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Violent Chain Pushback from Bulgaria to Greece to Turkey

Date & Time 2021-06-20
Location 1st pushback point: Kyprinos; 2nd pushback point: Pythion/Çakmakköy; 3rd pushback point: Didymoteicho/Serem
Reported by josoor
Coordinates 41.3476492, 26.4956372
Pushback from Bulgaria, Greece
Pushback to Greece, Turkey
Taken to a police station yes
Minors involved yes
WLTI* involved yes
Men involved yes
Age 1 - 55
Group size 200
Countries of origin Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia
Treatment at police station or other place of detention detention, denial of access to toilets, denial of food/water, personal belongings taken, denial of medical assistance
Overall number of policemen and policewomen involved 30
Violence used beating (with batons/hands/other), kicking, insulting, forcing to undress, theft of personal belongings, reckless driving
Police involved 2 customer officers, sage green uniform, Bulgarian flag and “border police” on the back; 4 more officers arrived, 1 in sage green uniform & 3 in blue uniform “border police” on the back; car: green Nissan; 1 officer in deep blue uniform, light blue armband, with EU-flag and german flags on the uniform Frontex officer, saying “Polizei” (=”police” in german) spoke Bulgarian, German and English; 2 officers, (one was the same as the day before), civilian clothes and civilian car, additionally 2 officers came, dressed in sage green uniform, shirts and trouser with “border police” on the back, car: green Nissan with “border police” written on it; 2 other officers – no further description; 1 officer, civilian clothing; a white Ford van; 3 officers, sage green uniform, camouflage trousers; 17 officers: 15 of them in green camouflage uniform, 2 dressed in civilian clothes, some had a Greek flag, some the EU blue band Frontex officer (spoke english to each other, German and arabic to respondent); Some were wearing balaclavas. Some were talking Turkish, some Arabic Syrian, English and Greek to the officers with the blue armband; Turkish army, one truck

This report contains two testimonies from the same chain pushback from Bulgaria to Greece and Greece to Turkey. An additional testimony from someone from the same initial transit group who was separated from the others and later pushed back with another group can be found here: “Self harm during pushback: stranded on an Evros island for days, respondent inflicted 20 lacerations on his chest with a piece of glass in a desperate attempt to end the group’s ordeal”.

Testimony 1:

The respondent is a 30-year-old man from Algeria. He recounted a chain pushback from Bulgaria to Greece, and from Greece to Turkey on the 20th of June, 2021. He was walking with a group of 5 people from Edirne, Turkey, to Bulgaria, through Greece. The group was male and of Algerian, Moroccan, and Tunisian nationality. The group members were between 25 – 30 years old.

They started on the 14th of June 2021 from Edirne and walked about 30 km to Üyüklütatar, from where they crossed to Greece and headed off in the direction of Bulgaria. They were walking for 1.5 days in Greece and arrived the second day in the evening around sunset time (7 pm) to Bulgarian territory. By that time the group of 5 had split up after not reaching a deal between them about what they wanted to do and the respondent was only walking with one other friend, a 25-year-old from Algeria. The respondent does not know what happened to the rest of the group. 

In Bulgaria, the respondent and his friend were walking for 20 km towards the city of Ivaylovgrad. The friend was very sick, and could not breathe properly so the respondent carried him to a checkpoint in order to ask for help from the officers and to call the emergency for his friend.

At that checkpoint, there were two customer officers who were wearing a sage green uniform (shirt and pants) with the Bulgarian flag on it and the shirt had “border police” written on the back. They waited for three hours and the officers neither cared nor called someone to help the friend. One police officer talked into his walkie-talkie and apparently pretended that he was calling the emergency services, but they never came.

Instead, these two officers called other officers. In total four officers arrived. Three of them were wearing deep blue uniforms with blue trousers and the other was wearing a sage green uniform, trousers and a shirt. 3 of those had a shirt with “border police” written on their back and drove a green Nissan. These officers asked the respondent where he was from and what his destination was. He answered that he was from Algeria and wanted to go to his wife and daughter who are in Bosnia and Herzegovina. They asked for his route. He replied that he traveled from Greece.

