This report contains two testimonies from the same pushback that occurred on the 10th of April, involving 120 people on the move.
The respondent, a Tunisian 35 years old man, was travelling with 12 other people, including two women, from Tunisia, Morocco, Syria, and Palestine. The age range of the group was between 23 and 50 years old. They crossed the Greek – Turkish border from Meriç, crossing through the Evros/Meriç river.
After they crossed the border, the respondent and his friend walked two days and one night in Greece. “We made around 40 kilometres. Our GPS didn’t work, so we got lost”.
It was night time, they had already crossed a forest and they were on an agricultural land, when they were apprehended by 7 or 8 officers wearing sage green uniforms, with a Greek flag on their arm, driving a white “Renault” and a green “Mercedes sprinter”. The respondent couldn’t be specific about the location of the apprehension but he could see the light of a city not too far from them.
As soon as they caught the whole group, the officers started to hit them with branches from the trees, they took their phones and asked them to take their bags off.
“They hit us everywhere, on our heads, backs, shoulders, arms. They didn’t care. They beat us as if we did a crime. You can’t imagine how much hatred was there. They even beat the women, they hit the 50 years old man who was with us. The women were screaming. It felt like this was a retaliation.”
The respondent said that the officers didn’t speak any other language than English and Greek. “But an officer kept saying “arab dog” to us in non-fluent Arabic”.
Then, the officer loaded the whole group in the Mercedes sprinter where there was no place to sit, and drove for about 10 minutes. “The driver was reckless, he took the turns at high speed on purpose. We hit both sides of the car”, recalled the respondent. The driver went alternately on paved and unpaved roads until the car reached a detention site. “There was no sign to show that it was an official police station or detention site”. The respondent recalled that the place was located “near the Turkish border and the river”. “There were houses and a parking lot near the building, and two big metal waste containers were used as doors in the entrance of the building”. Inside the building, there were two cells, one office, and a room used to search the women. “It looked like an abandoned house”, recounted the respondent. “The officers moved us inside so fast, that we couldn’t see too many details of the place. But there was a small forest near the building”.
At this detention place, there were 4 officers, including one woman wearing a blue uniform with white rectangles shapes where it was written “police” in English, and three male officers wearing sage green uniforms. “The female had yellow [blonde] hair, blue eyes, and was in her forties 40”, remembered the respondent.
The group was taken inside the building and everybody was forced to take their clothes off. “They even asked us to take off our underwear, we were naked. They kept hitting us even if we did all that they asked”. The two women of the group were kept in the room when men were naked, then they were taken to another room where they were searched by the female officer.
Then the officers put the whole group in one of the two cells, where there were already about 80 people, coming from Syria, Afghanistan, Morocco, Tunisia and Palestine. They were sitting on the ground. Two of them were in their fifties, the rest of the group was in their twenties. “Also, there were about six minors, who were under 17 years old, maybe 14 or 15. And they brought one more woman in our cell when I was there”. There was another cell that was full of people as well.
The cell where the respondent was detained was about 7 metres by 4 metres.
“We were so crowded. The room could not accommodate more than 50 persons. It was stinky and on the wall were written many different names in many languages.”
Also, there was a small window through which the respondent could see that there were cars in a parking lot. Among the cars parked, there were a Golf IV and a Hyundai. “And maybe only 60 meters away, there were houses. I guess that detention site was in the outskirts of a village”, said the respondent.
He and his group spent one night and one full day in the cell. In the detention site, the officers did not talk to them, they did not give any food, or any water either. The officers didn’t provide a translator, they didn’t take the fingerprints of the people, and didn’t ask them to sign any paper.
“They only told us to shut up. At the beginning, I kept asking for asylum but they laughed at me, they took my passport and my friends’ passport and ripped them. I told them: if I crossed illegally then, take me to prison”.
Then after one night and one day, around 8:00-9:00 pm, 11 or 12 officers came to take all the detainees, approximately 120 people, out of the cells. The respondent said that he saw that there were children detained in the other cell. Seven of the officers wore camouflages uniforms and balaclavas, one who looked old was wearing civilians clothes, 2 or 3 were wearing a blue uniform, there was the Greek flag on their arms, and one officer had a military sign showing “his rank” on his shoulder and “it was written police in English on it”.
Before loading everybody in four Mercedes sprinters, the officers hit everyone, including the women and the kids, on their back with a baton. “In my car, they loaded about 30 persons, we were so crowded inside”. The drive was fast and reckless and took about 10 minutes mainly on paved roads.
“They took us to a first point but they found out that the Turkish soldiers were there so they loaded all of us again in the vehicles, while hitting us to force us to get back faster in the cars.”
