The respondent and his three friends crossed from Edirne on 17th November 2021 at approximately 9pm. All of these men were from Algeria, aged between 20 and 35 years of age. They walked through Greece to Orestiada, hiding between trees on the way to try to avoid being seen by police or local citizens on their way. It took them around five hours, walking approximately 20 kilometres.
The respondent explained that when they arrived, they hid near Orestiada. They checked on a map where the bus station was and they changed their clothes and went into the city to get a ticket for a bus at about 8 am on the morning of 18th November 2021. They left their bags at the place they rested at.
The respondent said that they were able to buy tickets, and that when the bus arrived they got on, but it did not move. A few minutes later, an officer reportedly came on the bus and started calling out their seat numbers and then asked them (the four men) to get off the bus. This officer was reportedly wearing a green olive coloured uniform, with “police” written on his shirt, along with green pants and was wearing glasses.
The officer asked the group of four for papers and their passports. They responded saying they did not have either, to which the officer asked them where they were from. They explained they were all Algerian. Then they were made to stand near a wall. This officer spoke to them in English, but broken English.
The officer asked them “Why did you come here? Where do you want to go?”. They said “Germany”, and he said “oh, Germany is nice”. Then the officer reportedly took a picture of them individually with his phone. This process took about 15 minutes, and they were not searched at this time.
After 15 minutes, what the respondent described as a Black Ford van arrived, which had no signs that it was an official police car. This vehicle had a number plate on it but the respondent explained that he could not remember it. The group were reportedly loaded into the van. With this van came two new officers – wearing sage green shirts and trousers, and they were reportedly not wearing balaclavas.
According to the respondent, people were able to see them being loaded into the van, as well as when the officer was speaking to them when they were lined up against a wall. The van was empty bar the group of four men. They were reportedly driven for 5 minutes along a paved road. The officer who took them off the bus did not come with them. They were not able to see anything on the way as you could not see out of the van. The respondent remarked that the driving was fast.
According to the respondent, they arrived at the detention site at around 9 am. The van dropped them in front of the door of the detention site. When they got out of the van they saw they were in a small yard, which surrounded the building. Around the yard there was reportedly a 2 metre barbed wire fence. This building was next to a paved road, as well as houses, and the respondent noticed “two caravans” as well. On the building, there was a Greek flag. The respondent was shown an internal document of official detention sites in Greece, but he did not recognise any of the detention centres.
After they were unloaded from the van, the transit group were ordered to stop near a wall. Two officers, wearing gloves, started to search us. The men were reportedly ordered to undress completely. Their phones were taken from them, as well as the rest of the respondents’ money, and their clothes were searched while they were left standing completely naked. This ordeal lasted an estimated 20 minutes.
After this, the respondent said that he had his trousers and shirt returned to him, which is the same as the other 3 men. There were 7 officers (including the two mentioned above) around the detention site, with one of them being female. These officers were wearing the same green uniforms are described previously. An officer in an olive green shirt and trousers officer took them to the cell, reportedly around 5m x 5m in size. When they reached the cell, it was just them who were placed inside it and found no one else in the cell. The cell was dirty on the ground, and the smell of the toilet was described as horrible. There was a small window at the top of the cell, which they described only being able to see broken cars and trees out of. There were four bunk beds inside the cell, but with no mattresses on the beds themselves. The respondent said that they stayed there and tried to rest, but one officer came in and started speaking to them in English. His friend translated to the rest of the group explaining that the officer had asked if they wanted to work for the Greek police. Nothing more was explained, just telling them that they wanted them to work for the police. The group refused the offer.
The same officer kept talking to the friend about working for the police. Then after two minutes the officer reportedly screamed at one of the group members to sit, because this friend did not answer the officer.
They were detained in that cell “all day and all night” for approximately 20 hours. Every hour the officers reportedly kept bringing more and more people. By the end of the 20 hours, the cell was detained with more than 80 people. The nationalities of the group were described to be Palestinian, Moroccan, Algerian and Yemeni, aged between 9 to 60 years old. There were between 12-13 minors, aged as young as 9 – either unaccompanied, or with families – and there were 5 women. The respondent explained that female officers had searched the women, but they were not forced to undress. The reason the respondent knew was that he overheard one of the women saying to someone else, “She even took my ring” (talking about being searched).
