The respondent is a 33-year-old man from Tunisia. He had already experienced 3 pushbacks in total. The most recent pushback happened from Dilofos, Greece to Kapikule in Turkey on the 10th of July, 2021.
The respondent was walking in a group with 5 other people – 3 Tunisian men including him, one Egyptian man and one Moroccan woman, aged between 30 – 46 years. They crossed the border on the 8th of July at around 4 pm through the Evros/Meriç river. The group had started walking from Edirne for around 30 km until they were near Kapikule and crossed the river from there. They were partly walking and partly going by taxi to the crossing point but without the help of a smuggler. The respondent and his transit group were walking about 60 km for 2 days until they were near Petrota but far away from the highway. The group was apprehended at 2 am, and subsequently brought to a detention site, which was surrounded by a forest and agricultural land of sunflowers.
6 officers in 2 cars appeared, who were all wearing camouflage pants and black shirts, they did not wear balaclavas. The shirt’s logo had “border police” written on their arms. The cars were white Nissan pick-up vans with blue shapes and round police logos on them.
The officers were talking in Greek to each other, which none of the group could understand. The officers were not talking to the respondent’s group. They urged the group to kneel down, put their hands behind them and let them wait in that position for what felt like 1.5 hours to the respondent.
The respondent and the other males were also asked to completely undress so the officers could search through their clothes. They took their phones and money from the ones who had some in their pockets. The officers did not ask the woman to undress. The clothes were given back afterwards but neither the money nor the phones. After approximately 1.5 hours, the officers called another white Ford Transit van – which had no indication of a police car and apparently no plate number – with 3 officers.
They were all wearing balaclavas covering their faces and besides that, civilian clothes – jeans and sneakers. The officers were speaking in English and asked the respondent and the others where they were from and whether they were willing to go to Charmanli (Bulgaria). They loaded the group into the back of the trunk of the vehicle. Inside the trunk were already 2 Eritreans (one 28-year-old man, and a 26-year-old woman), 2 men from Syria (both around 30 years) and one man from Yemen (48 years old).
After about 1.5 hours of fast driving (the respondents and the others kept colliding with each other) on a paved road, they were taken to the detention site at around 3 or 4 am. On the way to that detention centre, 8 male Syrians (age range: 24 – 30) were additionally picked up after around 30 minutes of driving and loaded into the back of the trunk.
The detention centre was surrounded by a barbed-wire fence. The respondent described that inside, there was a garage that contained many military trucks and a blue plastic boat with an engine. In the back of the garage, there was a caravan, which had only a hole as a door. On the left there were chairs and an office, leading to a hallway which lead to the detention cell. The centre was identified as being close to Soufli.
In the detention site there were around 8 officers in sage green shirts, pants and black boots. They were not wearing Balaclavas or holding weapons like the officers before and the respondent was not able to identify them as police. But, after showing the respondent a picture of different uniforms, he identified the 8 officers as Greek police officers. Everybody was forced out of the trunk of the van and was asked to undress, to turn and look at the wall. The officers started beating some of the people with a plastic baton for a few seconds.
After beating them, they returned shirts and trousers back but kept lighters, cigarettes and some money, which had not been taken previously by the officers earlier. Some of the money was later returned, but not all of it. A female officer was called and asked to search the women amongst them, they were not being beaten.
Further on, the officers took the respondent and the others to a cell, which was 8 by 4 metres in size. The respondent described the inside as a garage with nowhere to sit. The toilet was inside and very smelly and dirty. Inside the cell, there were more people on the move (from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Tunisia, Algeria, Somalia, Eritrea, Morocco and Turkey, between 20 to 60 years old – 7 women amongst them: 3 Algerian, one Moroccan, one Eritrean and 2 Syrian women) who had been apprehended before. They spent 8 hours in the cell and were denied food and water throughout this time. They were not asked to sign any paper or fingerprinted. Within the 8 hours, they were held in detention, more people were brought to the cell so that in total the respondent estimated 160 persons were held in the cell at the end.
After 8 hours, the 160 people were picked up by 4 vehicles – 2 trucks and 2 vans – and brought to a small island near Kapikule. The trucks were old sage green military trucks of the brand Mercedes, and the 2 vans were two white ford transit vans. To enter the vehicles faster, four new officers – all dressed in black with balaclavas, guns and no indication that they were any officers – hit the people on their backs with a plastic baton. Around 40 people were loaded in the truck’s trunk and fast and recklessly driven for about 1 hour on firstly paved, further unpaved roads to the pushback point. The other 120 people were loaded in the other trunk and van. The four vehicles drove to the same pushback point and arrived around 1.30-2 pm.
On-site, 6 other officers were awaiting them. 5 of whom were wearing camouflage pants, sage green shirts and sneakers, balaclavas and had no indication of being Greek officers. 4 of these 6 officers were speaking Arabic to the respondent and the others and asked where they were from. They gave them cigarettes and told the respondent to wait until the whole group was complete because the Turkish army would otherwise beat them up if they would find people alone.
The respondent also could hear English, Arabic and Greek. One of the officers was wearing a black uniform – black shirt, pants and a walky-talky – checking the pushback information and reportedly spoke in German. After showing the respondent various uniforms, he could identify the uniform with the arm logo of the German eagle with “Polizei” (= “Police”) written on it. However, he states that the officer neither wore the blue FRONTEX armband nor the German flag on his uniform.
These 6 officers searched the respondent and the others again. They found some hidden money and beat the person hard with a branch and a plastic baton. In total, they accumulated over 5.000 euros (as they found 1.600 euros on one person). After waiting for around 45 minutes at the riverside, a green plastic boat of the size of 3 metres, got prepared in the river.
12 people were loaded on the respondent’s boat, including two drivers. The respondent described the boat as being stable on the water. The boats were driven by four of the earlier mentioned 6 police officers who spoke in Arabic and Kurdish, 2 for each boat. They took the respondent and his boat to a small island which was around 20 metres big and had one tree on it – in the middle of the river. The respondent’s boat was the first out of three groups. Due to the appearance of the Turkish army, the respondent could not see if everybody of the 160 got pushed back. He only saw his boat and the second one (so around 20 people) before the officers changed the location.
The respondent watched the officers loading people back into the vehicles in order to change the pushback spot. The respondent and the people of his boat stayed for about 5 minutes on the island and then crossed back to Turkey. The water level reached up to his chest. The respondent described three islands near Kapikule. His group was pushed back from the second island out of the three. He estimated the coordinates to be: 41.709261, 26.355296. Everyone in this group tried to claim asylum but was either ignored or beaten up. Once they arrived at Turkish territory, 2 soldiers in green camouflage uniforms tried to stop them but they were able to run away.