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31 year old Congolese man removed from Thessaloniki after being in Greece for 6 years

Date & Time 2021-09-11
Location Close to Lavara/Alibey
Reported by josoor
Coordinates 41.2699615, 26.38509
Pushback from Greece
Pushback to Turkey
Taken to a police station yes
Minors involved yes
WLTI* involved yes
Men involved yes
Age 12 - 50
Group size 51
Countries of origin Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Morocco, Congo, India
Treatment at police station or other place of detention detention, denial of access to toilets, denial of food/water, personal belongings taken, denial of medical assistance
Overall number of policemen and policewomen involved 35
Violence used beating (with batons/hands/other), pushing people to the ground, forcing to undress, theft of personal belongings, reckless driving, threatening with dogs
Police involved 2x civilian-clothed officers; 2x white van; 2x civillian-clothed officers (1x man, 1x woman); 1x white van; 4x officers in police uniforms; 1x big bus fit for 40 ppl; 3x officers in police uniforms; 10x officers in police uniforms; police cars (unknown number); police motorcycles (unknown number); unknown number of officers - lots wearing balaclavas, 2x officers wearing police uniforms and in balaclavas; 4x civilian clothed officers; 6x officers - 4x in masks, greek police uniforms, 2x pakistani/afghan officers, no balaclavas, civilian clothes; 1x small rubber boat.

This pushback testimony recounts the removal of a 31 year old Congolese man who was illegally removed from near to Thessaloniki, and pushed back along the Greek-Turkish land border in the Evros/Meriç region, after being in Greece for 6 years. This was the first time he had been pushed back. 

For context, 6 years ago, in November 2015 the respondent arrived in Greece. The respondent applied for asylum in Agios Loukas, Greece in August/September 2016. The respondent explained that he had an asylum seekers card until 2019, but due to negative responses and delays in the appeals procedure – particularly due to COVID-19 – he only had a temporary document provided by his lawyer to prove his legal stay in Greece.

On the 6th of November, the respondent was caught by the police. He had taken a bus from Thessaloniki to Athens at 2.30 pm, and approximately 10 minutes after leaving Thessaloniki, the bus stopped (approximately at 2.40-2.45pm). At this point, two officers boarded the bus. Neither were wearing uniforms and while the respondent could not remember exactly what they were wearing they clarified that it did not look like a formal uniform. The officers reportedly took all the people off the bus who did not have valid documents – which were two individuals, the respondent himself and an Indian man.

The Congolese respondent showed the documents that he had in his possession. The officers said that it was not valid, so he had to get off the bus. The respondent showed his FMI and AMKA to the officers, but it was no use. He tried to explain that he was going to Athens in order to get his new document and that he lived in Athens (his family is based there). The officers reportedly took them off the bus, and then the bus left.

Then, the two officers called other officers to come and spoke in Greek. The respondent speaks a bit of Greek so was able to understand parts of the conversation. These two officers had arrived in what the respondent described as a white van.

After about 5 minutes, one female and one male officer turned up. They were both wearing civilian clothes. These officers presented some form of ID cards to prove that they were in fact police. These officers handcuffed the respondent and the Indian man in metal handcuffs, then were loaded into the vehicle that the new officers arrived in – another white van. Inside the van were just the two of them, and there were seats inside the van. They left, and left the other officers behind.

The drive was estimated to be about 10-15 minutes long. The drivers were driving fast and recklessly. They arrived at a “police station” at around 3pm. He didn’t know the location of this place, but he explained it was a police station due to the signs that he saw on the outside of the building. The same two officers took them inside the station.

Inside the station, the respondent reports that there were four other officers wearing blue uniforms with ‘POLICE’ written in white on the front. The respondent  reports that these officers body searched the two men and took his coins, but not his notes of money. In total the respondent was carrying 3004 Euros, so the officers only took the 4 euros. They also reportedly took his phone, his documents he was carrying, took his belt and also took his laces out of his shoes. This whole ordeal lasted about 2-3 minutes.

According to the respondent, they were then taken into another room where other people were being held. In fact there were two rooms – according to the respondent, one was big (approximately 3 metres x 7 metres) and another smaller one (3 metres x3 metres). The respondent was reportedly placed in a big room. It was only the respondent and the Indian man in the big room until about 10pm at night. At this time a new man arrived, about 30 years old and was from Pakistan. 

The respondent described that both of these cells had a small toilet, and there was a TV in the hallway. They reportedly stayed two nights – an afternoon and night of the first day, and then the second day the whole entire day and then the night, taking them into the day of 8th November. Throughout this time, no one came, no food was given, no water was given. However, he did buy a sandwich with some of the money he had. He explained that he asked the officers to take some money and go and grab him a sandwich – about 3 euros – and they did.

It was about midday on the second day in detention that their handcuffs were reportedly removed, but they do not remember exactly when they were taken off, but it was around midday.

By the end of their time in detention, there were 6 people in the respondents cell and 7 people in the other cell, and in another room there were two Syrian women. There were two children, both Syrian, one was 15 years old and another 12 years old. 

Then on the last day of detention (8th November), they were taken to another place at approximately midday. They were then reportedly taken out of the room and put back in handcuffs, before being put on a big bus, fit for about 40 people. There were no chairs on this bus. Approximately 15 people in total boarded the bus (all of whom were in detention). Everyone was reportedly handcuffed.

