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They were threatening to kill us [...]. They wanted to know who was leading the group.

Date & Time 2023-05-07
Location Land border between Bulgaria and Turkey (no fence)
Reported by Anonymous Partner
Coordinates 41.945981411838, 26.582891832031
Pushback from Bulgaria
Pushback to Greece
Taken to a police station no
Minors involved no
WLTI* involved no
Men involved no
Age unknown
Group size 45
Countries of origin Palestine, Syria, Morocco, Libya
Treatment at police station or other place of detention
Overall number of policemen and policewomen involved 5
Violence used beating (with batons/hands/other), insulting, threatening with guns, forcing to undress, destruction of personal belongings, reckless driving
Police involved

The respondent, a 25-year-old man from Palestine, was part of a transit group with ten other men from Morocco, Syria, Libya and various African countries. On the morning of an unspecified date in mid-May 2023, the group was reportedly apprehended in Bulgaria in a forest close to Sotirya. After the arrest, the transit group was put in a van with 35 other people of Arab and African origins, including women and children, and reportedly pushed back to Turkey in the afternoon on the same day.

The respondent reported that the transit group, initially comprising 15 people, started walking from the city of Edirne. Between 9:00 and 11:00, after walking for approximately 7 km in the Turkish forest, the group was stopped by five to seven officers in green uniforms that the respondent recognised as the Turkish Gendarmerie. The officers reportedly took fingerprints and pictures of the transit group members and their IDs and subsequently let them go after asking them if they were headed to Europe.

After walking approximately 7 km, the transit group reportedly crossed the border between Turkey and Bulgaria at a point without barbed wire or fences. After the crossing, the group stopped to rest for the night.

The following morning, five members of the transit group left. The ten remaining members walked for approximately another 8 km when they decided to get some water in the village of Sotirya in order to continue the journey.

According to the respondent, the five members of the transit group that went looking for water in Sotirya were apprehended by five officers. The respondent reported that the officers were wearing balaclavas and camouflage uniforms with the flag of Bulgaria. The officers reportedly had a pick-up truck that was described as a Mishubisi with two seats in the front and three seats in the back.

Upon apprehension the transit group was reportedly severely beaten, forced to undress, and body searched. The respondent reported that the officers used the back of their guns and their shoes to hit the transit group members. The officers reportedly broke the group’s phone and confiscated a number of the group’s personal belongings including their sleeping bags and their clothes. The respondent said that the beating lasted what felt like 10 minutes.

After the beating, the officers reportedly started interrogating the group members using abusive language. “They were threatening to kill us […]. They wanted to know who was leading the group. We were saying ‘We’re just using our phone’ […] but they were saying ‘No, you need to tell us who is leading the group otherwise we will kill all of you’. […] It got to the point where we confessed that we were a group of ten people and that we decided to split the group: half were looking for water and the rest of the group stayed to wait. After acknowledging this, the officers, guided by one of the members of the transit group, apprehended the remaining five group members.

The respondent reported that during the beating and the interrogation, the officers were insulting the group. “In English, they were saying: ‘Fuck Palestine. I love Israel.’ […] They were also speaking in Bulgarian. I obviously couldn’t understand them but by their grimaces and by the way they looked at us they were insulting us.”

After approximately two and a half hours, a van arrived and the transit group was loaded in it. The van reportedly had already inside approximately 35 people, including women and children, from various Arab and African countries, and it was overcrowded. “When you get into this van, the only option for you to be on it is to stand, and squeeze. There are no seats. 45 people inside”. 

The respondent reported that the group was then transported to the border between Bulgaria and Turkey. The journey took approximately 45 minutes, and the van arrived in the afternoon. According to the respondent, the officers drove recklessly and the section of the vehicle where the group was held did not have windows. “They were driving fast, in the back we were feeling like we were going right and going left.”

The respondent recalled that at the border, there were several cars with five officers each wearing black (civil) clothing. “I don’t think they were Bulgarian officers. They were very big, physically strong, and were at least 190 cm tall.” These individuals reportedly communicated with the group in English and there was one person that spoke Syrian Arabic.

The respondent reported that the transit group was pushed back to Turkey by crossing the land border at a point without fences. During the pushback, the individuals in black were reportedly threatening the group with guns and using abusive language. “They were threatening us not to come back.”

The respondent reported that at no point did he apply for asylum in Bulgaria.

After the pushback, the group decided to walk towards the city of Edirne. The group was reportedly stopped by the Turkish Gendarmie and subsequently taken to Göç İdaresi in Kırklareli. In Kırklareli he was detained in a cell for 15 days.