On the 25th of November around 12:00, the respondent and 119 other people on the move (POM) were pushed back from Mikrochori (GR) to Kiremitçisalih (TK). The respondent, a 25-year-old Moroccan woman, was subjected to a chain pushback first from Bulgaria to Greece on the 24th and then from Greece to Turkey on the 25th.
After living in Istanbul for some years, the respondent and her husband made the journey to the Turkish-Greek border. After traveling to Edirne two days prior, the couple and six other people left the city for the border at around 19:00 on the 21st. In addition to the respondent and her husband, the group consisted of five adults from Morocco and one Tunisian all aged from 20 – 28 years old. The respondent was the only female.
They reached the Turkish-Greek border after two hours and crossed at approximately 3:00. They walked for three hours into Greek territory. Drenched from the rain and exhausted from the biting cold, the group found a spot between trees to sleep. To avoid being spotted, the group slept through the day, waking again after nightfall and making their way to the Greek-Bulgarian border. The next morning, the group of eight continued walking. At around 21:00 on the 24th, the group reached the Greek-Bulgarian border.
Near to Petrova, the group crossed into Bulgaria and found a place to rest. Moments later, lights streamed over the group. “We could do nothing but sit and raise our hands so that they would not beat us.” As the lights approached them, the uniforms became clearer. All of the four men were wearing green pants and jackets with ‘Border Police’ written on the back. Each held both a gun and baton in hand. In English, the officers ordered the group to sit and put their heads on the ground. With each other, the officers reportedly spoke in Bulgarian.
The officers searched the bags of each person, including their phones. The belongings were not returned. Next, the officers demanded that all shoes be removed and handed over. With neither reason nor apology, the eight pairs of shoes were then burned in front of them. The seven male group members were forced to strip naked – leaving them fully nude in the cold for 30 minutes even while the respondent stood near to the men. Only shirts and pants were returned. Soon after, the respondent was searched by one of the male police officers. “They kept touching me,” she reported. “I stopped him and showed him that I don’t have anything then he took my jacket and burnt it.”
With the embers still hot from scorched shoes and jackets, the eight were loaded into the back of a black Landrover (see Image 1). The trunk was reportedly no larger than two by two meters. Nothing could be seen outside. The officers drove around five minutes before stopping and unloading the group. Outside, the respondent could see very little but confirmed that she was somewhere in a large forest on a mountain. The officers began violently attacking the men – punching, kicking, and beating them with plastic batons. The respondent looked on, deeply distressed and as her husband and the others were brutally abused. In between the blows, the officers turned back and screamed at her, “shut up mother fucker!” The violence lasted for 15 minutes. When the beating finally ended, the officers pointed towards Greece and said, “that way”. The officers waited to leave until the group had begun walking. Cold, shoeless, and battered, the group of eight headed into the night. No food, water, or medical support was offered. Fingerprints were not taken and no translators were provided.
Pushing forward, the group reportedly tried to find Greek police somewhere in the mountains. The respondent reported, “it was so cold that we almost died.” After five hours, they stumbled upon a church and a few houses. They first asked a resident to call the police before asking them for bread. The phone call was made, yet no food was given. The time was around 4:00 on the 25th of November.
When the Greek police arrived, they ordered the eight people to sit down while they searched their pockets. The two officers wore blue jackets with ‘police’ written in white on the chest and a Greek flag on the shoulder. They drove a blue-and-white car with ‘police’ written along the side (see Image 2). When sitting, the officers reportedly violently kicked the men with their boots, talking to them “as if [they] were animals”. At one point, one person requested that they be taken to a camp. The officers responded by slapping the man. The group was kept outside for around 20 minutes before a large, unmarked white van arrived. Inside the van, the respondent found two additional officers wearing olive-green uniforms (see Image 3). The driving was reportedly extremely fast, mainly along a paved road.
Driving for around one hour, the van came to a stop near what looked like a garage with aging walls. Around the building, the respondent confirmed there was a fence and woods. Standing in front of the building, the respondent found three male officers and one female officer dressed in the same uniform as those driving the van. Before entering, one officer asked all group members to remove their clothing. The men were reportedly told to strip naked, at which time all remaining cigarettes and money were taken. Only their shirts and trousers were returned. The respondent was separated from the men and searched by the female officer in a small, private room. After a full body search, everything was returned to the respondent. The time was around 8:00 on the 25th of November.
Inside the detention site, the group of eight were forced into a cell no bigger than six by eight meters with a mud floor and unclean toilet. Another eight people were already being held in the cell. In the hours that followed, another 75 people were forced into the cell. The age range spread from four to 50 years old and included people from Syria, Palestine, Morocco, Sudan, Afghanistan, and the Ivory Coast. By 10:30, there were around nine minors and eight women, including the respondent. In the waiting hours, the police abuse continued when one of the detained people was caught smoking. When identified, the officer held a lighter in the palm of the man’s hand and began beating him over the head. He kept on for five minutes. He then turned back to the men – hand already burnt from the lights, and forced the cigarette down his throat. Dropping the cigarette, the officer then picked it up and yelled at him to continue eating it. The screams from the man’s pain enveloped the cell.
At around 11:00, the group of 75 were moved from the cell into a green military truck (see Image 8). In the back of the truck, they found another 45 Syrians and Moroccans aged between 20 – 25 years old. Of the two officers in the truck, one was reportedly dressed in full green camouflage while the other wore a camouflage vest (see Image 9). The two officers beat the men with sticks as they forced them to pile into the trucks. “They treated us as if we were animals,” reported the respondent. When asked whether she could see anything, she only answered, “no….the truck was locked, like we were sheep.” The engine soon started, with the two officers driving the 120 people along an unpaved road towards the Greek-Turkish border.
They arrived 30 minutes later to the side of the Evros/Meriç River. The pushback point according to the respondent’s description, as well as a video of the area he took, suggests it is 41°19’32.7″N 26°35’46.9″E, an island in Evros
There, 12 additional officers were waiting for them. Of those wearing uniforms, three officers wore olive green jackets and four wore camouflage with a Greek flag on the shoulder. These seven officers had large firearms. The remaining five wore plain clothes. As the whole group were released from the trunk, the officers told the women to sit separately and for the men to sit in rows of three. Each person was, again, searched and possessions taken from them. The officers beat the men with branches. When the women were searched, the respondent reportedly directly gave up the money she still had hidden.
“I saw how the officer was searching the woman in front of me…he kept touching her sensitive places and I was afraid he [would] do the same [so] I immediately gave the money without letting him touch me.”
The officers then began loading people into the two-by-three-meter camouflage boats. With around eight people inside — including two officers dressed in plain clothes — they set off across the river. The time was around 12:00. In the boats, the officers reportedly spoke Syrian Arabic to the group. They were each holding balaclavas. Once they reached the other side of an island in the Evros/Meriç River, the group was told to get out onto the island. The water was shallow enough to walk through to get to the Turkish side from the island. When they reached land, the respondent walked along an unpaved road until arriving in Kiremitçisalih. They then took a taxi to Edirne.
No food, water, or medical support was offered. Neither fingerprints nor photos were taken.