The transit group concerned in this incident consists of four men, two of whom are from Morocco, and the others from Egypt and Palestine. On 21 April 2020, at around 20:00, two members of the transit group were walking through Gevgelija, N. Macedonia when they were approached by three officers dressed in army uniform. The officers told the two men to “wait, wait” before placing them on a blue van or bus. Once in the confines of the vehicle, the officers began to beat the men with batons. The officers beat one respondent with such force that they fractured his arm. These two men were in custody for approximately six hours before being driven to the N. Macedonia-Greece border. Here, they were confronted by more officers who had apprehended two other members of their transit group not long before.
The experience of these other members in the transit group went as follows. At approximately 02:00 on 22 April 2020 in the Gevgelija region, one member of the transit group was abruptly woken up by three officers who were stamping on him, and kicking him across his body and head. The respondent describes these three officers as wearing surgical masks and army attire and reported feeling that the officers found the situation funny and enjoyed beating him.
“They loved this, they found it funny”
Meanwhile, another member of the transit group who was walking nearby got stopped by two officers. Yet again the officers were violent using batons and fists to beat the respondent. These officers were also wearing surgical masks which concealed their faces and carried binoculars. One, was dressed in army attire whilst the other had a bald or shaved head and was wearing a black top and green trousers. The respondent described this officer as ‘cagol’, referring to the masks, and felt that he was the more aggressive of the two, asserting:
“They want to kill us. They want to kill us”
This respondent claimed that when he told the officers he was from Palestine, they proceeded to beat him more. Following this, the five officers demanded that the two men take their shoes off and they walked them approximately two kilometres to the border. At the border, they were reunited with two other members of their transit group who had been apprehended earlier that evening (at 20:00, on 21 April 2020).
During the apprehension, the respondents were not taken to a police station and were only ever detained on the blue van or bus. They did not have their fingerprints or photograph taken and did not request asylum. The respondents’ reported being hit with guns as well as the officers’ batons during the various beatings. The officers also repeatedly shouted at them, although they did not always understand what the officers were saying as there were issues with communication. All members of the transit group were denied access to food and water. In fact, when one respondent made a request for water, he was beaten by the officers again.
The transit group told the officers, “we don’t want to stay in Macedonia, we want to go in Serbia” but the officers ignored them and instead, “opened the door of the border” to Greece (a gate described as on the border fence). The officer described as ‘cagol’ then chased the transit group across the border, approximately 10 metres into Greece, whilst shouting “go, go, never come back” and waving his baton at them. As a result, the transit group decided to make their way back to Thessaloniki, Greece.
Following this incident, the respondent from Palestine expressed feeling sick because of the on-going situation he finds himself in, claiming that he was losing his hair as a result of the stress. The respondent reported that whilst in Thessaloniki he had been fined €300 on two different occasions, as a consequence of the restrictions of movement established in response to the outbreak of COVID-19. During the lock-down, the fines usually amount to €150 for pedestrians moving through the city without a permit, but on both occasions he was fined twice that amount.