At about 2 am the following day (18th November), one new officer opened the cell door, and another new officer who accompanied him was holding a branch – one was wearing a blue shirt and trousers and opened the door, and the other in green trousers, black jacket and balaclavas who held the branch. These officers started to take the group out of the cell. They were reportedly ordered to walk out one-by-one in a line. “If you look anywhere they slap you” explained the respondent. The officer with the branch reportedly waited in the corner of the hallway to hit them. The respondent remarked the women and minors were also hit.
Outside, they found two vans in the yard. All 80 people were loaded into them. There were many officers – approximately 17 – holding branches in the yard. These officers mostly wore civilian clothes and balaclavas (in total approximately 6), but 2 wore green trousers, black bulletproof vest and balaclavas, and 4 others were wearing a olive green jacket and trousers, and 5 in camouflage green without balaclavas. The respondent also noted that there was a Greek flag on their arm, a logo on the camouflage uniform. Two of these officers stood at each van door and these officers hit them as they were being loaded into the vans, to make it “fast” explained the respondent. The respondent was behind his friend, and the balaclava wearing officer asked his friend where he was from. His friend remarked Palestinian, and then this officer reportedly started beating him with a branch. Then, he described that he was kicked in his chest multiple times and they kept hitting him until he got in the van. This lasted 3 minutes in total.
The vans were old and white, and it was thought to be a ford. One was slightly bigger than the other. The back was not big enough for 40 people and the group were crammed in together. “We couldn’t get our balance because your foot is stuck to another once the van start moving everyone start fall to each other”, explained the respondent.
They were driven to their pushback point, which ended up being at the Evros/Meriç river. This drive took about 20 minutes until they arrived. The driving was fast and reckless, and it was along an unpaved road. “He didn’t reduce speed when he drift and there were women with us. There wasn’t a place were to sit and we just tried to keep them safe, to not get hurt” explained the respondent.
According to the respondent, when they arrived at the pushback location, they parked the vans and everyone was taken out and gathered together – everyone was brought to the same point. The respondent described that there were 7 “soldiers” wearing camouflage jackets and trousers and holding weapons, and maybe 8 people wearing civilian clothes and balaclavas.
Then, the officers – 6 of them – reportedly wearing civilian clothes and balaclavas, speaking in Turkish and Arabic (in a Syrian accent) – started beating them with branches. The respondent said that the group of people had done nothing to provoke the beating, but they were just taken from the van and ordered to sit and then the beating started. Some of the women were reportedly beaten, and so were the children. The beating lasted around 1-2 minutes in total.
This location was described to be surrounded by trees – on both the Greek and the Turkish side. They were about 200 metres from the water’s edge. The respondent explained that he could see the light of a mosque when they looked over to the Turkish side. One of the respondent’s friends explained that they were close to Kapikule (but on the Greek side they could see all of this). He said “Thank god we are not far from Edirne” – he knew this as his friend had been pushed back two times in the past month. After they were beaten, they were reportedly forced to stand in a line before they were forcibly searched. After searching people were walked to the river’s edge before being loaded into a boat.
The respondent explained that everyone was searched before they were loaded into a boat – including the women, who were searched by men as there were only male officers there. They took the respondents’ sneakers and left him barefoot. He had his shirt and trousers given back to him. Everyone was searched for one hour. The officers at the river’s edge were saying a few words in English like “go” and “line” but they did not talk much. “They did not even raise their voice” explained the respondent.
Then, the respondent explained that they were loaded into the boat, 9 at a time, which was already prepared at the water’s edge. It was plastic, maneuvered by paddles, about 2 metres x 1.5 metres in size. There were two officers in the boat wearing balaclavas, from the same officers mentioned before, who drove the boat. So in total there were 11 people in the boat. The respondent explained that he felt the boat could “flip at any time” as it did not feel stable.
“They kept telling us to shut up, but in the boat the two officers driving the boat when he told us to jump into the water spoke in a proper Syrian accent [in Arabic].”
The respondent was in one of the last groups that crossed the river.
The water was running fast in the river, and the driver did not know where to drop the group, as per what the respondents said, so his group was asked to jump after about 4 metres of paddling, still far from the Turkish side. “He asked us to jump”, he explained, “when I jumped I lost my balance. I start thinking it is my last day I was so afraid to die and alone far from my family just cause I was looking for a fair life”. The water level was deep, too deep to walk properly but the water level was just below their chests. “I barely could make it to start jumping in the water to arrive to the other side”. He said that everyone made it across as the men in the group carried the children on their shoulders and the men held the women to help them cross the river.
After they crossed onto the Turkish side, the respondent explained that it took them over 6 hours (walking 25 kilometres 30 kilometres) to get to Edirne city. His friend knew the road to Edirne as he had done that walk before.