They took the respondent and his friend into the car’s trunk and drove them for 2 hours. The respondent describes their driving as fast and reckless and added that they were driving on paved as well as unpaved roads. The respondent could sometimes see a forest and the lights of a highway. There were no seats in the trunk. 

After two hours of driving, they met another officer in a deep blue uniform. They talked Bulgarian and German to each other, English to the respondent and his friend. He was wearing a head torch and checked the respondent. They advised them to go to a village 3 km away from that place. The respondent recognized from a picture German border police: blue uniform, light blue band with EU-flag on it, “Polizei” written on it, and German flags on the arm – this officer spoke German. The respondent, after being shown a series of images, confirmed this to be a German Frontex officer.

These officers pushed the respondent and his friend back to Greece at about 1 am, somewhere near Kyprinos in Greece, and turned off the phone. The two couldn’t walk in the night and stayed overnight between the Bulgarian and Greek border.

After walking 15 km, they arrived back in Bulgaria arriving at 10 AM. They were looking for a house with electricity to charge their phones when 2 officers caught them again. One of them was the same officer as the day before but this time, he was wearing civilian clothes and drove a civilian car. These officers called a woman to talk English to the respondent. He told her his story, that he is going to Bosnia and neither staying in Greece or Bulgaria. She answered “okay” and talked with the officers.

The officer told the respondent and his friend to sit on the ground for around one hour, at 11 AM. One officer meanwhile called more border police to come. 2 officers came, dressed in sage green uniform, shirt, and trousers which had “border police” written on the back. These two officers talked to the respondent in English about pushing him back to Turkey – and not to Greece. The respondent’s phone had run out of battery and he had no food. Further on the officer in civilian clothing told the respondent that they will take him to Serbia. Nothing was taken from the respondent at this point. 

After that, the respondent was again taken to the green Nissan, which had “border police” written on it. After two hours of driving, he was changed into another green Nissan. Two officers were seated in that second car, also dressed up in the sage green uniform. The respondent and his friend spend another two hours driving in that car, first on paved and further on unpaved roads.

The car parked around 3 PM, the officers told them “This is Serbia, keep walking from this way” by pointing on the road and gave them a bottle of water. It is not clear where the respondent and his friend were dropped, but it definitely was not Serbia as that is too far from Greece. It’s likely it was Greece or very close/in North Macedonia. They walked in the forest on an animal track, after 6 km they changed their destination, took the opposite way and walked back for around 7 km. They met someone on the way who told him that they are walking in Greece. The respondent kept on walking until they were apprehended by one man in civilian clothes driving a white Ford van. This man tried to hit the respondent with baton and load him and his friend in the trunk.

After driving for about 5 hours on alternating paved and unpaved roads, they arrived at a detention center. This was far away from the city, surrounded by agricultural lands and by a 50 cm barbed fence. Inside were 3 officers in sage green uniforms, camouflage trousers, and shirts. These officers took all of the two men’s clothes, the respondent and his friend were naked and then beaten up with a branch. Only shorts and a T-shirt were given back to them.

Around 8 or 9 PM, they were put in a cell. The cell was 6 x 5 meters, not containing a bed. They had to sit on the ground which was smelling bad, the toilet in the cell was too dirty to use it. At arrival time the cell was empty but by the end of their time there, the cell was filled with 200 people. Among them were Syrians, Indians, Afghans, Palestinians, Moroccans, Algerians, Tunisians, and people from the Ivory Coast. There were 2 women present in the cell. The age range of the respondent’s cell was between 20 to 55 years.

In another cell there were many families including 8 women and minors, the age range was from 1 – 55 years. One baby was crying and one officer came to shout at a woman with her child. 

The respondent stayed in that cell for 36 hours, 1.5 days. They were not provided food or water. The respondent’s fingerprints were not taken, and he was not given any papers to sign. 

After 1,5 days the 200 people were divided into smaller groups and group by group taken in a white Ford Van to the river. They arrived at a location which was between Pythion and Çakmakköy. The drive took about 30 minutes and it was all along unpaved roads. At the river, there were 17 officers, 15 of them dressed in green camouflage uniform, 2 dressed in civilian clothing. Some clothes had a Greek flag, some EU blue arm badges on their arms and some didn’t have any logo on their clothing. The respondent identified this to be Frontex too, Some were wearing balaclavas. Some were talking Turkish, some spoke Arabic Syrian, others with the blue armband spoke English and Greek, as well as German. The officers with the EU armband were talking English to each other and Arabic to the respondent and the others.

