The respondent, a 24-year-old woman from Morocco, was pushed back from Bulgaria to Turkey on the 5th of April, 2022. She was part of a transit group consisting of 20 people from Syria, Morocco, and Algeria, all between 20 and 35 years-old. Besides the female respondent herself, there was one other woman from Syria among the group. The respondent had been previously pushed back from Greece to Turkey.
The respondent crossed the border into Bulgaria at about 5 a.m on the 4th of May relatively near to the village of Hamzabeyli. Once they crossed, they ran towards a forest along the Bulgarian border for about 10 minutes, and then walked for three hours. At a certain point they got separated from the rest of the transit group, so it was only the respondent, her boyfriend and a Syrian man walking together. They were reportedly using a map while walking in the forest and saw that they were passing a village (Vŭlcha Polyana) on the right side, but as they were trying to avoid the village and started walking on an unpaved road in the middle of the forest.
According to the respondent, at about 10 a.m., while the group was walking on an unpaved road, a vehicle suddenly approached them. They started running, she and the Syrian man in a different direction than her boyfriend. Three uniformed men then reportedly got out of the car. The respondent and the Syrian man hid between small trees, and her boyfriend was about 20 meters away from them. The uniformed men started walking towards them and discovered her boyfriend first, recounted the respondent. One officer shot his firearm next to the respondent’s boyfriend, then fired one shot into the air to stop him from running. The respondent’s boyfriend then raised his hands and the three officers gathered around him.
When asked to describe what the three men were wearing, the respondent said they wore sacramento green jackets and pants, with a lion logo on their left arm and “border police” written on their backs; two of them were holding firearms and plastic batons. The respondent guessed them to be middle-aged (around 40): one was bald, one had white/grey hair, and third younger man was tall with brown hair.
Then the respondent and the Syrian man were discovered: the officers reportedly immediately began kicking the Syrian man in his shoulder and hit him with the plastic baton. The respondent recalled trying to look away because she was so afraid.
“When they brought my boyfriend next to me, they were slapping and kicking him until he arrived and asked him to kneel down and kept kicking him”.
According to the respondent, the officers the asked the group several questions: where they were coming from, where the other members of the group were, how they did cross and where they wanted to go. The men were talking Bulgarian mostly, with a few words in English, reported the respondent. Her boyfriend answered that they wanted to go to the camp for which he got kicked violently on his chest by one of the uniformed men, recounted the respondent.
The men in uniform reportedly kept insulting the transit group by saying “kushisin ropa”, which means “son of a bitch – you want to go to Europe” (кучи син искаш да отидеш в европа) in Bulgarian. Then the respondent recounted that she was hit by the plastic baton on her knees to make her kneel down on the ground, and her boyfriend and the Syrian man were beaten (kicked and hit with the plastic baton) for about 10 minutes by the officers.
The intention to ask for asylum was expressed but in response, the uniformed men beat the respondents, stated the respondent.
The transit group were then reportedly forcibly searched by two of the uniformed men while the other man was standing beside holding the firearm in his hand. The female respondent stood up to be searched, and she described that one uniformed man touched her back, her leg, and the clothes she was wearing. Another uniformed man searched her boyfriend and the Syrian man. They then had to reportedly get undressed down to their underwear while being kicked by one of the officers. Reportedly, for 40 minutes they were searched, followed by another 20 minutes of waiting, kneeling on the ground, while the uniformed men smoked and talked to each other.
According to the respondent, one uniformed man who was talking English to the group was standing and pointing his firearm at the group the entire time, while the other men that searched them, were using their index fingers to point and to tell them what to do. The uniformed men then reportedly took the transit group’s phones, money and backpacks, as well as the jacket of the Syrian man; nothing was returned to them. In total, they took 50 euros and 20 lev from the respondent and her boyfriend, and 150 euros from the Syrian man. The uniformed man put the phones in their pants pocket, and the other stuff in the front seat of their car.
After one hour at around 11 a.m, the officers reportedly made the group walk to their vehicle and loaded the group into the trunk of the car. The officers were driving a black discovery car, with “border police” written on the front, later identified by the respondent as being the same as depicted in image 1. It was parked about 300 meters away from the apprehension site. When asked to describe the inside of the trunk, the respondent said it was 2 by 1.5 meters in size, and there were two windows in the trunk on both sides; all three people were forced to squeeze into the trunk, but didn’t fit well and kept colliding against each other. The respondent recalled the driving to be fast and reckless along unpaved roads, and the group kept hitting their heads against the walls of the car. On the drive to the border, they passed forest and roads but didn’t see any villages or other landmarks, stated the respondent.
Image 1:Bulgarian Border Police – Discovery Landrovers
After 1 hour at around 11 am, they made the group walk to the car and loaded them in the trunk of the car. It was parked about 300 meters away from the apprehension site. The trunk was 2 by 1,5 meters in size, and there were two windows in the trunk from both sides. All three POM were forced to squeeze into the trunk, but didn’t fit well inside and kept colliding against each other. The driving was fast and reckless on unpaved roads only and the POM kept hitting their heads against the walls. On the drive to the border, they passed forest and roads but didn’t see any villages or other landmarks.
After 40 minutes of driving, they reached the pushback point at the border near the fence. There was an unpaved road between the forest and the fence on the Bulgarian territory, and on the Turkish side, just a forest. The same uniformed men who had apprehended the group were at the pushback site, recounted the respondent. According to the her, at about midday, the uniformed men pulled the group by their hands and shirts out of the trunk and forced them to kneel down for 30 minutes. After this, the uniformed men reportedly started kicking and beating the male members of the transit group again for approximately 15 minutes with their boots. The female respondent was kneeling next to them, but was not kicked and one uniformed man stood next to her, watching her, so that she did not move. She was wearing a jacket, shirt, pants and shoes at that point.
About 30 minutes later, one uniformed man opened a lock and pulled open a door in the fence. The respondent recalled that one officer was holding the Syrian guy by his shirt and pulled him to the door, telling the respondent and her boyfriend to follow them, and the group was pushed back to Turkey through the door. As they went through the door, each member of the group got hit with the plastic baton as an officer shouted at them, “no Bulgaria”, recalled the respondent.
Once in Turkey, the three of them walked for four hours until the arrived at a lake next to a village, where what was described as a Turkish police car stopped them. The car was a blue marine coloured ford Transit with red stripes written “Jandarma” on it, described the respondent. Two men, dressed in blue marine pants, blue and red jackets with “Jandarma” written on their back were in the vehicle. These Turkish uniformed men gave the group water and asked them where they were from, where they were currently coming from, and whether they were aiming to get to Edirne or Istanbul, as they are one hour away from Edirne. The respondent answered that they were coming from Bulgaria and that they wanted to go to Edirne. The uniformed men took them in the back seat and drove them close to Edirne at around 5 p.m. on the 4th of May.
The Syrian man stayed with the “Jandarma” as he wanted to go to Istanbul, but the respondent and her boyfriend were dropped at a place close to Edirne from where they walked towards the city center. They rested for 30 minutes from time to time. They continued walking from a point called “Karahali” to reach the city.