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In the middle of the river they [just] told us to jump…

Date & Time 2021-05-09
Location Neo Cheimonio/Elçili
Reported by josoor
Coordinates 41.4513284, 26.5505531
Pushback from Greece
Pushback to Turkey
Taken to a police station yes
Minors involved yes
WLTI* involved yes
Men involved yes
Age 2 - 57
Group size 280
Countries of origin Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt
Treatment at police station or other place of detention detention, beating, personal belongings taken, forced to undress
Overall number of policemen and policewomen involved 32
Violence used beating (with batons/hands/other), kicking, insulting, forcing to undress, theft of personal belongings, reckless driving
Police involved 14 in green sage uniforms; 14 in blue shirt and trousers; 1 green camouflage; 3 in Frontex Uniforms; 3 Hellenic Police jeeps; 2 Green Military Trucks; 4 unmarked Fords; 1 unmarked Berlingo; Balaclavas: Yes - 9 of the 32; Languages spoken: English, German, Greek, Arabic, and Turkish

On September the 5th at 10:00, a 33-year-old Syrian man was pushed back from Neo Cheimonio, Greece to Elçili, Turkey.  

Walking from Edirne to the Turkish border with Greece at approximately 12:00 on the 2nd of September, the respondent and 11 others crossed through the fence at Bosna into Greece with the intention to reach Neo Cheimonio. The group was made up of Syrians and Tunisians, two of whom were women. After 3km on foot, the group took a rest. The next day (03/09) they continued their journey – walking through the night into the next day (04/09). At 23:00 on the 4th, the respondent and his group were blinded by car lights near to Kavili. The respondent described the three vehicles as blue and white with the word ‘Police’ written on them (see Image 1). They were soon surrounded by the jeeps and apprehended by 15 police officers. The respondent reported that 11 of them were dressed in a blue uniform (see Image 2) and one in a sage green uniform (see Image 3). As the lights from a passing car hit the officers, the respondent stated that he could see that the remaining three police wore a Frontex armband along with the single word ‘Polizei’ written on their chests (see Image 4). One of the three Frontex officers was female. 

Image 1: Police Jeeps carrying 15 officers who first apprehend the group of 12 on the 4th of September.
Image 2: Greek Police Uniforms worn by 11 of the officers who first apprehended the group of 12 on the 4th of September.
Image 3: Greek MAT Uniforms worn by one of the officers who first apprehended the group of 12 on the 4th of September and by officers at the detention site.
Image 4: Frontex uniforms worn by three of the officers who first apprehended the group of 12 on the 4th of September.

When the police approached the group, the officers addressed the 12 in English and Greek, asking them how they crossed the border and to confirm their nationalities. When speaking with each other, the respondent reported that the officers used primarily English and German. The officers swiftly confiscated all phones and searched each member of the group while violently screaming at them, commanding them to keep their eyes on the ground. During the search, the respondent reported that certain officers began kicking and hitting the group with a plastic baton. Although many asked for asylum, the officers only responded with beatings while other officers ignored their requests entirely. 

After 30 minutes of subjection to beatings and verbal humiliation, the group was loaded into an old, green Mercedes truck manned by two officers (see Image 5). The respondent described the uniform of one as a green camouflage (see Image 6) and the other as wearing a blue shirt and pants. With all 12 locked in the truck, the group was driven by the two officers on a paved and later unpaved road for 15 minutes. The driving was described as reckless, fast, and intentionally uncomfortable. They arrived at an old building with a yard surrounded only by a few houses and a caravan. It quickly became clear that this space is used as a detention site – which the respondent confirmed its physical appearance akin to the Komotini Detention Center. Before entering the detention site, the group was, again, searched. Inside, the 12 were met by approximately six new officers in a space that was aged and unkempt. According to the respondent, the police were dressed in sage green uniforms including a gun and baton (see Image 2). Of the six guards inside the detention site, two were wearing Balaclavas. 

Image 5: Military vehicle used both at the time of apprehension and the movement of detainees from the detention site to Evros/Meriç River
Image 6: Greek military Uniform used by an officer who drove the initial group of 12 to the detention site

Around 1:00 inside the detention site, the officers lined up the detainees – forcing them first to remove everything from their pockets then all strip. They stood fully naked, even as the children and women in the group were present. People spoke up, imploring the officers to stop, saying “…god is above us and women are watching” but one of the officers only responded with a blow by a plastic baton and violent kicks. When the beatings stopped, the officers returned only the groups’ clothing. They were then forced into a tiny room – no bigger than 4 meters x 4 meters, yet crowded with around 100 other detainees. The respondent reported the primary nationalities of fellow detainees to be Syrian, Moroccan, Iraqi, Afghan, Egyptian, and Tunisian with people ranging from 2 to 57 years old. Of the around 100 people, four were women along with their four children. Within the cell, the detainees had only one toilet, which the respondent described as inaccessible given the degrading condition. The group remained in the cell until around 7:00. In the detention site, the request for asylum was again made, yet again ignored. 

When removed from the cell, they noticed another 180 people – most of whom were reportedly Afghan, gathered in a cage outside. In the front of the detention site were nine officers: seven of whom were wearing sage green uniforms and two blue uniforms. All nine were holding a baton and balaclavas. 

The respondent along with cellmates was loaded in a green military truck  (see Image 5) while the others were forced into four vans. Of the four vans, all were Fords. Three were white and one red. From the detention site, they were driven around 20 minutes initially along a paved road that turned into an unpaved path. Trying to remain standing, the detainees could barely keep balance given the speed of the car. When the vehicle came to a halt, all vans were unloaded. As the detainees were forced out of the vehicles, the officers beat them with branches while cursing at the detainees in Arabic and Turkish as they filed out of the trucks. The respondent now stood along with 280 others at the edge of the Evros/Meriç River. Near to them was a white Berlingo holding a two-meter by two-meter white, plastic boat. Two Syrians, reportedly in civilian clothing, removed the boat from the car and loaded it into the river. Out of the vehicles, the same officers from the detention site ordered the group to kneel and in a line – addressing them in Turkish and Arabic – while checking all detainees one-by-one before loading them into the boat. At this point, the passport of the respondent’s friend (Tunisian) was confiscated by an officer. 

In the boat, 10 people were driven at a time by the two Syrians towards the other side of the river. Before reaching the other side, the group was told to jump into the water which reached around mid-chest. Around them, they could see a small forest near the river’s edge though only reachable by passing two other islands sitting in the Evros/Meriç River. The respondent was one of the last groups to be forcibly loaded into the boat and pushed to the other side. 

Neither food nor medical support was given during the entirety of their captivity.  

After reaching the Turkish side, the respondent walked approximately 1,5 km before reaching a small town on the mainland. From there, he and his companions continued on the 30KM walk until reaching Edirne