“They were told to keep their heads down”

Applicant card issued to asylum seekers in Greece
  • Date and time: April 17, 2020 00:00
  • Location: Greek-Turkish border, near Edirne
  • Coordinates: 41.67712969999999, 26.5557145
  • Push-back from: Greece
  • Push-back to: Turkey
  • Demographics: 50 person(s), age: 15 years old, 35 years old , from: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Algeria
  • Minors involved? Yes
  • Violence used: beating (with batons/hands/other), kicking, insulting, forcing to undress, theft of personal belongings
  • Police involved: Greek police officers, 1 in civilian clothes
  • Taken to a police station?: yes
  • Treatment at police station or other place of detention: detention, papers signed, no translator present, denial of access to toilets, denial of food/water
  • Was the intention to ask for asylum expressed?: Yes
  • Reported by: Mobile Info Team

Original Report

In this case, the respondent was picked up by Greek police around 09:00 in the morning on 17th April 2020, about 100 metres from Diavata camp, a refugee camp nearby Thessaloniki. He was told that he needed to accompany the police officers to the police station in order to be issued a valid document. He was taken together with 15 other people who were circulating outside the camp. They were loaded in a white van.

The respondent had arrived to Greece in April 2018 and applied for asylum which was registered in May 2018. While still going through the asylum procedure, he worked as an interpreter for a Greek medical organization in a detention centre in Greece. After his contract had ended, without financial resources and accommodation, the respondent relocated to Diavata camp.

On the morning of 17th April, the respondent was approaching Diavata camp when he was stopped by the police. The policemen explained to him that since he was not in the possession of a valid applicant card, he had to accompany them to the police station to be issued a police note. The policemen loaded the respondent in the van together with 14 other people. He explains that they were forcefully pushed in the van while the policemen were kicking them with their legs and shouting at them. The respondent declares that the nationalities of people in the van were Algerian, Afghanistan, and Syria. Among them, 2 minors, an Afghan national and a Syrian national.

After a 40 minutes drive, they arrived at a police station. They were shoved into a small room that could hardly accommodate the number of people present, to the extent that they fell down when the door was closed. Afterwards, one by one they were taken into an office where they were forced to sign a document provided to them in Greek, without the document being translated to them with the use of an interpreter in a language they could understand. The respondent could communicate with the authorities in English, however they refused to explain the content of the document he was signing. He states that the policemen were aggressive and refused to give additional explanations. During this time, all the persons in questions were searched and their phones were removed together with their headphones and any additional electronic devices and cables.

After two hours and a half and once everyone was walked through the same procedure, the group was taken outside and loaded into a bigger van. The van proceeded to transport them to a place which the respondent describes as a detention centre, surrounded by barbed wire and fence. He states that he could not observe more details because they were told to keep their heads down throughout the time they were kept there. The group was once again searched and all their belongings were removed: backpacks, shoelaces, jumpers or sweaters, and the money in their possession, respectively. They were left in light clothing and they were loaded into a bus – the respondent describes it as – a police bus, with individual locked cabins, without windows and complete darkness. The respondent recalls that additional people were taken from this location and loaded into the bus. He estimates that around 50 persons were in the bus, including the group of 15 which was taken from Diavata.

The bus drove for more than 5 hours and reached a place close to a railroad and next to a river. The respondent and the others were taken out of the bus and moved into another vehicle described as a military vehicle. Before the policemen transferred the group from one vehicle to the other, they performed another body search, this time hitting the persons over their heads and backs with batons. The respondent recalls one person in the group fell to the ground because of the heavy blows.

The respondent recalls waiting in the military vehicle for a long time, he estimates to more than one hour, before being driven to a different location. He describes that he was on the bank of a wider and deeper river. The police had also brought along 4 or 5 boats which they inflated with a pump. The large group was separated and was ferried across the river in groups of 9 to 10. The respondent says that the boats were inflated one after the other and launched quickly in the river to speed up the crossing. He recalls that the 4 or 5 boats were launched almost at the same time. The boats were ferried across with the help of non-police personnel. The respondent recalls that one of the persons assisting the police was also an Afghan national who confided in him that the police had told them that they will be given an asylum card if they accept to work with them.

Due to the fact that the crossing was hurried to avoid the Turkish border guards becoming aware of the operation, according to the respondent, one of the persons in the boat fell into the river and almost drowned. He states that everyone in the group had gotten wet trying to descend from the boats, at night, without visibility, and that once crossed over they had to start a fire in order to stay warm.

Lastly, the respondent states that he spent around 3 days between the Greek and Turkish border. The following day, the group was stopped by the Turkish border guards who drove them back to the river bank and pushed them back to Greece. Once again on Greek territory, they were captured by the Greek border guards, they were beaten and pushed once again back to Turkey. In Turkey, they were stopped by the Turkish border police who proceeded to send them to Greece one more time. The respondent states that one of the persons in the group spoke Turkish and was begging the Turkish commander not to send them back. The Turkish commander took out his gun and pointed it at the head of the person and told him he has to go. Then they forcefully pushed the group back once again to Greece, from where the group returned for a third and last time. Avoiding the border guards and the police, they managed to reach Istanbul, on foot, walking 3 days and 3 nights.