The respondent, a 25-year-old man from Morocco, was traveling with a transit group consisting of two other men from Morocco aged 22 and 23, when he was apprehended and pushed back from Bulgaria to Turkey. The respondent has been pushed back four times from Bulgaria to Turkey. This testimony recounts the events of the respondent’s fourth and most recent pushback from Bulgaria to Turkey.
The transit group left from a village in Turkey called Dereköy in the province of Kirklareli and crossed over the border into Bulgaria at 11 o’clock on the night of the 24th of October 2022. On the 26th, after walking about 87 kilometres over the course of two days, they were walking along a path in a forest near the city of Burgas when they were intercepted by two uniformed men. The respondent described the uniforms as “very dark blue” with a white flag on it and he further stated that they were driving a white 4×4 Hyundai civic car with blue lines on it. When asked what language the uniformed men spoke, the respondent replied that he didn’t understand the language but assumed it was Bulgarian.
The respondent recounted how the transit group first spotted what he referred to as “the police” while they were standing next to their vehicle in a large flat open space in the middle of a wooded area. One uniformed man was reportedly standing behind the car while the other was by the side doors. As described by the respondent, when the officials spotted the transit group, one officer pretended to hide to try to get closer to the group, but once they began to run he started shooting his gun in their direction. This occurred at about five o’clock in the afternoon.
The respondent then fled while the officers ran after him. He hid in the woods in a “squat” for approximately an hour before attempting to cross again through the area where the uniformed men were present. They thought the officials had left, explained the respondent, but when they went back they were ambushed and apprehended by the two uniformed men. The respondent reportedly ran away while his friends were caught and beat up. The respondent then described how he feared he would be shot, so he turned around and went back to where his friends were apprehended: “he shoot one next to me very near me and then he was like holding the gun on me so if I moved he probably shoot me so I had to come back”. He then stated: “I got back to my friend they started beating us up”.
According to the respondent, the transit group were forced to take their shoes and pants off before they were searched by the uniformed officials and had all their belongings including, their money and phones, stolen from them. Following this, they were forced to walk “almost naked’ in the direction of a vehicle parked nearby. The respondent recounted how they were beaten the entire time they were in the custody of these uniformed me. When asked for how long, he responded: “I don’t know, they were the whole time beating us up. Also, when we were walking.” The respondent further explained: “they didn’t use any weapons to beat us but when they were beating us up and kicking us everywhere on our body”. Moreover, they were reportedly armed with pistols which the respondent described as “very scary”.
After about a half an hour of walking and beatings, they arrived at the blue and white Hyundai. The transit group were then loaded into the vehicle and driven for about a half hour until they reached a detention site described by the respondent as “an army base”. The army base was surrounded by trees and was situated near a highway, according to the respondent. Reportedly, they were unloaded and brought to a toilet which was used as a form of cell. Here, they found another transit group consisting of a 28-year-old woman and her 36-year-old husband, along with eight other young Moroccan men, ranging from 20 to 32 years-old.
There were between six and eight authority figures present at the detention site. According to the respondent, they were all wearing army camouflage uniforms with black balaclavas. There was reportedly no translator present and the officers did not speak to transit groups; the respondent believed they were speaking Bulgarian amongst themselves. When asked if he tried to claim asylum, the respondent replied: “They didn’t give a sign, there was nobody in there to translate and we was scared to talk to them. We didn’t ask for asylum. They just hold us, they didn’t give us anything. They didn’t give us food, they didn’t give us water.”
After about an hour and a half of being locked in this toilet, they were released and brought to where two 4×4 army camouflage trucks were parked. When asked to further describe these vehicles, the respondent said that there were no benches or anywhere to sit in them, and the inside was made completely of metal and without any windows. The respondent then described how the transit group was forced by the uniformed men to get into the cars (five people in each car) while they were being beaten and kicked. Each truck had three officers in balaclavas present, and the respondent described how the condition of the driving was “quite fast… and crazy in the forest which is not a good road”. The respondent also noted that they did not have shoes on this whole time because they were not returned to them when previously confiscated.
The transit group were driven about a half hour before they reached the push back location along the border. Once they vehicle pulled up, the respondent described how the transit group was instructed to get out of the car and get down on the ground on their knees before they were searched again by the uniformed men. “Every time they body searched us they take all of our clothes, they searched us, then they give us our clothes back but without the shoes. Two times. So this time they did they same thing: took our clothes.” The woman was also body searched but according to the respondent, she was separated from the rest of the group and driven about one kilometre away to be searched; all her jewellery and her phone was confiscated by the uniformed men.
Following the body search, at about 12:30 at night on the 26th of October, the transit group was pushed back to Turkey through a gate in the border fence, recounted the respondent. “One by one we were entering this gate to Turkish side and when it’s your turn, either you get kicked or you get hit or something, and then you go back.”
After being pushed back, the transit group walked for 36 kilometres along a highway until they met some people that had come from Istanbul and were returning back that day. They paid the driver 50 euro to bring them back with him to Istanbul.