The respondent is a 34-year-old man from Tunisia who was pushed back two times from North Macedonia to Greece on the 23rd of April 2022 together with two other Tunisian men of 26 and 27 years old. This report includes his testimony of both pushbacks.
The respondent arrived together with two other group members in North Macedonia on the 23rd of April around 2 AM. They waited until around 6 AM before they travelled to the bus station in Gevgelija with the intention to take a bus to Skopje. Before they reached the bus station, however, they were reportedly apprehended by two North Macedonian officers.
The officers arrived in a car and asked the transit group for their documents. When they mentioned that they did not have documents, the officers reportedly brought them to a police station (either the Border Police Station, or the Gevgelija Police Station). The respondent explained that they did not stay long at the police station and supposedly waited for other officers to arrive who would bring them to a ‘camp’. According to the respondent, the police officers said that they would give them “to the military”. However, he was not sure if the officers who picked them up were in fact military. In addition, the respondent could not remember what the uniforms of the officers who apprehended him looked like. He did remember having seen the insignia of the North Macedonian police (see below).
A different car came to the police station and brought the transit group to a ‘camp’ that seemed to be close to the police station. It is unclear how many officers were with the transit group in the vehicle. The respondent estimated that the events, from the moment of apprehension to the arrival at the camp, took about an hour. From the police station to the ‘camp’ it “didn’t take long, only a few minutes”, according to the respondent. Inside the camp, the respondent described that there were white containers. Based on the descriptions of the camp and the travel time, it is probable that the ‘camp’ the transit group was brought to is the Vinojug Temporary Transit Centre, which was mentioned in BVMN’s February 2022 Monthly Report and seems to be a common place people-on-the-move are taken to before they are pushed back to Greece.
“I asked for asylum, they don’t care. They said, ‘Go to Greece, Greece is in Europe, this is where you ask for asylum, not here in Macedonia’.”
At the ‘camp’, the respondent explained that they had to give their personal information which included their first and last name, country of origin, and age. Additionally, their fingerprints were taken. They were not provided with a translator, nor with any food or water. The respondent expressed to the officers that he wanted to seek asylum, which was subsequently denied. He also asked to meet with the social worker and/or the lawyer that he knew were often present at the ‘camp’ upon which the officer reportedly laughed and said, “it’s not your lucky day, they are off, holiday”. That particular weekend the pushback took place was during the Orthodox Easter weekend, which might also be the holiday the officer was referring to.
After having been at the ‘camp’ for around half an hour, the respondent explained they were put back in a car and brought to the Greek-Macedonian border. The place where they were pushed back was reportedly close to the ‘camp’, the respondent explained that “across the border you can see the camp”. They were pushed back around 6 AM to Greece.
The second pushback took place on the same day; the 23rd of April. Together with the same two group members, the respondent crossed the border to North Macedonia again around 12.30 PM. This time they managed to take a bus from the bus station in Gevgelija to Skopje. The respondent did not remember how long they had been on their way, but after what he alleged might have been about an hour, the bus stopped and was subsequently checked by North Macedonian officers. He recounted that close to the point of apprehension was a gas station, and that they were surrounded by mountains, but could not recall any other details of his surroundings.
The events that took place after are very similar to what happened during the first pushback. There were two officers present who were wearing a blue uniform and a grey uniform respectively, and had arrived in a white car. These officers apprehended the transit group and waited for a second car to arrive that took them to the same ‘camp’ the transit group was brought to earlier that day. The second car looked like a “small bus”, had no windows in the back, and was blue. This is similar to the vehicles the North Macedonian police uses (see below). The respondent reported it to be much like “a prisoner car or bus” and the inside to be “dirty”.
The transportation car was driven by one officer who took the transit group to the same ‘camp’ identified during the first pushback, the officers who apprehended the group stayed behind. The respondent reported that at the camp, there were different officers present from the first time. In addition, he mentioned to have not seen many people apart from two women and a child. He supposed, “I think they are lucky, maybe the social workers there or Red Cross, that’s why. But if there is no social worker, lawyer, nobody, they don’t let no one stay in the camp”.
“I asked, ‘Are you pushing me back or if they are going to let us stay in the camp’. They say, ‘We send you back because you entered Macedonia not legally. I said, ‘Do you know that pushing back is also not legal? So how are you judging me by coming here not legal, and you’re not judging yourself doing something not legal’. They didn’t care, they said, ‘I don’t care’.”
Similar to the first time at the ‘camp’, the group’s information and fingerprints were taken again. After, the same driver that picked them up from the place of apprehension, brought the transit group to the Greek-Macedonian border. Here, they “opened the door” and told the group to “go”, which reportedly took place between 3 and 4 PM on the 23rd of April. This specific “door” is a commonly described place by people-on-the-move in their testimonies of pushbacks from North Macedonia and elaborated more on in BVMN’s December 2020 Monthly Report. It refers to a gate inside the border fence close to Idomeni, Greece that is used as a quasi-official way to push people back to Greece (see below).
Overall, the respondent reported that during both pushbacks, the officers treated him and his group members “not bad and not good”. They did not experience any physical violence during both pushbacks but did report to have been searched by the officers. In addition, the respondent recounted that, during the second pushback, they were threatened by the officers: “the third time, they’d break our bones”.
After the second pushback the respondent expressed that he was “too tired” and did not want to cross the border again.