This report is built on the separately taken testimonies of two persons who were traveling and pushed back together.
Both of the respondents are from Morocco; the first respondent is 27 years old, and the second respondent is 19 years old. They were pushed back five times from North Macedonia to Greece.
The two men came to North Macedonia from Turkey in the second half of May 2021. They were traveling in a truck, together with three more people, two from Morocco and one from Algeria. The 19-year-old respondent was the youngest in the group, the 27-year-old was the oldest, while the rest were approximately 26.
They left the truck sometime after midnight at a parking lot about 70 km before Skopje. They were very hungry and thirsty, since they did not have any food or water with them and it was very hot inside the truck. The first respondent, the 27-year-old man, said he was feeling very weak and dizzy by the time they left the truck. According to the respondents, they walked straight into a waiting police car. Since some of the groups were so weak and they expected the police to be friendly with them and help them, they did not try to run away.
The group was ordered to sit down while one of the police officers made a phone call. At the time of the apprehension, two officers were present, both of them wearing blue uniforms, one of them also a vest. The first respondent described the car as a white Ford Fiesta with a small blue stripe at the side. The officers spoke in a language that the first respondent assumes to have been Macedonian. At this time, no violence was used. After a short while, a blue van arrived together with three more officers who were wearing dark jumpsuit uniforms with an inscription the respondents believe to have been in Macedonian.
The group was loaded into the back of the van, where they found a small wooden bench on each side of the trunk. Before they entered the van, they asked the officers for some food and water. The officers offered them a little bit of food and a coca-cola, stating they did not have water. The respondents said they would not take the coca-cola because their stomachs were so empty they were afraid of doing damage to the stomachs by drinking it.
After a short ride of approximately 10 minutes, they arrived at a place that the respondents assume to have been the parking lot of a police station. There, the officers left the car, locked the doors, and left them in the back of the van overnight, without food, water, or the possibility to use a toilet. The first respondent stressed that he was so hungry and exhausted that he even ate toothpaste during this time.
In the morning at around 10 a.m., the officers arrived again. After a ride of approximately 30 minutes to 1 hour, they arrived at a camp. Both the respondents said that they are unsure about the exact times because they were so confused and dizzy from being without food and water for so long. At the camp they asked again for food and water and one officer promised to bring them something, but he never showed up again. The officer communicated in English with them. His uniform had no other insignia but three stars. They asked other officers to bring them something to eat and drink and said they would pay for it, but nobody reacted. One officer eventually gave them a tiny bite of bread, while laughing at them.
At the camp, they encountered one female and four male officers. The officers took the fingerprints, pictures and names of each member of the group, which took about 15-30 minutes. A translator was present, a man of around 27-28 years. The second respondent describes the translator as Syrian, based on the dialect he spoke. While at the camp, the transit group tried to ask for asylum, but the officers did not react to their inquiry. After the procedure in the camp, the group was brought to the Greek border in the same van and accompanied by the same officers. The ride to the border took about 3 minutes. They were ordered to leave for Greece through a gate. In this pushback, no direct violence was used.
The next three apprehensions all took place very close to the border and in a short sequence of time. After the first pushback, the group waited for the police to leave. They still had not drunk or eaten anything, and tried to get back to North Macedonia in order to get some food and water. They were apprehended close to the border by three officers, two male officers that one of the respondents described as “ginger, like English people” and one blond female officer. According to the respondent, the officers spoke neither English nor Macedonian. The respondent said they were driving a grey new Dacia without “police” signs/symbols. He noticed the letters SLO on the car plate (which stands for Slovenia). In this pushback, heavy beating took place both at the time of apprehension and later at the border. According to the second respondent, the officers were wearing metal shoes with which they kicked them on their legs. The female officer threatened them with a stick. They also beat them with fists. The respondents were asked if they saw any flags or signals, the second respondent replied:
“I didn’t remember because they beat us so hard, and if you look at them, if you stare at them, they will beat you again. So we didn’t have any chance to look at them.”
He further stated that they were so scared from the beating that they didn’t ask for food, water, or asylum. The group was taken to the camp again. The officers there recognized them and took their fingerprints again. After the camp, they were taken to the border where they stated they were beaten again. One respondent explains:
“One of our friends he fell down, he couldn’t endure more, and they still beating him, they didn’t care at all. … All of our legs were blue from beating.”
