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More than 50 men in uniform using 13 vehicles and two boats in pushback of more than 250 people

Date & Time 2021-03-03
Location Ipsala
Reported by josoor
Coordinates 40.929232, 26.393941
Pushback from Greece
Pushback to Turkey
Taken to a police station yes
Minors involved yes
WLTI* involved yes
Men involved yes
Age 2 - 55
Group size 50
Countries of origin Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Morocco, Tunisia
Treatment at police station or other place of detention detention, papers signed, denial of access to toilets, denial of food/water, denial of medical care, personal belongings taken
Overall number of policemen and policewomen involved 50
Violence used beating (with batons/hands/other), pushing people to the ground, exposure to air condition and extreme temperature during car ride, insulting, forcing to undress, destruction of personal belongings, theft of personal belongings, reckless driving
Police involved 10 men most of them in uniforms resembling blue Greek police, some in sage green uniforms with balaclavas, 10 blue uniformed men, 1 white van with no number plate, 1 Volkswagen with no number plate, 4 or 5 Ford trafic cars, 1 Big Iveco Truck, 20 men in sage green and black clothes with balaclavas, 6 vans with no number plates, 8 men in uniforms

The respondent, a 30-year-old Tunisian man, was apprehended in Thessaloniki by Greek authorities on March 1st, 2021. It was about 11pm. He had walked for about a month through Greece, after crossing from Turkey, with a group of other Tunisian men aged between 28 and 50 years old. The group he was with consisted of 8 people. But when being chased by police, they had split up so it was him and five others who were caught together, with their two other companions being reunited with them later.

The respondent initially ran away from the police in Thessaloniki when he was apprehended but he was soon caught. There were about 10 men in uniform in 2 cars, who spoke Greek. Most of them were dressed in blue uniforms and some were wearing plain sage green uniforms with balaclavas. Those who wore masks “specialised in beating, they are the only ones who beat us” explained the respondent. The police told him not to worry and that they were going to take him to a camp. But, instead, he was taken to Komotini. They were also given some documents to sign before they were taken to Komotini and thus were under the assumption that they were going to be taken to a camp, but instead they were taken to a detention facility. They were taken in an old white van and a Volkswagen car, both did not have number plates, according to the respondent. The journey took about 2 hours and the driving was so reckless that the people in the vehicle kept colliding with each other as they had nothing to hold on to.

When they arrived, it was raining. The respondent described the place of detention as in the middle of Komotini, close to the highway. The respondent recalls seeing a notable building about 10 minutes before they stopped at a gas station in Komotini. Based on this description, the interviewer assumed it must have been the Komotini Police Department and showed the respondent pictures of it who confirmed it. 

There were lots of men wearing uniforms resembling police uniforms at the detention facility, minimum 10. They were wearing blue uniforms with ‘police’ written on their uniforms. They were taken into a small building described as a garage, about 4m x 5m big, when they arrived. There were reportedly about 250 people in this police station.. Their nationalities included Pakistani, Iraqi, Syrian, Tunisian and Moroccan, and the age ranged between 12 to 55 years old, including pregnant women with children, and a 2-year-old baby.

The respondent remembers they were detained for about 5-6 hours. They were not brought anything during this time – neither food, nor water. One of the detainees had a badly injured eye but was allegedly denied medical attention.

The respondent claimed that he was denied water, food, and cigarettes by the police when he asked for them. The men in uniform asked the whole group if they were Muslim and where they were from, they explained. The men in uniform reportedly took their two phones, power banks, money, and the rest of their belongings. The respondent asked to have his money back – 70 € – but the men in uniform refused.

“He cut my passport into two pieces. I was begging him to give back my passport, but he already cut it” explained the respondent.

In response to being asked if they were beaten, the respondent said “Yes of course. In the beginning they take all your clothes and leave you like a newborn and beat you”. They were allegedly beaten with batons, particularly when they were ordered to do something, with the men in uniform telling them to “hurry” and they would hit the detainees. “They just try to make up any reason just to find a way to beat you”.

The respondent recalled they were then taken in a big Iveco truck, similar to the one used for transporting cows. “They made the box especially for this reason, to put a lot of people inside it” explained the respondent. The back of the truck was aluminum and closed from all sides. All 250 people were put inside this truck, and beaten as they were forced in.

The 250 people were driven for an hour and a half. They did not know where they were going, as they couldn’t see outside because there were no windows. When they arrived at the place of detention they were taken off the truck and transferred into vehicles that resemble Ford Trafic cars. About 50 people or so had been put in each truck, and they were transferred into 4-5 of these cars.

Then these cars took them all to the second place of detention. When they arrived, they found another approximately 150 people already detained there. These people had been caught from the nearest city at the Greek border, whereas the respondent and his group – the 250 people – had been gathered in Komotini and taken here.

This detention site had a church near to it, along with some houses, and it was surrounded by a fence. There were lots of dogs everywhere too. Here, the respondent decribed that the group was stripped of their clothes and they were humiliated by the men in uniforms. According to the respondent, the female detainees were “probably” searched by females in uniform, but the respondent recalled:

“Man, they took all of our clothes off and we were so cold and suffering. Then they asked us to put our clothes and everything back on and took us back inside and turned the heater to the maximum. We were sweating so much, and then they came and ordered us to go out. We got sick, all of us”.

The 150 people who were already in the detention centre were of Afghan and Syrian nationality, with a similar age group as the 250 people. There were 5 women among them, some who were older and some as young as 20-23 years old. The whole group was again reportedly denied food and water. There was a faucet in the toilet but it was dirty so the detainees could not drink from it.

According to the respondent, the cell at the second detention site was “horrible”. It was about 4-5 metres in size with a bed that smelled bad. The respondent explained that “you have to keep standing anyways because you don’t have enough space to sit”.

They were kept there for about 2 hours, until several men in uniform came, some in sage green uniforms and some in black clothes and balaclavas, to get them and load them into trucks, with about 50-60 people in each. There were about 6 cars similar to the ones used before and four men in uniform for each truck, so a total of more 20-24 men in uniform. 

These cars were used to take the people to the Evros river. “They push all the people inside and they beat you with batons to make space for the others” explained the respondent.

The journey took about 30 minutes along an unpaved road, so it was incredibly uncomfortable for the detainees. Every vehicle went a different way to the river, so there were smaller groups at the river when they arrived. Following the respondent’s testimony, the likelihood that the men in uniform had driven the other people – about 350 – to different locations along the river to push people back from different points seems high to the point of certainty.

The respondent described that the place he arrived at was in a forest, but it was dark so he could not see much. There were eight other men in uniform at the river side, wearing military green trousers and black jackets. These men in uniform were wearing balaclavas. Some of these men in uniform spoke in Arabic, with the Arabic speaking ones reportedly  beating them with tree branches and also kicking them.

When they arrived, a plastic boat, with no engine, was ready on the shore of the river. The men in uniform had also tied a long rope from one side of the river to the other. The respondent explained he did not know how they got the rope to the Turkish side of the river. The 50-60 person group was taken across in groups of 12-13. They all were ordered to jump when they got to the middle of the river, rather than being taken to the other side. The river’s water level was very high. “Some who couldn’t swim they barely made it to the other part and were sinking – but who could help them? We were all having the same problem” explained the respondent.

They walked for about 2km through marshland, crossed a bridge and arrived at Ipsala.