The respondent is a 40-year-old man from Iraq. This was the second pushback he experienced from Greece.
On March 18th, 2022 he started his journey at around 2 pm from Istanbul to the town Uzunköprü in a small bus with his initial transit group, consisting of 9 people from Iraq, Palestine, Syria, and Algeria. Their ages ranged from 20 – 40 and one woman was present. The drive to Uzunköprü took approximately 3 hours, and then they drove another 30 minutes to the river border between Greece and Turkey. The crossing point was located in a forest, close to an agricultural field and two islets in the river, a small one and a big one.
The transit group crossed the Evros river in a small boat at around 8 pm of March 18th, 2022 and arrived to Greek territory. The whole group then walked continuously until 6 am of the next morning, taking only occasional 5-minute-long breaks. The respondent believed they were travelling north.
The group stayed in hiding for the whole day of March 19th to rest and sleep a bit. At 8 pm, when the sun had set, they continued walking for another 5 hours.
The respondent recounted: “The woman that was with us couldn’t walk anymore. We were lost and we started thinking about getting to any village to try and get a bus from there.”
According to the respondent, the group decided to continue walking until reaching any village to take a bus from there. When they approached a village, they started to look out for a bus station in the surrounding area.
At some point they saw a shepherd crossing an unpaved road close to them. Around 30 minutes later, at around 2 pm on March 20th 2022, the transit group was reportedly apprehended by eight uniformed men surrounding them from all sides. Two of them were threatening them with firearms and telling them not to move.
Five out of the eight uniformed men wore sage green uniforms with logos on the sleeve, identified by the respondent as resembling Greek Border Guard uniforms, holding firearms which the respondent referred to as “sub-machine guns”.
The three other men were described as wearing dark blue uniforms with ‘Police’ written on their chest and a small logo on the sleeve, carrying “small guns”.
The men in official uniforms arrived in three vehicles, two of which were described as “white jeep[s] with a blue stripe and police written on it” and carrying a logo on its side. The third car was a white Skoda, also carrying a blue stripe and “police” writing on its side.
The respondent recounted that when the uniformed men realised the transit group were people on the move, they continued threatening them with guns and made them gather their belongings then stand up and walk to the parked cars. There, the men in uniform held plastic batons which they reportedly used to hit the people on the move from time to time – “just for no reason”, stated the respondent.
In this instance, the group was not searched but was reportedly asked to hand over their phones which were never given back. The uniformed men asked questions in English about their travel route and the smuggler. After approximately 20 minutes a white van with “old tyres” and further described as “ancient” arrived at the apprehension site. It was described by the respondent as unmarked and had a Greek license plate.
At least one man wearing civilian clothing arrived with this vehicle. According to the respondent, he loaded the transit group into the 3 x 2 metre trunk of the car and they were then driven for around 30 minutes until arriving at a detention site at around 3 – 3:30 pm on March 20, 2022.
The group were unable to have a detailed look at the detention site from outside as the van parked right in front of a hallway which the respondent explained they were taken to by two men wearing uniforms similar to the ones the respondent identified as Greek Border Guard uniform, in a sage green colour. He reported that people in the group were pushed by the men.
“The woman was afraid. He [one of the uniformed men] pushed her from behind while she was walking until she fell.”
The respondent couldn’t see any signs indicating the building they were taken to was an official building. In total, he saw five men wearing the same green uniform as described above.
Once inside the detention site, the transit group were asked to gather all their belongings and bags in one place and to stand close to the wall of the room.
The respondent reported that they were forced to undress while the woman was still in the room. The male members of the group had to stay completely naked while the male uniformed personnel searched the woman. She was not undressed but the respondent described how she was searched by the men “in a bad way. They kept touching her body and sensitive places, then they took her to the cell”.
After that, the respondent recounted that the male group members, still completely naked, were searched.
“They [the uniformed men] held metal batons, then [they] started beating all of us with it. They asked us to stretch our hand [in front of us] and then they hit us with the baton on it. If you don’t [obey] they will beat you everywhere on your body.”