The third time, the group was apprehended again by different officers. The second respondent described them as huge men with shaved heads, wearing blue uniforms, jackets and boots and “had a lot of” guns on them. According to him, they drove a car with a D on the plate (which stands for Germany). The car was described as a 4×4 Range Rover, white with a blue stripe and POLIS written on it. While this information may seem contradictory, it is important to keep in mind that the respondent had been pushed back five times in total and experienced severe violence. Taking these circumstances into account, irregularities in the narrations of the events can occur. It is therefore likely that the car with a D on the plate and the car with POLIS written on it were in fact two different cars.
The respondents stated that when the group tried to run away from the officers, they were caught, got hit over the face with an open hand, and were handcuffed. Consequently, they were again handed over to the officers from the second pushback, the ones with the car with SLO on the plate. The respondent said at the time of the apprehension the officers did not speak a lot, but when the other officers arrived, the two groups were able to communicate easily with each other, in a language that was not Macedonian nor English. This time, the group was not taken to the camp but directly to the border, by the same people from the second pushback. Also this time, they stated that heavy beating took place.
The respondent described the fourth time they were pushed back as more violent. They were taken to the camp again, but no fingerprints were taken. Instead, a female translator said to them that they had been apprehended so often now, they must be smugglers. At one point a phone call was made by one of the officers in which one of the respondents understood the word “Moroccan”.
At the camp, four other people, all from Pakistan, were loaded into the car. When they arrived at the border, four more officers arrived. One of the respondents described them as “some kind of bodybuilders.” The other respondent said they were huge guys with dark uniforms. One of the respondents assumed they were Macedonian, because they were speaking with the other officers in a language he assumed to be Macedonian. These officers asked the group who was from Morocco. The two respondents answered, not being aware of the consequences. While the Pakistani men were ordered to leave through the gate, the newly arrived men surrounded the two respondents and started to use extreme violence against them. The second respondent was beaten the most. He stated that they punched him in the eye, leading him to fall down, and when he was on the ground, the officers kicked him in the mouth. He also stated that they used a baton to hit him. Following this, he says, they opened the door of the car, put his left leg on the door sill, and tried to break his leg by hitting and kicking it. Another officer put his foot on the respondent’s face, pushing it on the ground.
This video shows the respondent’s injured shinbone.
Eventually, the officers opened the gate. The first respondent stated that he was not able to walk and actually had to crawl to the gate. He was slapped and beaten until he managed to get through the gate.
“I couldn’t even see my friend, how they beat him and they beat my friend so bad also. It’s really bad, even to remember.”
The second respondent described the same sequence by saying:
“When I see how they start beating us, I just run away, I didn’t want to stay there, they could kill you with this way of beating. But my friend, they beat him the most, because he couldn’t run away from them, he was in the middle.“
The experience was very traumatic for the respondents. The first respondent who was hit hardest said that his memory and concentration suffered from the incidents. He further said:
“They knew the weak places in the human body to beat us and that happened multiple times and in the last time I just hated myself being African and come to Europe and it was just terrible.”
All of the incidents described so far happened in a time span of two days. After the fourth pushback, the two respondents decided to rest, especially because the first respondent was injured so severely. They went to a camp some 15 kilometers from the border in Greece. We presume that the camp mentioned is Nea Kavala camp for asylum seekers, as this is the closest camp to the border in this area. They tried to apply for asylum in this camp, but were told that only Syrian people would get a chance to do so.
After some days of rest, they started another attempt to cross North Macedonia. They were walking for some days before being apprehended close to the Serbian border, where they were following the train tracks. At this time, they were in a group of six; the two respondents, two men from Afghanistan and two men from Pakistan. They were apprehended, according to the respondents, by two officers, one of whom they already knew from the first time. They said this officer greeted them by saying: “Hello my friends, I already missed you!”. The other officer seemed very insecure and pointed at them with a pistol. The second respondent said:
“We like just praying that they would not give us to foreign police, that was our wish.”
They were ordered to sit down and wait until a van arrived. Upon its arrival, they saw that it was the same van as the one they were locked in overnight during the first pushback incident.
After driving for about three hours, they arrived again at the camp. They gave their fingerprints, were brought to the border and ordered to leave. In this last pushback, no violence occurred. When asked if they tried to apply for asylum in this last pushback, one respondent answered that by this time, after all they had experienced, they knew that there is no point in asking for asylum.
Image description: picture from inside the van, the same van the group also spent the night in during the first pushback
Both respondents said that since they were pushed back five times, encountered so many police officers and experienced such severe violence, they were not always sure about the exact number of police officers, colours of cars, and uniforms. One respondent mentioned Czech police being involved at one point. He said he recognized the flag of the Czech republic on the uniform. However, he was not very sure when exactly he saw them.