On May 12th, 2022 , at around 11:15 a.m. the respondent, a 23-year-old man from Morocco, and three more Moroccan men aged between 23 to 36 years old, were pushed back from Bulgaria to Turkey. It is the respondents second time being pushed back from Bulgaria.
On May 8th, the transit group the border into Bulgarian territory near the village of Doğanköy at around 2:30 p.m. They then continued walking for four days, reportedly walking by night and resting during the day, although when they walked through forests they tried to keep moving during the day too. They marched through mountains “full of forests and high cliffs” and had to cross difficult territories, the respondent recounted, “At some point, while we were walking in the dark, I stumbled and flipped and I was about to fall many times”.
After four days of walking, on May 12th 2022 at around 7 a.m, the transit group were reportedly apprehended close to the town Yambol. They had been walking through agricultural fields before, avoiding paved roads but eventually had to cross a bigger road. The respondent recalled how they tried to cross the road running but were noticed and caught by three male officers and one female officer, wearing marine blue short-sleeved shirts, pants and black boots; the uniforms also had a logo of a lion on the left sleeve and had “police” written in white letters on the back and on the left side of the chest. The respondent further described that the officers also carried plastic batons and firearms in their holsters which they aimed at the transit group.
The uniformed people were reportedly sitting in two vehicles when the transit group tried to cross the road. One of them, identified the respondent, was a white car with a blue stripe and Bulgarian writing on the side and “police” written in English in blue letters on the front. The respondent further stated that the brand might have been Dacia. The second vehicle was described as a white and blue coloured Kia with a blue stripe on the side, “police” written on the front in blue letters and lion logo on the side.
According to the respondent, when the transit group crossed the road they were noticed by the uniformed persons, so they started using the car horn, turned on the cars and started driving towards the group and followed them to the agricultural field. As they knew they would eventually be caught, the transit group stopped running after a couple of meters and surrendered, recounted the respondent. The uniformed persons reportedly screamed at the men in Bulgarian, which they did not understand, and then gestured to the group using sign language to sit down while they threatened the Moroccan men with their guns.
Reportedly, the men were proceeded to be searched by the only uniformed woman who also took their phones and handcuffed them; she was also the only one speaking English and asked about the nationalities of the men and where they were planning to go,“We said: we are Moroccan and we want to go to the camp. We said: asylum.” The woman then reportedly looked at the others in uniform, said something in Bulgarian, and started laughing. At this point, no documents were checked.
They stayed sitting on the grounds, handcuffed, at the apprehension site for less than half an hour, described the respondent. Then, another vehicle arrived with three men in forest green uniforms with short-sleeved shirts and sacramento green pants, a Bulgarian flag on the sleeve and “border police” written in white on them, inside. The transit group were reportedly loaded into the trunk of this vehicle. The car was described as a black car with “border police” written in white on the hood and a logo on the side, identified by the respondent as being the same as depicted in image 4.
These men did not talk to the transit group and only addressed the persons in uniform already present at the apprehension site in Bulgarian, recalled the respondent. When asked to describe the trunk into which they were loaded, the respondent recalled that it was about 1 x 2 meters in size, and had windows. The respondent recounted: “We were collided and they told us to keep our heads down and to not look outside […] It was hot inside and we could barely breathe”.
They drove for what felt like one and a half hours to the respondent, describing the speed of the vehicle as very fast, even while driving through hills and on unpaved roads.
As the respondent could see out the window, he was able to describe the landscape they drove through; they reportedly passed by many villages and paved and unpaved roads but due to the high velocity of driving the respondent was unable to read any signs.
They arrived at around 10 a.m. at the border fence, located between forests and unpaved roads. The men were then reportedly unloaded from the vehicle, had their handcuffs removed and were made kneel down on an unpaved road. In total, over nine male men in the same green uniforms as aforementioned were present at the border fence. The respondent noted that all the uniformed men wore balaclavas. Furthermore, at the pushback point, the respondent recalled that there were two black Land Rovers present, including the one the transit group arrived in.
Then, as the transit group kneeled on the group, the men in uniform took a black German shepherd dog from one of the cars. The men in uniforms, speaking Bulgarian amongst themselves, did not give aný orders to the Moroccan men:
“We didn’t obey any order and we didn’t have any order and we didn’t have any seconds to think. They suddenly let the dog on us and started beaten us with the metal baton”
The dog reportedly attacked and seriously injured the members of the transit group. The respondent was the first to be attacked and recounted:
“The dog was biting us everywhere. It held my arm with his teeth and kept ripping on my hand with his teeth. I was begging them in English to stop. They didn’t care and beat my friend and me with a metal baton. […] The dog stayed on me because I pushed him away. He injured me a lot and they didn’t care about us suffering.”
This assault reportedly lasted for more than 30 minutes with dog attacks and beating alternating. The beating was described by the respondent as being random and on all parts of the body. He reported that the uniformed men laughed at them while they were attacked. The serious injuries obtained through the assaults are depicted in images 2 and 3.
Image 2: Injuries obtained through dog attack
Image 3: Bruises obtained through beating with metal batons
Subsequently, the transit group were asked to stand up. Because one of them was crying as he was so afraid, recounted the respondent, one of the uniformed men punched him in the stomach and told him “Money!”.
The respondent recalled how they were then forced to undress and had to stay completely naked for 10 minutes: “Even though we were injured they kept slapping us for 10 minutes”. Their money, backpacks, shoes and water were reportedly taken from them and never returned.
In total, the men were kept at the pushback site for one hour and 15 minutes, and when the respondent was asked whether they were offered any water or food during the whole pushback process, he replied: “Nothing but beating and humiliation – that’s all what we got”. Reportedly, all men in uniforms present at the site were involved in the violent assault and beating.
According to the respondent, after the violent ordeal, an unofficial door in the fence, measuring about 2 x 1 meters, was opened and as the respondent was injured so seriously that he was unable to properly walk he was dragged by his legs by the uniformed men to the door and pushed through it; he was also threatened with the metal baton again and hit twice in order to move faster. All four men were pushed back at around 11:15 a.m. of May 12, 2022.
Reportedly, once in Turkish territory, the seriously injured respondent started walking through the forest for about one kilometer until they arrived at the village Malkoclar where they asked for help and eventually found a villager who called a taxi for the group which took them back to Edirne. The drive lasted about one hour and covered about 75 kilometers of distance. As they had all their belongings and money stolen by the uniformed men during the pushback, an organisation in Edirne paid for the taxi ride.
The respondent finally remarked: “We barely could walk, we lost everything and we had nothing left. Me and my friend could barely walk and I was bleeding from my hand. I was in a lot of pain”.
The intention to claim asylum in Bulgaria was expressed during the apprehension but the only reaction of the persons in uniform was ignorance and laughter.