They told them in English to watch out for the other side in Turkey. In Arabic the officers said “don’t come to Greece, go from the sea”. They punched, kicked and beat the respondent with a branch. Some officer was insulting them in English by calling them “dogs”.

At the river, there was already a boat, 2 by 3 metres in size. The boat was not prepared yet, the officers asked the respondent to pump it with air. That took 30 minutes. The 200 people were separated into several groups, each of them about 8 – 9 people who were loaded on the boat, and 2 people working for the police were paddling. Two officers dressed in civilian clothing and balaclavas drove the boat speaking Arabic. The respondent was in the last group. When he was supposed to go on the boat, Turkish officers appeared on the other side of the river. The Turkish army did not allow the Greek army to push people back and took them to a different point. These officers now stayed and asked the people of the last group to deflate the boat and take it to another point. The respondent explained that he thinks more than half were ferried across by the time the Turkish army arrived.

The rest of the group, just under 100, were put back in the vans and driven for 30 minutes. One officer came and hit the people with a stick to make space so that all could fit in the truck. They could not breathe properly because of the lack of space.

They were driven to a big forest, with a lot of trees. The river at this point was around 40 metres wide. After arriving at another point, the boat was prepared again by the respondent and people out of his group, which took 20 minutes. According to the officers, there are Turkish military barracks around that place and that the people should hide from them. This location was identified as between Didymoteicho and Serem.

 12 people were forced to get into the boat, including children and women. The water level in the boat was 70 cm. The boat was too small for the number of people aboard and therefore constantly at risk. The officers asked them in the middle of the river to jump in the water, not caring about the women and children.

After arriving in Turkish territory, they did not meet the Turkish army. They walked for 5 km and arrived at a village. 2 villages were on the left and one on the right, which they went to. They walked to get to Kiremitçisalih. Then, after a 1-hour drive in a taxi and 80 km, they came to Edirne.


Testimony 2:

The respondent, a 30-year-old Tunisian man, recounts chain pushback from Bulgaria to Greece, and then from Greece to Turkey. The group of five – two Algerians, 2 Moroccans, and the respondent – crossed into Greece and walked for days up through Bulgaria. The group split up, and the respondent stayed with an Algerian and a Moroccan man before they were apprehended.

The men saw three cars patrolling the area so stayed hiding until the cars had gone and they could finish walking – he identified them as two green Navara patrol cars and a jeep. At approximately 7 am, the three men were apprehended by Bulgarian officers. The respondent recalled that there were two officers and one dog. One of the officers was wearing a green shirt and trousers, and the other was wearing civilian clothes. The officers searched the three men but did not beat them. The three men were made to walk for about 200 metres until they reached where three cars were parked. These cars were the old green jeep and 2 navara green vehicles – same as the ones that were patrolling. The two navara green vehicles had ‘border police’ written on the side of the vehicles.

Here, there were four more officers wearing sage green trousers and shirts. These officers had the Bulgarian flag on the chest of their shirt, as well as on the arm, and on the back, it was written ‘border police’. They were loaded into the back of the trunk of one of the vehicles and driven to the border between Bulgaria and Greece, which took about 30 minutes. The driving of the car was very fast.

Here, they were unloaded from the vehicle and searched again. The officers found that a member of the group had two sim cards, which they took. They gave back some stuff but kept one of their phones and two pairs of trainers. These officers spoke to them in Bulgarian and said to “hurry up. Go! Get out!”. The civilian-clothed officer told the group “Salam Alaikum” in Arabic. The officers then pushed them back to Greece.

Along the border between Greece and Bulgaria, the transit group found seven officers wearing light blue shirts and black trousers. “We told them we were thirsty and hungry,” remarked the respondent. The transit group wanted to return to Turkey as they were lost and did not know where to go. The officers were recording everything through a camera they were holding. “We asked them for water, and they told us they ‘don’t have’ in Greek” explained the respondent. 

