The respondent, a 25 year old man from Algeria, left Edirne to cross the Bulgarian – Turkish border on the 3rd of May. He walked with two other people – one Tunisian man and one Algerian man, their ages ranging from 25 to 27 years old. In the early morning, on the 4th of May, the three men crossed.
The respondent explained that once they were in Bulgaria, they rested in the forest until sunset and walked for about 10 kilometres through green farmlands, a few rivers, and a small forest before getting to a “highway”. The three men reportedly walked on the highway for about 25 kilometres before being apprehended at around 1 AM, as they were at a crossroad near the village of Elhovo.
They suddenly came face to face with what the respondent described as two Bulgarian officers, wearing sage green uniforms with the Bulgarian flag and a logo with two wings on their arms. “They were hiding on the side of the road, it was dark so we didn’t see them coming,” explained the respondent. “They started to yell “down down” in English.”
The respondent and his friends recalled running in the opposite direction of the officers and trying to hide in a wheat field, next to the road. “Me and my Tunisian friend were hiding together in the field while my other friend could run further than us. We could see him hiding far away”.
The respondent recounted how the two officers went back to their car, a sage green Mercedes Vito, which was parked on the side of the road, and got a big torch, which they used to search the fields. First, the officers didn’t find the respondent and his friends, so they went back to their car and drove into the field with the car. “They passed by me, but they didn’t get me, then they parked the car next to the field, and walked again in the field with the torch. They turned the light on me, and found me,” said the respondent.
Once the officers apprehended the two men, they kicked the legs of the respondent’s friend with their “big” boots, before putting them both in metal handcuffs, with one bracelet for each of them. The respondent described how the officers took the two men to the road and ordered them to kneel on the ground. They reportedly proceeded to search them and took all of their belongings: phones, power banks, money (150 euros), chargers, and bags. They also took their shoes. The respondent and his friend had to stay there for about 30 minutes. The respondent recalled the officers speaking in Bulgarian to each other.
After around 30 minutes, the respondent described how three other Bulgarian officers – wearing green jackets with “border police” written in English on them, green pants with two yellow stripes at the bottom of the pants – arrived in a navy-blue Nissan patrol. Once those officers frisked the respondent and his friend again, the respondent recalls being loaded, still handcuffed and barefoot, into the trunk of the Nissan. They were taken away, while the two officers who apprehended them stayed at the location of apprehension.
“The trunk was one by one metre – it was tight for space. There was a tire inside the car, no seat to sit on and there was only an opaque window, we couldn’t see anything.”
After driving for one hour, “very recklessly and fast,” on paved and windy unpaved roads, they arrived at the border, in a forested area near the town of Malko Tarnovo. The officers took off the handcuffs from the respondent and his friend and yelled “Go, go, go”, in English, while beating them everywhere with what the respondent described as a plastic stick.
The place of the pushback was not an ‘official’ door but rather a “small door” in the fence that the officers had to push from the top to open a narrow passage in the doorframe under which the respondent and his friend were made to crawl through to go back to Turkey, recalls the respondent. “There was a lock on this door and they had the key,” he explained.
The pushback reportedly occurred between 2-3 AM. The respondent and his friend spent the night in the forest until sunrise. Around 7 AM, the respondent described how they walked, barefoot, on a tractor’s road in the forest for about three hours before reaching the village of Dereköy. Unable to find any other means of transportation, they kept walking on the highway for another eight hours until someone picked them up and dropped them, after a 35 kilometres drive, at the entrance of Edirne.
When we took his testimony, the respondent hadn’t gotten any news from his Algerian friend who was not apprehended by the Bulgarian officers.