After the pushback the respondent’s arm was broken (see Image 10 and 11 below). It is likely the injury happened during this incident.
The respondent explained that the beating lasted for almost 20 minutes. Then, the uniformed men reportedly took all of the group’s personal belongings, including money, shoes, food, bags and everything inside, and returned only their pants and shirts.
Subsequently, the male group members were taken to a cell measuring 5 x 6 metres, which was described as “dirty and the pee from the toilet was on the ground – it was dirty and not clean, the smell was so bad”. Inside the cell there were 2 metal bunk beds. The ceiling was made of red bricks.
Inside the cell the respondent found around 40 other people. They originated from Syria, Palestine, Afghanistan and Bangladesh and their ages ranged from 5 to 60 years. Among them, there were 15 women and several minors.
The group was detained for around 12 hours and by the second day of detention the respondent reported that around 200 people were being held in the same cell.
He stated that they were not provided with any food or water: “We were begging for some water and some food for the women and the children but they didn’t care”.
The respondent added that they were not offered any medical help, neither was a translator present. No documentation or personal details were taken.
On March 21st, 2022, at around 4 am (the respondent noted that it was 1-2 hours before the time for morning prayer) the transit group were taken from the detention site.
Four vehicles waited outside: two white, unmarked Mercedes vans and one red Mercedes van. In addition, there was an olive green Mercedes military truck. The respondent was not able to identify any license plates.
Alongside the vehicles, about 20 men waited outside the detention site. Some of them wore sage green uniforms with logos on the sleeve, which the respondent identified as Greek Border Guard uniform, while others wore green camouflage uniforms carrying the Greek flag on the sleeve, identified by the respondent as Hellenic Army uniforms. The remaining men wore “civilian clothes” (jeans and sportswear).
The respondent and around 40 other people were loaded into the trunk of one of the white Mercedes van inside which it was “very crowded” and “hard to breathe”. They drove for about 15 minutes in what the respondent described as a fast and reckless way until they arrived at the pushback point, which was identified as being located in a small forest on an unpaved road. Only the white van the respondent was in arrived at this specific pushback point. The group consisted of 40 people-on-the-move from Syria, Palestine, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, including two women and five or six minors. Their ages ranged between 15 and 45 years.
At this location the respondent described that there were eight men in “civilian clothing”, wearing black jackets and sports wear and some of them wearing plain black uniforms without any writing or insignia were present. All of these men spoke Arabic in the Syrian dialect and/or Kurdish. They reportedly carried tree branches as weapons.
The transit group were reportedly given the order to empty their pockets, not move without being told to, and to stay silent. Everyone was searched again, including the two women, by the men in uniform.
The respondent explained that he was searched and told to hold up his arms. As his arm was broken due to the beating he previously experienced, he couldn’t hold it up, hence he described being beaten again by being hit with a tree branch and kicked for around 3 minutes.
After the search, all 40 people were reportedly pushed back across the river in a small rubber boat, measuring 2 x 3 metres. 8 – 9 people plus 2 drivers were taken in the boat at a time, and brought to a small islet in the river from where the respondent explained they were forced to go through the water by themselves. The water level reached above the chest. The pushback happened at around 5 am of March 21, 2022.
After arriving back to Turkish territory, the respondent struggled to move due to the beating he experienced just before. He recounted: “My arm hurt a lot. And my leg – I couldn’t walk a lot… One Algerian young man who was with us helped me to walk and get away from the border”.
They walked for almost 40 minutes until they arrived to the village of Eskiköy. When they arrived there, they heard the morning call for prayer of the mosque so they decided to go there and asked for help. After the service finished the group were given around 140 Turkish liras which allowed them to take a bus to Edirne. This drive took around 1 hour.
The physical assaults the respondent experienced during the pushback resulted in a broken arm and several severe injuries, as confirmed when he received medical attention in Turkey (see Image 10 and 11).
When being asked whether he expressed his intention to ask for asylum in the European Union during his interactions with Greek authorities, the respondent answered:
“I couldn’t ask! I was really afraid to get beaten even more or even get killed.”