The respondents are two Algerian men, aged 29 and 27 years old. They recount a violent pushback from Bulgaria to Turkey.
They took a bus on 23rd July 2021 from Edirne to Lalapasa, then to Hamzabeyli, crossing the border at approximately 3pm. As soon as they crossed a grey ford patrol car came, so they ran and hid in a forest to avoid being seen. The respondents reported that there were four officers inside this car, one was wearing a sage green shirt and pants with the Bulgarian flag on his uniform, and three were wearing black uniforms which had “Polizie” written on their chest. These officers spoke Bulgarian and English – one of respondent’s was able to identify the Bulgarian language as he is able to speak a bit of it. None of these officers were wearing officers. Two of the officers reportedly got out of the patrol car to look for them.
The two young men crawled for 400 metres to get far away from the border fence, and they hid until 9pm that evening. Then, they continued walking. They walked for four days – not resting, walking throughout the day and the night. They both ran out of food and water, spending two whole days without food and water.
They were just about to approach the city of Siminovo to get some food and water, “we were about to die from hunger and thirst” explained the respondents. But on the road just before the city, they were reportedly apprehended at about 7 pm around sunset on 27th July.
The respondents reported that they were apprehended by two officers, wearing sage green uniforms without balaclavas. The respondents confirmed these officers to be in the same uniforms as those he described as Bulgarian Border Police uniforms. These officers were driving a black Landrover with “border police” written on it.
These officers ordered the two men to sit down and started asking where they were from. The men told the officers they were Palestinian. The officers said “do you have phone or money? Give it to us”. One of the respondents did not have a phone, but the other did and the officers took it. The officers continued to question the men, asking where their bags were. The men explained that they left them in the forest. Then the officers were asking for documentation/papers to prove they were Palestinian. But the men told them they didn’t have any papers, and they heard the officers telling each other that they thought they were Pakistani.
The officers did not return anything they had taken from the two men. But subsequently searched them. The respondents said that they were not forced to undress, or beaten, but they were denied food and water. “I had a bottle of water” explained one of the respondents, “they took it from me and I kept begging to give it back”. To which the officers said “No water, no come Bulgaria”. The officers spoke Bulgarian to each other and English to the respondents.
The ordeal of being apprehended and searched took about 1.5 hours. After this time, an old green camouflage land rover came to pick them up. In this vehicle, there were three officers – according to the respondents two wearing Bulgarian border police uniforms, and the other was wearing a black uniform with a “blue band on his arm and police written on his chest”. This officer spoke in English, and said to the officer that had caught the two men “thank you”.
The two Bulgarian border police officers reportedly handcuffed the two men with ties, and the officer with the blue armband watched. This was around 8 pm.
The young men were then loaded into the boot of the Landrover, which was very dirty. It was just them in the boot of the vehicle. They were driven for about 3 hours, on paved and unpaved roads. The driving was reportedly reckless and fast. “Every time they drive on hole in the road the handcuffs tighten more. The more we suffer, they were laughing”.
When they stopped, they were taken out of the boot of the Landrover and ordered to take their shoes off and they had their handcuffs taken off. Another car arrived – it was a grey Congo – which had another three officers in it, also reportedly wearing Bulgarian border police uniforms. These officers gave one of the other officers “the key to open the door” [in the fence]. These officers stayed here and brought a tree branch and started to beat the two men. These officers also kicked them in the face, while the men tried to hide their faces from being kicked and beaten.
The respondents reported that the officers beat them up as they were pushing them back through the fence, which was near an unpaved road and a forest. The first location they got to after being pushed back was Hamzabeyli.