the front of their hands. The respondent said:
“They only spoke Greek to each other and English to us. One of them looked at us and spit on us and said ‘Malaka.’ He asked us, ‘Where are you from?’ I said ‘Tunisia’ and he slapped me.”
After approximately 30 minutes, an unmarked white Ford van arrived.
The respondent explained that inside the van, there were two men wearing baggy blue pants, black athletic jackets, and balaclavas, with nothing to signal that they were officers. The group was loaded into the back, which was described as measuring approximately two by four meters and had no windows. They drove for about 20 minutes; the respondent reported that the driving was “fast.”
At what the respondent estimated was around 4 am on the 30th of January, the group arrived at the site of detention. He recalled:
“There was a small yard and an old building surrounded by a fence. There were also some house lights near us, two caravans, a big Greece flag in the entrance of the detention, flashing lights, and some cages made out of fences.”
According to the respondent, around ten other men wearing sage green jackets and pants resembling the Greek Border Guard uniform were there as well. Their uniforms were described as having insignia on the arms and Greek writing on the shoulders; some had ranks on the shoulders too. Four of the men were reportedly wearing balaclavas.
The respondent recounted:
“Once we were let out of the van’s trunk, we stood close to the building’s wall in the yard. Three men wearing the sage green uniform without balaclavas came with gloves and told us to pull down our pants. They started searching us and asked us to remove our shirt and jacket and they looked at every detail of them.”
The respondent stated that the men were left fully naked in the freezing cold for around 15 minutes. Finally, the uniformed men gave them back their pants and shirts but allegedly kept their jackets, bags, and shoes.
The respondent declared that he and his friends were put into a cell, which measured approximately five by three meters, had four bunk beds, was very dirty, and had names written on its walls. There were already around 60 people in it, who ranged in age from 15 to 45 years old, and included three women and seven minors. According to the respondent, they were of all different nationalities, including Moroccan, Syrian, Afghan, Iraqi, Tunisian, and an African country that the respondent could not identify.
They remained in the cell for about four hours, or until what the respondent estimated was around 6 am. Then, he added that four men wearing black uniforms and balaclavas opened the cell’s door and started screaming at them in Arabic to get out. The respondent was not sure but he thought they spoke with Iraqi or Syrian accents. He reported that the detainees were brought outside and loaded into two unmarked white Mercedes vans.
In addition to the four men wearing all black, there were 12 men outside. Eight were described as wearing black uniforms consisting of jackets, pants, and boots and the other four were reportedly wearing civilian clothing – black coats, green pants, and sneakers. The respondent stated that the four men in black uniforms and balaclavas were holding branches and hit everyone as they loaded them into the trunk.
The respondent estimated that the trunks measured around five by three meters and said around 30 to 40 people were put into the same van as him. He said it was difficult to breathe and that “the driver didn’t care that there were women with us – he drove fast and reckless over muddy terrain on an unpaved road.” They drove for about 30 minutes, unable to see outside along the way until they arrived at a wooded area along the river. The respondent recalled:
“We arrived at the river and they took us out of the van. And once they took us out they gathered us in a group—taking only the women out from the line – and started beating us with branches…every time we screamed from the pain they beat us more to shut us up.”
This went on for around ten minutes and the minors were also beaten, the respondent affirmed.
He then added that both vans were at the river, with everyone who had been held at the site of detention, along with between 10 and 15 men dressed in uniforms, including the van drivers. The respondent remembered seeing five men wearing black uniforms consisting of jackets and pants, six men wearing green camouflage uniforms and holding assault rifles, and others wearing civilian coats and pants as well as cotton gloves. All of them, except for the men wearing camouflage, were wearing balaclavas. When different pictures were shown to him, he identified the camouflage uniform as the Greek Hellenic Army uniform and said the black uniforms were similar to the Greek EKAM uniforms.
The respondent reported that the uniformed men spoke Greek to each other while the men wearing civilian clothing spoke Arabic with a Syrian accent. He said they were holding guns and branches and kept telling the people-on-the-move, “Show us your money or we will beat you.” Everyone was put in a line and searched, one by one. The respondent said: “If they don’t find anything on you they hit you with the branch and if they do find money on you they beat you.” These beatings reportedly lasted from five seconds to ten minutes.
The respondent stated that the uniformed men told those of the group that were still wearing shoes and jackets to take them off, including the women and children. These items were reportedly not returned, despite the freezing cold weather. Then, nine at a time, the people were loaded into a small plastic boat that was waiting for them. It was described as white on the inside and gray on the outside and measured approximately three by two meters. Two men drove the boat, which the respondent said was not very stable. He recalled,
“The boat could sink at any time. We saw the water get inside and we were feeling very cold.”
They were left on an island that was about two meters from the Turkish shore. He said,
“They put us on an island and we had to cross to the riverbank. We were freezing to death; even the women couldn’t breathe from the cold water.”
The respondent declared that the water was up to his waist.
Once on the Turkish side, the respondent said:
“We started running to get far from the border so we wouldn’t be caught by the Turkish army and taken to the detention center. We arrived at a village where we asked for some food and water and an old man gave us some and showed us the road to Edirne.”
He later identified the village as Çakmakköy and said this happened at around 9 am on January 30, 2022.
When asked if he had asked for asylum at any point in Greece, the respondent said:
“Yes. When they caught us, we told the men wearing blue uniforms in Rizia. We told them we wanted to go to the camp…They ignored it like they didn’t hear what we said.”