The people have then been then brought to another place, in a forest, near a “military road to control the border” where there was a short barbed fence. There, there were more officers, up to 12, some wearing green camouflage uniforms and balaclavas; some wearing camouflage uniforms only, driving a big military truck. “There was a small entrance in the fence and they made sure that it was clear to make the pushback fast,” said the respondent who recalled that there was a white vehicle (navarra) with no plate number on which there was a plastic boat with an engine that was about 3 metres long.
The officers put the boat in the river and loaded the people into the boat, 8 people at a time. “They were one more officer driving the boat and one watching us, one wearing balaclava with civil clothes and the other wearing green camouflage”, said the respondent. “The water was coming inside the boat and the river was running fast, I was afraid.”
“They pushed the ones who were scared to jump, the officer watching was holding a weapon to threaten us. I was about to drown before to reach the island.”
All the people could however manage to reach the island but then they got stuck on it.
“The Greek officer who was driving the boat told us “go right, it’s not deep and it’s only five meters to get to the Turkish territory” but we were too scared to cross, so we didn’t move that night. One of us managed to hide a lighter so we could make a fire to warm us up a little.”
The following day, after sunrise, one young Palestinian man did try to make his way through the water following the indication given by the Greek officer but he drowned in the river. The whole group got stuck on this island for two days with no food and no water. Among the group, there were Syrian children, aged 6, 7, and 10 years old. There was also an old man in his sixties.
The group was eventually rescued by the Turkish soldiers who helped them to cross the river with a boat, and gave them food and water. Also, the respondent found out that the Turkish soldiers had found the dead body of the Palestinian man. “Then they just let us go”. The respondent walked about 10 minutes to a small village, then we walked again to reach Meriç city. Then he took a taxi with two friends to go to Istanbul.
The respondent, a 26-year-old man from Tunisia, crossed to Greece from Turkey via the Evros River with 13 other people. The group included men and women between the ages of 19 and 50 from Syria, Tunisia, Morocco, and Palestine.
After arriving in Greece, they walked for two days, sleeping by day and walking by night; the respondent recalled:
“We found a road; it wasn’t a paved road, it was unpaved, and is probably used by the Greek patrol to control the border. We walked, then we had to cross over a railway, then we found a short fence. We opened it and we entered the forest—when we got to the forest we were apprehended.”
The group was detained by two officers wearing sage green uniforms with Greek flags on the sleeves driving a white car that had “police” written on it in English. The officers spoke mostly in Greek but also used a little English. They immediately took everyone’s phone away from them and used a branch to beat them for a couple of minutes. The two women in the group were also hit by the officers. Shortly thereafter, two additional officers arrived in an unmarked, white, Renault van. The respondent said the new officers “took our supply, our belongings, and kicked us.”
The group was loaded into the van and driven about 8-12 minutes to the detention centre. During the drive, the respondent explained:
“We were standing the whole time and he drove too fast. We kept colliding with each other…One of us even hit both sides of the car because the man was driving too fast…The road kept changing from paved to unpaved—then at the end it was all unpaved road. When we got to the detention centre they kept our heads on the ground; we didn’t see anything.”
At the detention centre, the respondent recalled:
“I could see some houses when they put us in the cell; I saw them through a small window. And I saw cars parked in the back of the detention centre. There is a small village near the detention centre but there is no sign that this is an official detention centre. It’s an abandoned building turned into a detention I guess. It’s a dirty place, there are two cells and an office.” The cars the respondent saw were a Volkswagen Golf and a Hyundai.
In addition to the four officers that brought them, there were also two male officers wearing sage green uniforms and one female officer wearing a blue uniform that had a white stripe on the jacket, a Greek flag on the sleeve, and “police” written on it in English.
The respondent said the officers were “brutal”. He said:
“[They hit us] randomly, all over our body, even our head. They didn’t care where they hit. They hit us everywhere without caring. Even if it could kill you. When we were at the detention site, they took off all our clothes to search us. We were like newborns all naked, and they let the woman watch us, when we were naked. And they got the woman to search them. While [an officer] was searching me, he found a Qur’an in my pocket. He tore it into pieces and threw it on the ground. They took money from me…about 400 euros. They even took my passport (they didn’t give it back to me) and immediately punched me in the face.”
The group was given their clothes back and taken to a holding cell, where there were about 70 to 75 people, including Afghans, Syrians, Palestinians, Tunisians, and Moroccans, ranging in age from around 15 years old to around 50 years old. The cell measured about seven by three meters and had way more people in it than it could comfortably fit. No precautions were taken against covid-19 and the detainees weren’t given any food or water, even though they asked for it. There was a toilet, but it was too dirty to use. The respondent said, “People were crowded next to each other. It was very cold; we sat on the ground.” There were also people detained in another cell, which the respondent could hear but not see. He said he heard a child’s voice coming from there, begging to be let out and asking for water, and guessed that the child was around 6 years old.
