The respondents are a 51-year-old man from Syria and his 11-year-old son. The respondents were traveling in a group of 10 people, all of whom were Syrian. The group consisted of only men, one of the men is very sick with kidney disease.
The group started to walk from Edirne, Turkey at 5 pm towards the border with Bulgaria. The group walked for 3 hours to the barbed wire fence, close to the mountains and forest. It was raining and the 11-year-old boy was cold and had a fever. The group jumped the fence and crossed into Bulgarian territory at around 9 pm. Afterward, the group aimed for Harmarli camp.
After walking for one hour, the group had to stop because the young boy was sick. They were resting and taking medicine in the forest close to Elhovo when they were apprehended by 2 Bulgarian officers. The officers wore green shirts with a Bulgarian flag logo as well as the word police written across the back.
The police officers threatened the group with a gun. One officer aimed the gun at each member of the group individually and said ‘don’t move or I will kill you.’
The respondent described that the officers started to beat the group with batons and shouted at them to move fast. While one officer was beating the group the other one was laughing. They did not beat the child but screamed at him to move faster. The officers talked to the group in English and to each other in Bulgarian.
The officers searched the group and confiscated phones, money, cigarettes, and medicine. The older man told the officers that his son had a fever and the man with kidney disease also asked for his medicine to be returned, but the officers ignored them both. The group requested asylum and said they were hungry and thirsty and wanted to go to the Harmanli camp.
The officers instructed the group to put their hands on their heads and walk. They walked for around one hour before reaching a vehicle described as similar to a green Discovery Land Rover.
After reaching the car the group had to wait for another 30 minutes in the rain. After this time another car with 2 more officers in the same uniform as the other officers arrived in a blue car.
The officers reportedly asked the group what their religion was. After finding a copy of the Qu’ran in the back pocket of the respondent’s son one officer said ‘if you Muslim you don’t have to come here; you terrorist don’t come here.’
The officers loaded the group into the back of the car. The trunk of the car was around 2m x 1m in size and the overcrowding in the back caused difficulty breathing. The respondent’s son was crying and was sick at this point. The car drove for around 1 hour on an unpaved road. The driving was fast and reckless and those in the back collided with each other. At some point, the respondent described that his son collided with another man’s head when the driver drifted abruptly to make a turn. The group could not see out of the trunk and everything was locked.
After arriving at the pushback site, they found 4 more officers awaiting them. These officers were also wearing a green uniform with the Bulgarian flag logo on their sleeves. On the back of their shirts, the words ‘border police’ was written. 2 of the officers wore balaclavas.
After taking the group out of the truck they ordered everyone to take off their clothes, each member of the group was left only with underpants. The respondent’s son was scared and was crying as the officers started to beat the respondent with a baton and branches. When the young boy tried to protect his father they started to beat the 11-year-old on the legs with the baton. They beat the group for what felt like 30 minutes to the respondent.
The officers then opened a door in the fence. The respondents stated this was like a garage door that could be opened by pulling it down. One officer said to the group ‘now you go to Arabic Saudi don’t come to us and never come back.’
Both sides of the pushback site were forested, but the respondents could see wind turbines on the mountains in Turkey in the distance.
From the pushback point, the group walked for 4 hours to get to Edirne through the forest. After one hour they passed through a village believed to be Hamzabeyli.
The officers did not at any point give the group food or water, acknowledged their requests for asylum, or take their fingerprints. After asking for asylum one officer said ‘no camp you Muslim don’t have right for camp in here and go to Arabic Saudi it will provide help don’t come to us.’