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“asylum is in Athens” [and not here]

Date & Time 2020-10-17
Location 40°56'33.8"N 26°21'08.2"E
Reported by Anonymous Partner
Coordinates 40.9426875, 26.3523125
Pushback from Greece
Pushback to Turkey
Taken to a police station yes
Minors involved yes
WLTI* involved yes
Men involved yes
Age 1 - 50
Group size 50
Countries of origin Turkey (Kurdish)
Treatment at police station or other place of detention denial of access to toilets, denial of food/water
Overall number of policemen and policewomen involved 15
Violence used beating (with batons/hands/other), kicking, insulting, threatening with guns, forcing to undress, theft of personal belongings
Police involved 2 Greek policemen, 3 Greek police women, 1 officer in military uniform, 1 Frontex officer, 7 Greek policemen, 1 police woman

Our respondent, a 24 years-old Kurdish man, fled political persecution in Turkey, the country of his citizenship. At around 5 am he was apprehended by a Greek police officer in uniform at the outskirts of Filakto village, about 3 kilometers from Evros/Meriç river, Greece, together with 8 other people-on-the-move from Syria and Afghanistan. The group included 3 Syrian families with women and children, 1 Afghan minor, and 2 Kurdish young men. In the moment when they were apprehended, our respondent secretly wrote a message to one of his friends in Athens, saying that he was caught.

The police officer took the people’s bags and threw them aside, and ordered everyone to kneel on the ground with their hands behind their necks while pointing a gun at them, yelling, and swearing. (One of the people who knew Greek told our interlocutor that he was swearing.) “If one had done something, he would have fired [the gun],” our respondent said. The officer also had a baton and was hitting people on their legs while body-searching them. When he body-searched our respondent, he took his phone, which he was carrying in his pocket, and broke it into pieces. The officer also found 300 euro in our respondent’s pocket, which he took and put in his pocket. He did the same to the rest of the people. 

Then, the officer called the police, and 4 more officers arrived in a grey pickup truck with no police signs on it – one officer was wearing a military uniform and the rest in police uniforms; 3 of them were women. Another officer arrived with a brown jeep – he was wearing a clearly visible light-blue (Frontex) patch on this shoulder and was giving orders in English to other officers. The officers body-searched the people again and took their shoelaces from their shoes. They forcefully nude-searched some people, including women, but our respondent and the other Kurdish refugee refused, so the officers started beating them very hard. [It is worth noting that Kurdish political prisoners in Turkey systematically refuse nude-search as a form of torture and humiliation, so they are not willing to accept it in other contexts either.] They hit our respondent’s arms, legs, and the back of his neck with batons. They attempted to take off his T-shirt, and when he refused, they beated him even more and forced him to take off his T-shirt.

By the order of the European officer, the police put the people in a white van with no windows or seats in the back while beating everyone with batons. They took them to a small police station, after a 7-8 minute-drive. The police put the people in a concrete yard, closed with chains. While they were there 40-50 more people arrived. The place became so crowded that there was no space left for the people to seat down. They were kept there for 12 hours under the sun, without food, water, or access to toilets, not even for children, who had to release themselves right there. 

There were a lot of police officers around. Our respondent told them several times that he is Kurdish and fleeing persecution and wants to apply for asylum, but they refused to listen and said things like “there is nothing like Kurdish here” and “asylum is in Athens.” He showed one of them his Turkish ID, but the officer took it and tore it apart. The children were crying and the police were hitting the chains with their batons to make them stop. 

During that time, our respondent’s friends got a Greek lawyer to call the border police stations and ask for our interlocutor, but since he was not officially registered, the lawyer was not successful in finding out where he was.

At around 6 pm, they put the group of around 50 people onto a cargo truck covered with a tent, where they had to stand up due to the lack of space, and drove them to the Evros/Meriç riverbank. The truck was accompanied by 3 police cars, one in front and two behind the truck. The 8 police officers in Greek uniforms, one of them a woman, ordered everyone to be quiet and made them sit in a line and beat them with batons and kicked them; they only spared the children. When a child started crying, they hit its mother and ordered her to make it stop and hit other people “to release their anger with the child,” our interlocutor told us. The beating and intimidation lasted for about 40 minutes.

The police inflated a 5 meters-long grey dinghy and put it on the river. They attached it to the rope that was connecting the two riverbanks. The officers loaded people 5 by 5 into the dinghy and pulled the rope to get the people to the other side of the river. When our respondent arrived on the other side of the river, he and the other Kurdish person had to be careful not to be caught by the Turkish authorities, as they were fleeing political persecution. Were they caught, they would have been imprisoned for their political activities with the legal pro-Kurdish party. Our respondent had been convicted for 8 years in prison, which would probably amount to much more together with the ongoing trials he had. The two Kurds reached a nearby highway and continued to walk for 8 hours at night, while hiding from the police. At around 4 am, they arrived in a village. They avoided a police station and paid someone to take them to Istanbul by car, which was very expensive. They paid the person when they reached Istanbul where his friends were waiting for our interlocutor.

2 days later our respondent again fled to Greece. He came to military towers, where he gave himself in to the soldiers, and told them that he sought international protection. They brought him to the police station of Feres. The officers there took his fingerprints and personal information and followed the official procedure for the asylum application. He stayed there for 3 days until he was transferred to the UNHCR camp near Orestiada, where he stayed for 43 days, after which he was released with the asylum seeker’s card. 

Our respondent heard that the other Kurdish person with whom he was pushed-back together in their first attempt was pushed-back again for the second time, after which he was caught by the Turkish police and imprisoned. He is to stay in a political prison for 27 years.