The respondent, a 28-year-old Algerian man, was pushed back from North Macedonia to Greece between the 1st and 2nd of November. The respondent was part of a transit group that consisted of three other Algerian men between the ages of 25 and 30.
The transit group crossed over the border into North Macedonia as the sun was setting at around 6 p.m. Once in North Macedonia, they walked for about five days in the direction of the capital, Skopje. The respondent recalled how it took them a long time to walk a short distance because they were crossing mountains and wooded areas so as to avoid any interaction with police or authority figures.
On the fifth day, about 80 kilometres away from the capital, they began to search for a place to sleep for the night. At around 12 o’clock, they were walking in a wooded area along a road when a vehicle described by the respondent as a white car with police written in blue on it pulled up beside them. The respondent had encountered authority figures before during his journey, but this was the first time he had been apprehended.
Three armed men all wearing dark blue uniforms with torches got out of the vehicle and apprehended the transit group. As it was dark when they were apprehended, so the respondent could not make out any flags or logo displayed on the uniforms. He did not know the language spoken by the officers, but noted that one member of the transit group communicated with the authority figures in English. Reportedly, the officers then called for back up and gave the transit group water and cigarettes while they waited in the woods for the second vehicle to arrive.
After 10 minutes, another blue, brand new looking van with writing on it that the respondent could not understand, reportedly arrived at the scene. A man in the same uniform as the men that originally apprehended the respondent was driving the van. He was reportedly the only person in the van and he was carrying a baton. The respondent recounted how the transit group was told to get into the blue van and the uniformed men told them “good luck” in English. He said that because they were following orders, no one in the group was handcuffed. The van was then driven by the man with the baton for about 20 to 30 minutes until they arrived at what the respondent described as either a “police station” or a “camp”; he couldn’t tell.
Upon their arrival, recalled the respondent, the transit group was taken out of the vehicle and beaten with a baton by the uniformed man driving the vehicle. They were then reportedly brought to a little office with a small window where they had all their personal information, photos and fingerprints taken. During this procedure they were accompanied by a Syrian translator who helped them to fill out the forms and understand what was happening, recalled the respondent. When asked how many officials were present at the detention site, the respondent said there were seven or eight men dressed in the same uniform as the men who apprehended the group originally, and only one singular man had three stars on each shoulder.
There was already another transit group consisting of seven men from Morocco and Syria present at the camp when the respondent and his transit group arrived. The respondent explained that there were three minors present in the group, and the ages ranged from 16 to about 23.
For the entire two hours that they were detained, the respondent stated that they were not provided with food, water or access to the toilet. When asked if he had asked to claim asylum, the respondent replied that he asked the translator because he didn’t understand the officers. He described how the translator told them it would take two years in prison before they would even have a chance to claim asylum.
At approximately 2 a.m. the two transit groups were loaded into the same blue van as before with the same driver as before and brought to a gate in the border fence, recounted the respondent. At this point, he realised that the camp was very near the border because it was such a short drive (about 20 minutes) from there to the border fence. When asked to further describe the van, he said it was completely made of metal on the inside with two benches, cameras and no way of seeing outside. They then pulled up 20 meters from the border fence where an officer with a torch opened the van doors and instructed the transit group to get out and walk to the gate in the fence. Once they reached the fence they were pushed back into Greek territory.
The respondent explained how after he was pushed back he walked to Polykastro and got a train from there to Thessaloniki.