On 5th June 2020, people were gathered at a regular food distribution where outreach groups provide material support to transit populations in the Thessaloniki area. During the afternoon distribution, an intervention by the Thessaloniki policeforce took place.
Officers arrived at the distribution on motorbikes and in cars, fully equipped, in large numbers, between 15 to 20, “in the context of the implementation of operational planning to deal with delinquency and the identification of persons residing illegally in the country”, as stated in a press release announcing the raid. The police officers arrived in a coordinated group and blocked side roads, entrances and exits to prevent people from fleeing.
The officers were dressed in black uniforms with “police” while others were in civil clothes with official vests. The officers separated those with papers and those without. The officers rounded up around 20 people without documents and took them away to a police station in the Thessaloniki area with the promise of issuing them a document to regularize their stay in Greece for a period.
Video of people being rounded up from the area and walked away by police:
On the 6th June 2020, one of the individuals who had been taken in this incident contacted a BVMN volunteer and informed them that he and others were in Istanbul, Turkey. This person provided a full oral testimony on 7th June 2020, describing the events that passed: from their capture, to their pushback from Greek territory.
The respondent is 19 years old from Algeria and shared his story alongside another person aged 20 years old also from Algeria. The respondent states that he entered Greece in mid-May, about 15 days before he was apprehended.
He described how he was attending the food distribution in the area of Thessaloniki close to the industrial port on 6th June 2020. The respondent says that the police arrived and surrounded the people in attendance. During the police intervention, the officers informed every person without temporary documents that they would be taken to the police station and issued a “khartia” (a short term document regularizing their stay) until they can submit an asylum application. The asylum service in Greece is not registering new asylum applications at this moment. The Skype service is also unavailable, meaning that asylum seekers cannot arrange an appointment to register their asylum application.
After being apprehended, the respondent describes how he was taken to a police station and held for one to two hours in the courtyard, sitting on the ground. In this time his belongings were taken, including his phone, 15 euros, his jackets and other items. His shoelaces,trousers and belt were also taken. At the police station were 20 others taken from the food distribution, as well as an additional 15 people who had been detained prior. The people came from a variety of places, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Morocco and Algeria.
The respondent describes how a blue bus arrived, “the prison bus”, and 35 people were pushed and kicked to enter the bus with excessive force by the officers in the courtyard area. The bus left Thessaloniki and drove for approximately four hours.
The bus proceeded to transport the people to a place he calls the “caserne” – translated into barracks – where the 35 people were detained for half an hour. He describes how at this location there was a different unit of officers present, wearing dark blue uniforms. He cannot describe them fully because he did not look up from the ground in the position they had to assume.
Half an hour later, they were taken to the river Evros which borders Turkey. The 35 people were divided up by Greek authorities and crossed via boat in groups of 5-6 to the Turkish side of the river. An officer wearing a balaclava was driving the boat, taking people in groups to the other side of the border. The respondent says five Greek authorities were present at the border during the pushback and that they hit the group with batons and with hands, and kicked them as well before loading them into the boat.
The pushback occured at night at approximately 01:00 on 6th June 2020. The people were removed across the border in the vicinity of Ipsala (TUR) where they then sought help from locals. Summarising his feeling in the period after the pushback, the respondent states he was shocked. He adds:
“15 days [to arrive to Thessaloniki] and they take us to Turkey in five hours”
The respondent gave his testimony in English, from Istanbul. He reached Istanbul the following day after his pushback, driven by a Turkish national who agreed to assist the group in exchange for cash. The two young men did not have money on them since all their belongings were taken by Greek officers, so they decided to run away once they arrived in Istanbul. They spent two nights sleeping on the streets and had only biscuits to eat.