On the 9th of October a 25-year-old Moroccan was pushed back by Bulgarian authorities from Belevren, Bulgaria to Topçular, Turkey.
At around 10:00 on October the 6th the respondent and three other Moroccan men – aged 22 to 32 years, jumped over the Turkish border into Bulgaria. Two days prior, the group left their previous residence by foot until they reached a town near the border. They travelled for a total of approximately two days before crossing into Bulgaria. Once over the border, the four men walked for nearly three days straight, resting for only six hours during the daytime and walking by night.
Stopping again for a short pause late morning of the 9th, the four men hid in a small forest near the town of Bogdanovo. Overhearing whispers of something approaching, they were soon blind-sided by a group of three officers dressed in unifroms consistent with those of the Bulgarian Border Guard. The time was 11AM. With guns raised at the group, the police began screaming in Bulgarian – telling them to sit, empty out their pockets, and hand over all possessions. The officers reportedly carried three hand-held weapons when they approached the group. Of the phones, power banks, money and bags given to the guards under duress, nothing was given back to the four men. The border guards reportedly drove a green-and-white Jeep with Border Police written on the side.
Physical violence began soon after the group was apprehended. Reportedly noticing the tattoo on a traveler’s hand, one officer gestured to the man’s arm – asking to see it. With his arm now stretched out to display the image, the officer hit his hand with a plastic baton followed by a blow to the shoulder. The men were then told to strip as the officers searched each of them one-by-one. Completely naked, the group were left kneeling in the cold for around 30 minutes before their shirts and pants were returned to them. Ten minutes later, another Bulgarian Border Police jeep arrived at the site.
From the second car, three officers filed out. The officers reportedly wore the same uniforms as those who apprehended the respondent. One officer came directly over to the group of four and began kicking them while screaming in Bulgarian. The four men were then forcibly loaded into the jeep’s trunk. Reportedly the trunk only measured around 1 meter by 1 meter in size, the men were all crammed into the same jeep. At around 12:00 they were driven along an unpaved road to an unknown destination. With limited space and no windows, the four men could barely breathe – colliding with one another given the driving of the officers.
After nearly an hour, the car came to a halt and the group was unloaded from the jeep. Around them, the respondent reportedly saw mainly forest, trees, and a fence with a small door. When the four men were pushed back, the officers unlocked the door in the fence and forced the men back over to Turkey near Topçular. On the Turkish side, the respondent spotted an unpaved road near a river. Bereft of their personal belongings other than a shirt and trousers, the men started down the unpaved road for around three hours before reaching a small town. From there, they continued another seven hours until finally reaching Edirne. The time was around 23:00.
None of the four travellers requested asylum. The respondent reported that, “we heard about what Bulgarian officers do, we were afraid to talk….[worried] that they would kill us and [that] no one would hear about [it]”. From the point of apprehension until pushback, no food, water, or medical supplies were provided by the officers.