“I thought I could find freedom here...”

  • Date and time: April 27, 2020 21:30
  • Location: Lavara, Evros
  • Coordinates: 41.266667, 26.383333
  • Push-back from: Greece
  • Push-back to: Turkey
  • Demographics: 11 person(s), age: 36 , from: Iraq, Morocco
  • Minors involved? No
  • Violence used: beating (with batons/hands/other), kicking, pushing people to the ground, insulting, electric shock, forcing to undress, destruction of personal belongings, theft of personal belongings
  • Police involved: 6-7 Greek officers, 3 white pickup trucks, one officer in dark uniform with EU and Greek flag on the shoulder
  • Taken to a police station?: yes
  • Treatment at police station or other place of detention: detention
  • Was the intention to ask for asylum expressed?: Yes
  • Reported by: Mobile Info Team

Original Report

The respondent, a 36 year old teacher from Iraqi Kurdistan, had been living in Athens, Greece for two years with his wife and children, applying for asylum in 2018. Having been issued a asylum seeker’s card (Ausweis) in October 2019, valid until March 2020, he was waiting for the outcome of his final interview, reportedly delayed because of the Covid-19 lockdown. He had recently been offered a job in construction works in a town in the Evros region. The respondent was not able to identify the actual name of his destination, possibly the town of Didymoteicho. The respondent went from Athens to Thessaloniki, and took a bus from there.

On April 27th, at around 19:30, the bus he was travelling on was stopped by the Greek police for a control, shortly past the town of Lavara. He and a dozen more passengers were asked to get off from the bus and, once on the street, the police ordered the bus driver to leave. After having checked their documents, the police left them on the road. The respondent separated from the group and reached on foot the nearby town of Lavara, where he found the bus station thanks to the directions given by locals.

After waiting in front of the station, around 21:00 the respondent stopped a passing by car to ask for information about the bus schedule. In the car, a white Toyota pickup, were three men who claimed to be police officers. One of them was in black clothes, the other two were wearing clothes branded with the police logo. The respondent was ordered to present his documents, and specifically his asylum seeker’s card, to which he complied.

The respondent saw one of the men making a call, after which the men kept him waiting for a time. After around 15 minutes, the men got off from the car and told him to sit down. The respondent didn’t comply with the order and turned around, when one of the men assaulted him from behind and pushed him to the ground, kicking him with his boots and insulting him in Greek. Then, he remembered one of them producing a metal stick (what the respondent assumed was a pipe) from the car, with which he started beating the respondent, on his back, his ribs and on his shoulder.

After the beating, the respondent was kept on the ground by one of the men pointing a gun on him. His phone was taken and put under one of the tyre of the car, destroyed in the process. He remembers seeing the man he had given his asylum seeker’s card walking away from the spot and coming back a few minutes later with his hands empty. At that point, a second pickup with two men in dark clothes approached them. The respondent was first handcuffed, then forced to get onto the second car, and then driven away for about 1 hour and a half hours.

They drove on a road in the forest, before reaching a building that the respondent referred to as a “police station”. He was made to get inside and to enter one of the many rooms, where he was forcibly undressed and left in his underclothes. The respondent recalls the room having small windows, placed high up on the wall and close to the roof, and a squat toilet. The walls of the room were white, alike the interiors of the whole building. At this point, one of the men who had stopped him came into the room and returned him part of his belongings, including his money, and asked whether it was true that the respondent had been living in Athens, to which he replied that it was true.

“If it’s correct, then we will send you back to Athens”, said the policemen, according to the respondent. After this, he was left to sleep on a dirty mattress for the rest of the night. The morning after, around 10AM or 11AM, he was handcuffed again, removed from his room and put inside another similar room with other people. They were around 10, of which the respondent can recall there were 6 Moroccans, 1 Tunisian and 1 Iraqi Kurdish. The respondent claims that all of them had been caught by the border police after attempting to cross the Greek-Turkish frontier on the river Evros.

After a while, a masked man—who was wearing black clothes with Greek writings and an EU flag and a Greek flag on the shoulder—entered the room followed by the police officers, asking questions about the detainees’ accounts. Reportedly, the police officer with whom the respondent had been speaking the previous night, answered: “These people came from Turkey, except for this guy, he has a family in Athens and he’s registered here so we will send him back to Athens”. To that, the masked man, which the respondent refers to as the “commander”, replied yelling that all of them would have been taken to the river. The interviewee was shocked and surprised to understand that the “commander” outranked the police officer in hierarchy.

The respondent was then summoned out of the room and was made enter another room where the “commander” was waiting with three other masked men. There, he was beaten again with metal sticks as well as being shot multiple times with a stun gun/taser, before being forced to give all his remaining documents as well as his money. Next, he was placed again inside the room. He was able to reach again for the policeman in uniform with whom he had been talking to and asked for the whereabouts of his Ausweis, that had been confiscated the previous night, but the officer answered that he had never seen the document.

Later on, around 15:00-16:00, all the detainees were brought to the entrance gate of the building and made to enter into a large white car, reportedly a Sedan Car with 11 passenger seats. The four masked commandos drove them for about 1 hour and a half before arriving at the river Evros, where the detainees were forced off the car and beaten again with sticks and kicking. One of the men seriously injured the Iraqi Kurdish man, whose leg was possibly broken as a result from the beating.

The masked men then produced a 3-meters-long inflatable raft from the trunk of the car and ordered them to inflate it, enforcing the order with more beating and kicking. Once the raft was ready, they were all forced inside and ordered to keep their heads down. Nonetheless, the respondent managed to see two other men—both masked and armed with guns—approaching the “commander” and receiving from him an amount of money (reportedly 500€ or 600€).

After the transaction, the two men, whom the respondent refers to as the “smugglers”, got into the raft with the detainees and quickly drove them across the river. Upon reaching the opposite riverside, they were ordered to disembark. However, before everyone could get off the raft, three Turkish military officers arrived on the scene. While the respondent with other 4 or 5 Moroccans had already disembarked, the “smugglers” with the remaining passengers quickly attempted crossing the river backward.

On the Greek side of the river, they met resistance from the “commander” and his man, who engaged in an escalating altercation with one of the Turkish officers, shouting across the two sides of the Evros river. The respondent with the other men who had disembarked with him decided to leave the place before they could witness the outcome of the fight. They asked one of the Turkish officers for directions to Istanbul and, after a quick walk into the woods, they reached an asphalted road.

They walked until late in the night, when a car stopped and the driver offered them a lift to Istanbul for 50$ each. A Syrian man who was sitting in the passenger seat offered the respondent to lend him the money for the ride, which he accepted.