The respondent reported that they then left for another police station, and arrived just after sunset. It was a long drive, approximately 6 hours. He could not see anything because the windows were blacked out. The driving was “fast and side-to-side”. 

They arrived at another “police station” and the respondent explained that he could see signs of police station outside, as well as police inside. There were many police inside, but he was not sure of how many as they never went in. However, they were reportedly body searched outside by three officers (new officers wearing the same blue uniform). While being searched they reportedly had their handcuffs removed. 

Everyone was made to sit down in the entrance, but not in the actual police station. When they were checking the other people from the group said to each other that they will probably drive us to Turkey. The respondent got worried and started speaking to the officers in Greek. He said “don’t take me to Turkey. I live in Athens, please take us there”. The officer replied in Greek saying “don’t worry we will not take you to Turkey, we will take you to another camp where you will wait for more instructions”. “Once you are in the new camp you can explain yourself and make your case”, continued the officer. 

The respondent believed the police officer. Eventually, they took all the people inside the police station. The respondent reports that nationalities included Moroccan, and others were Somalian. There were women reportedly included in the group. Some were mothers, some were young mothers but the respondent explained he was too stressed to know how many women there were. There were also children in this group, aged 13-15 years old. The oldest person in the group was about 50 years old.

So on top of the respondent’s group of 11, there were another 40 people, totaling about 51 people in the station together. They were all held in the police station for 30 minutes.

Then the respondent explained that they were all taken in a bus. They were not handcuffed this time. Inside this bus there were no chairs, and there was no one else, just the group of 51.

This bus reportedly had two new officers in it – one in civilian clothes, one in the same uniform as identified as dark blue and white ‘POLICE’ written on it.

In front of the police station, and behind the bus there were lots of different officers – wearing the same blue uniforms, approximately 10 officers.  There were also lots of motorcycles and cars described as white and blue with ‘POLICE’ written on it.

The respondent explained that they drove for about 1 hour on the bus. The driving was reportedly very fast. They arrived at a new location, which was described as a small house with no signs. There were lots of people inside, but the respondent was unsure of the exact number. Outside there were no visible houses nearby, only trees, no lights and no fences. They were not taken inside, instead they were reportedly held in the yard in front of the house.

There were officers in the yard, and although the respondent was not able to say how many because he was very stressed, he recalled that many were wearing balaclavas. Two of these officers in the yard were wearing what he described as blue police uniforms.

The whole bus was subsequently emptied, and all 51 people taken out into the yard. According to the respondent, the group was forced to undress. The women were not undressed, they were just checked, but the children were undressed. The respondent reported violence from the officers in this yard against the group, but they did not beat the children. No one in the group said anything because when they were undressing people they were  reportedly beating them in the face with wooden sticks. There were four officers that beat the group with a stick, and the respondent recalled that they were not wearing uniforms (civilian clothed). Two of these officers were wearing balaclavas and were thought to be Greek. The other two were not wearing balaclavas and were believed to be either from Pakistan or Afghanistan, but he was sure they were not Syrian. This whole ordeal lasted for approximately 2 hours. Their clothes were not returned to them.

The respondent was not able to say how many people were inside the house but could see from the yard/ entrance where they were. He said that it looked like inside the building there were separate cells.

The transit group were then put back in the bus after 2 hours, all 51 people. They were reportedly driven for about 2 hours – very quickly – until they reached the border.

When they arrived at the border there were 6 more officers – 4 wearing masks and wearing the dark blue uniforms. The respondent described these officers as “very strong men”.

Then, the other two officers  – thought to be Pakistani/Afghan  – the ones at the previous detention site – who were without balaclavas and in civilian clothes. These two officers took them all out of the bus.

When they were unloaded from the bus, the respondent said all he could see was trees. There was also a big dog reportedly attached to one of the trees that was very close to the group and scared people. People were reportedly ordered to sit on the ground for two hours. While they sat and waited, the two officers thought to be from Pakistan/Afghanistan went to reportedly check the border to see if there were any Turkish authorities around. They eventually came back, and the group was made to start to walk at about 3 am in the morning on 9th November. The respondent was not able to identify the exact location of where the pushback occurred, but based on time and distance calculated of how long it took him to get back to Istanbul, it was most likely close to Lavara/Alibey.

The respondent detailed that they walked for about 1.5 hours, and it took a long time as they had to keep sitting down many times (ordered to do so) to avoid being seen. When they arrived at the river, there was no one there. But on the other side of the river, they saw the Turkish authorities. The group had to wait 40 minutes to 1 hour until they had gone. 

Then, the transit group were reportedly organised into groups of 10 people, and placed into a small rubber boat 5 metres x 2 metres which was on the edge of the river. This boat made its way across to the other side, ferrying people across in groups of 10 at a time. The two people driving the boat were reportedly the “Pakistani/Afghan” officers. Although there was an engine on the boat, they were not actually using it, instead they had tied a rope across the river to pull them across the river. 

When the respondent made it across with the rest of the transit group, they walked until they found taxis – for approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour. The respondent described that they passed by many houses and lots sheep.

According to the respondent, a taxi was driving past them and stopped to pick them up. The journey took about one hour until they stopped again. They stopped again because they were undressed and they didn’t want to get to Istanbul undressed.