The men waited there for an hour and no one came. So they left and walked to a village in Greece called Ormenio. They asked a local citizen to call the police and take them back to Turkey. They waited in a garden near a church and a restaurant for about two hours before officers arrived. It was around 1 pm when two officers came wearing civilian clothes and holding a gun. They drove a white Ford van, and the number plate of the van was an “old german serial number”. These officers searched the three men and loaded them into the back of the van, finding it was only them in the vehicle. But they found 1 TL, a Turkish residency permit for an Algerian man, and a broken phone.

The officers drove the three men for about 30-45 minutes, recklessly and fast, switching between paved and unpaved roads. The detention site was surrounded by a barbed-wire fence and the respondent recalled that it was near a city and there were houses nearby. When they arrived at the detention site there were approximately 10 more officers. These officers were dressed in two different kinds of uniform: either blue shirts with grey trousers or completely blue uniforms wearing balaclavas.

“From this moment, the beating starts. If you make any move, you get beaten” remarked the respondent. The officers used tree branches and plastic police batons. The group was searched by these officers, ordering them to undress and the police checked every detail of their clothes.

The men were then taken into a cell. There were two cells – one where they put the three men, and there were around 13 people already inside, and in the second cell, there were approximately 40-50 people. In total, the respondent estimated there were 60 people. He identified in this group there were six women, four old women and some little girls – with ages ranging from 8 to 40 years old. Nationalities were Syrian, Pakistani, Algerian, Moroccan, and Tunisian. 

The cell the respondent was detained in was about 3 x 2 metres in size, and there was no bed to sleep or sit on. “We stay on the ground, it’s dirty and stinky,” remarked the respondent. They were denied food, water, medical assistance, and no translator was present to translate when the officers spoke. The officers communicated to the group in English but spoke to each other in Greek.

After being detained for three hours, at around 8-9 PM after sunset, they were then taken to the river in two green Mercedes military trucks. There were new officers that arrived – approximately four officers, two in each truck. They work either blue uniforms or camouflage army uniforms, with all of them wearing balaclavas.

“They put around 30 people in each and we kept standing and it was hot and locked from all sides. We could barely breathe” explained the respondent. The drive took about 15 minutes, with the drivers driving fast and recklessly. The respondent recounted that they started to drive on paved roads and then unpaved roads.

When they arrived at the river, which was identified as near to Pythion, there were six officers speaking Turkish, wearing civilian t-shirts with camouflage trousers and balaclavas.

“They kept telling us who Kurdish and to empty our pockets and give all what we have. They said “If we found you hiding money we will beat you”. They found who was hiding money and they beat a lot and if you look at them you will get beaten. Also you have to look down always because they got a lot of money. We could see that they took all what we have”.

There were another six officers that appeared by the river, either wearing sage green trousers and t-shirt or completely black uniforms or civilian t-shirts and camouflage trousers.

There were three boats ready on the river’s edge when they arrived. They were plastic with paddles, approximately 3 x 2 metres in size. The officers loaded people on the boats in groups of six, with two officers who steered the boats. These officers were identified as wearing civilian t-shirts, camouflage trousers, and balaclavas, and were talking in Kurdish.

The level of the water was high in the first part of the river before they reached the island in the middle of the river. The respondent explained that he was in one of the middle groups that was taken to the island, and then realised that he was stuck on the same island as many of the 60 people who were in his pushback group. The island was about 40-50 metres long, at most.

They were forced to stay there for two nights/ three days as the Turkish army did not allow them to cross. They stayed there without water or food for this time. The Turkish army did not let them cross until “one of us hurt himself with a piece of glass” and then they let the group cross.

There were four soldiers on the Turkish side in green camouflage uniforms who let the group cross. The respondent explained that “after they saw the man who hurt himself, they let us cross and gave us food and water”. All of the people who were left on the island were able to cross. Some of the group were able to cross earlier as they were women and children, and some managed to escape from the island at some point throughout the two days when the officers were not looking.

After they were in Turkey, they walked for one or two kilometres, barefoot because their shoes were taken from Greek authorities. They came across a sign that said Unzunköprü. Upon further inspection, from what the respondent said, they were very in the village Sığırcılı, near to Saçlımüsellim.