The respondent, a 32 year-old man from Algeria, was pushed back from North Macedonia to Greece on the 3rd of November 2022. He was part of a transit group consisting of two other Algerian men and one Tunisian man, their ages ranging between 27 and 33.The respondent was pushed back twice from North Macedonia within the space of ten days. This report details his second pushback.
The transit group crossed the border into North Macedonia at around midnight. After walking for approximately three days and covering about 40 kilometers they arrived at a town called Valandovo where the group was stopped by what the respondent referred to as “police”. Reportedly, a vehicle driven by three armed “big guys” wearing plain black uniforms “seem[ing] like OPKE from Greece” pulled up next to the group and got out of the car. When asked to further describe the vehicle, the respondent identified the car as a blue and white Dacia Duster with a star marked on it and the words “rider” written in blue font. According to him, the uniformed men began addressing the transit group in North Macedonian but once they realised they couldn’t understand, they switched to English. At this time, the only members of the transit group were the respondent and his friend. The other two were reportedly hiding in the bushes.
They uniformed men then began to ask the respondent and his friend questions like who are you, what are you doing here, why did you come here, what are you looking for? The respondent explained that he replied saying he wanted to go to the hospital and the uniformed men pointed him in the right direction. Before leaving, the uniformed men reportedly took a photo of the respondent and his friend on their personal mobile phones. The uniformed men subsequently left and the respondent and his friend began making their way to the hospital. It was about seven o’clock in the evening.
Reportedly, after the transit group found the hospital, they were instructed to go to a pharmacy near the entrance of the town to buy some medicine. On the way back from the pharmacy, as they were returning to meet their other two friends, they encountered two young men referred to by the respondent as “civil officers”. The men parked their unmarked grey Renault laguna and got out to approach the transit group. The respondent described how they were asked for their documents and questioned in English about where they were from and what they were doing in the town. The respondent reportedly told them that they lived nearby and they were returning from work. Furthermore, he explained to them that they’d just been stopped by other officers that had taken pictures of them and then let them go. Upon hearing this, the “civil officers” reportedly made some calls and subsequently let them go. This interaction lasted about five minutes in total and occurred about half an hour after the first encounter with the men in black uniforms. On this, the respondent noted:
“‘[the police] don’t like migrants or people who are crossing to cross in the middle of the town or the city. They want to push you always to the forest so you don’t cross by the city.”
Following this, the respondent and his friend returned to the rest of the transit group so that they became four again. The group took their backpacks and began walking again for about seven kilometers until they were reportedly stopped by some men in yellow high visibility vests, described by the respondent as “ police [that] are just for the roads”. These men made a call and then told the transit group to go, described the respondent. They continued for about another nine kilometers until they found a place to spend the night.
A few minutes later, at about 1:30 a.m. three men in blue uniforms reportedly arrived at the scene and apprehended the transit group. The respondent believed someone from the area had called them and told them about him and his friends. The uniformed men asked the transit group the same questions as before, where are you from and why are you here. Then they asked whether anyone in the group was injured to which the respondent replied no. One of the uniformed men then reportedly made a call and about 15 minutes later a van arrived at the point of apprehension; it was driven by one other uniformed man.
The respondent stated: “[it] is like a special van for these cases and so every time they call, this van goes from the border to wherever the police are apprehending people, pick them up from there and head directly to the border which is the case with them.”
When asked to describe the van, the respondent said it was a blue van and the interior was made completely of “very strong metal” and it had no windows. According to the respondent, the transit group was put in the back and driven “quite fast” towards the border for about 10 minutes. Once they arrived at a “camp”, the Tunisian man was beaten up by a man in a camouflage uniform because he had found cigarettes in the back of the van and when he asked the Tunisian man where they were, he replied that he didn’t know. He was reportedly hit on his shoulders and in his side. After the beating, the Tunisian man gave the uniformed man his cigarettes, recalled the respondent. Following this, the group were unloaded from the vehicle and had their information collected; their fingerprints and photos were taken and they gave their date of birth, name and family details.
Upon describing the “camp” the respondent said there was a mix of buildings and tents and there were IOM signs pinned up and men in blue uniforms present. There was a Syrian translator present as well asking the group where they were from and how many times they’d attempted to cross the border. According to the respondent, a man dressed in a camouflage uniform was next to the translator holding a “hard green tube” that he used to hit people who said they crossed the border more than once.
When asked if they tried to claim asylum at any point, the respondent replied that his friend asked the translator if it was possible, to which the translator replied “yes it’s possible but for sure you’re gonna spend two years in prison and then after this two years they might push you back.”
When asked whether they were provided with food or water or access to a toilet while they were at the “camp”, the respondent said none of these things were given to the group and that they didn’t ask to use the toilet because they “just wanted to leave this place…we were very cold so we were waiting just when they will let us free and get us back in Greece”. The respondent also mentioned that the man in the camouflage uniform repeatedly came by asking how many times they’d crossed the border and they knew that if they spoke they would be beaten, so they just stayed silent.
Before being brought to the gate, another group reportedly arrived at the site; five Moroccan men who had been apprehended on their way to Serbia were brought to the “camp” to have all of their personal information taken. The two transit groups were then brought to the gate in the border fence and instructed to go back to Greece, described the respondent.
It was about 3 a.m. when the group was pushed back to Greece.