In the early hours of March the 10th, the 28-year-old Syrian man and two other Syrian people on the move (POM) were pushed back from Bulgaria to Turkey. Among the group was one woman and one minor. This was the respondent’s fourth pushback from Bulgaria to Turkey.
According to the respondent, on the 9th of March at about 19:00 the transit group crossed from Turkey to Bulgaria. They took a break in a forest nearby and at around 20:00 they began to walk northwards. After walking fifteen kilometers over the course of five hours, they decided to rest in a wooded area near the town of Gramatikovo, recalled the respondent. Soon after they’d stopped they heard the sound of a drone, said the respondent. It hovered overhead for around 10 minutes.
20 minutes later, they were blindsided by the flashlights of four men described by the respondent as Bulgarian border guard in uniforms with “Police” written in English on the back. The respondent explained: “We started seeing flashlights coming from different sides…we couldn’t run because the woman who was with us was exhausted…we tried to hide…but they caught us.” One of the men in uniform reportedly threatened the group with a weapon described by the respondent to be similar to a Beretta M9 (see Image 1). The respondent reported that the uniformed men had first arrived in two vehicles that resembled Bulgarian Border Police Land Rovers. The four men parked the vehicles a few meters away, approaching the transit group by foot (see Image 2).
The respondent reported that the four men dressed in sage green uniforms spoke to the members of the transit group in Bulgarian and a few words in English. One of the uniformed men began kicking the woman and the 17-year-old boy and screaming at the in Bulgarian, recounted the respondent. The women reportedly began to cry which only triggered further verbal and physical abuse.
The respondent described that he was then beaten with an iron rod by a man in uniform, with which he pleaded, saying “we swear, camp, camp!”, but the officer ignored him and continued to beat the respondent.
The uniformed men did not make the woman undress, but the men were stripped naked in front of the her, and searched form head to toe, recalled the respondent. When speaking about how the woman was searched by the officers, the respondent described that they “touched her body everywhere, even in sensitive places.” According to the respondent, when told to hand over their phones and money, the woman gave them everything she had.
“When [the man in uniform] found my phone he told me to open [it], slapped me [in the] face, and then said ‘good boy.’”
The men reportedly addressed the transit group in English and Turkish. At the end of the search, only their clothing and shoes were returned to them. With the the transit group’s phones, money, bags, and remaining food in hand, the four men in uniform forced the group to walk in a line for around three minutes until reaching the Land Rovers parked nearby, recounted the respondent.
When they arrived at the car, the respondent was reportedly met by two more men dressed in sacramento green uniforms. On the license plates, the he recalled the letters BG and CB. The four men loaded the transit group into the trunk of one of the vehicles.
According to the respondent, as the woman entered the vehicle one of the uniformed men touched her back and she began to cry and slap herself in the face,“because of the shame of what happened to her…she didn’t stop crying…she was traumatized.”
Inside the vehicle, the transit group found themselves in a two-by-one meter trunk. “We could barely fit,” stressed the respondent. He identified three of the previously mentioned six uniformed men sat in the front of the vehicle. For what felt like 40 minutes to the respondent, the group were driven fast along an unpaved road. The second land rover followed behind.
When the car stopped the three members of the transit group were unloaded, and saw two men dressed in the same sacramento green uniform waiting for them. Both were reportedly carrying weapons in their holsters. In front of him, the respondent described that he saw a “big door….that could fit a truck through it” along with unpaved roads, and surrounding both the Bulgarian and Turkish sides of the fence was forest. They new officers looked at the group and barked: “Shut up while we finish smoking.” They did as they were told and stood in front of the headlights until the officers finished their cigarettes.
Once they’d finished, the officers told the woman to take off her sneakers and then forced her through the gate in the fence to the Turkish side alone. According to the respondent, the two uniformed men began to beat him and the minor with iron batons and tree branches, and subsequently kicked them mainly in their arms and legs. Ten minutes later, the violence finally stopped, recounted the respondent. The uniformed men then ordered the two individuals to remove their jackets and shoes and, “to run fast from the door and go to Turkey.”
The group was pushed back about 3:00 a.m., on the 10th of March.
Back on on Turkish soil, the respondent and the minor found the woman hiding in the trees about 50 meters from the pushback point, he recalled. The three of them walked for around two kilometers before reaching Şükrüpaşa at approximately 4:00.
“We couldn’t sleep…we were so cold and barefoot…we didn’t think we could stay alive until the morning.”
According to the respondent, in the village they encountered a man who – seeing the woman’s condition – offered to drive the three of them west. Two hours later, they arrived in Edirne.