In total, they spent one day and one night, or about 24 hours, in the cell. No translator was present; the respondent said:
“One of my friends even offered to help them to let them know what people knew. They slapped him and told him to shut up.” Both he and his friend asked for asylum, but the officers responded by saying “That’s your problem, not mine” and hitting them. The respondent recalled, “They hit us everywhere. They do not care where they hit you—on the head, the legs, the shoulders—and they kept calling us one thing from the time we got to the detention centre until they took us out: ‘Arab dogs’.”
Finally, around two hours after sunset on the second day, both groups were let out of the holding cells and brought outside, where they found four Renault vans and 14 officers. Most of the male officers were wearing sage green uniforms with Greek flags on the shoulders and balaclavas, while the female officer was wearing a blue uniform with a white stripe. There were also some officers dressed in civilian clothes, including an older man in his 50s wearing glasses, who beat the respondent and others in the group on their backs to get them to go into the vans faster.
Then, the officers loaded the detainees in the four vans; the respondent estimated that there were about 35 people in the van with him. He recalled:
“[The driving] was crazy, insane, and reckless…It was all unpaved road. Because of the driving, someone hit his head on the side of the van and hurt himself.” They were driven 10-12 minutes until they stopped and began to get out of the vans. Then, the respondent said, “[The officers] heard the Turkish army yelling at them, so they brought us back to the car. They were afraid of the Turkish army.”
They were driven another 10 minutes. A white Mazda drove along with them, towing a plastic motorized boat on a trailer behind it. The respondent recalled:
“…we arrived at a forest. We found a lot of barbed wire fences, small barbed wire fences. There was a small path, about 2 meters, just to get the boat through it; It seemed like it was an old path, that they had used it to do this for a long time.”
All four vans arrived at this spot, carrying everyone who had been detained in the two holding cells—around 120 people. There were about 20 officers at this site, including military officers, wearing either green camouflage, black uniforms, or civilian clothes.
“I couldn’t see [their uniforms] because if you moved your head from the ground, you would get beaten. All I could see is that they were wearing balaclavas, black pants, and black boots. They were holding weapons…Some of them were threatening us with weapons, and some of them hit everyone on the line…[They spoke] only English and Greek, [but] they kept saying ‘Arab dogs’ in Arabic…[The officer] wanted to insult us to show us his hatred toward us but his Arabic wasn’t fluent.”
The officers didn’t let the group out until the boat was ready, and when it was, they divided them into groups of eight, beating them with a tree branch for around 20 to 60 seconds so they wouldn’t make noise. They also fired shots at some people’s feet, even at the young children, to make them quiet.
Eight people at a time were loaded into the plastic boat, which was about 1.5 meters long. There was also one officer in front and one in back, both dressed in black pants, green shirts, and balaclavas, who spoke some English but mostly Greek. The respondent went with one of the middle groups, and recalled:
“We were afraid because the boat was not stable, and the water came inside and we were afraid of drowning. The officers even asked us to jump out in the middle of the river because we were too heavy. The water level was really high, over our chests. They showed us the way with their hand and pushed us with their other hand. The rest of the way we continued by swimming, until we arrived on an island.”
“The first day, we asked the officer driving the boat—he showed us the way with his hand and showed us that the water level was not that high, just above the knees. We followed what he had said, during the night. The officer talked in English to our friend and told him to go right and follow what he said. We walked in the river in that direction but it was a bit deep, so we stayed on the island and made a fire to warm up a little bit. We didn’t have food or water for two days. Early in the morning, the Palestinian and the Syrian tried to figure out the best way to go and I went behind them. The Palestinian tried to swim and the water level was getting high…He walked a little bit and then he drowned—we kept screaming and we didn’t see him again…It was deep; [the officer] meant to let us die, to drown in the river, either by dying of thirst or drowning in the river. We ate leaves to stay alive on the island. Our stomach hurt badly later. After the Palestinian crossed we knew that it was a dangerous route to take. To cross to the other island, we had to tie our shirts together to make a rope, to keep each other close, and to cross to the other part of the island. Then, the Turkish army helped us to take us out of the river.”
A Turkish patrol wearing green camouflage found them and brought a boat to carry them to the Turkish side of the river and gave them food and water. From the river, the nearest town was only about 600 meters away, and from there the respondent took a taxi to Istanbul, which took about two or three hours.