The group concerned in this incident were 15 men and one minor (aged 17). The group came from Algeria, Morocco and one person from Iran. The people had been residents in Tutin camp (SRB) for some time when the pushback occured. One respondent from Morroco said he had been in the camp for four months, another said he had been in Serbia for eight months.
“We all have document”
All of them had camp cards issued to them in Tutin, and were therefore registered residents in the centre.
At the time of the incident, one respondent – a man in his 40s from Morocco – was due an operation for an injury he had sustained from a police beating inside Romania. He had been pushed back from Romania several months before and suffered severe impact injuries to his skull (as seen in the xray and medical note below). The respondent said that on the date of this latest incident, he had been told by camp officials that he would be getting an operation the following day to treat the injury.
The respondents shared that on 3rd April 2020, at around midday, a large number of Serbian police officers dressed in black tops, green trousers and carrying guns entered Tutin camp in cars/jeeps. The respondents say that the officers came to the main square of the camp and ordered camp residents to exit the buildings where they were staying. Describing the authorities attire, one respondent shared how the officers were dressed:
“black… big… ready to beat us”
The officers reportedly had a list of the residents given by the camp officials. The respondents suggest the initiative was lead by one of the camp directors known as “Maria”. They also states they were aware of a civil clothes police officer named “Sacha”, who was also noted to be organising this role call.
The respondents described being inside their sleeping area (dormitory) when the authorities arrived and began calling people out into the the yard. The officers stated peoples full names and summoned them forwards. Each person called forward was ordered to remove jackets or over coats and then fully searched in a pat down method (legs, arms, torso) which the respondents presumed was to find any knives or sharp objects. The pat down was carried out by officers wearing gloves.
The group of 16, alongside some other residents of the camp, were informed that they were going to be transferred to the camp in Prescevo as a measure related to COVID-19 prevention. Several people asked the officers if they could go inside their domitory in order to gather their clothing and possesions, but the police officers denied them this.
“They say ‘you are going in new camp'”
The sixteen people referred to in this case were placed into a van by the Serbian Special Forces at approximately 14:00. The conditions inside the van were extremely cramped and they were forced to stand, or sit on top of one another. Describing the journey towards Prescevo one respondent shared the fact that their was no stop made by the van and “no water, no toilet”.
The van drove for a reported nine hours, stopping at points, but never allowing the transit group to disembark. At 23:00 at night, the van stopped and the transit group describe how:
“we find ourselves in the border”
Rather than taking them to the camp in Prescevo as stated, the authorities brought them to a remote area of hills and ordered them to cross into North Macedonia. The Serbian officers pointed guns at them and told them to leave:
“they say ‘go go’ with their guns”
The respondent said that some officers struck members of the group with fists, or shoved them, and that the group had to run in order to avoid being hit/punched. The man with the existing head injury felt feint and passed out after running from the officers. After stopping, the group identified that they had been pushed back into North Macedonia close to the town of Lojane.
The group accessed help in a mosque the following day (4th April 2020) and sheltered inside some abandoned buildings close to Lojane. During the following eight days the respondents allege that they tried to re-enter Serbia on four different occasions, but were pushed back with violence by Serbian police, who discovered them on foot within a short distance of the border and returned them by vans to the border with MNK where they used physical violence and on one occasion told the group:
“Don’t come again, we will kill you”
The respondent described the situation as very dire inside the abandoned building they used as shelter, asserting they lacked “water, food and toilets”. On the 12th April 2020, North Macedonian police came to the building in the early morning and found some of the group there. The police took the eight people present, recording their names and details, before loading them into a police van and stating they would be taken to a camp. The transit group found that there were already six other people detained in the back of the van (from a separate capture carried out by the officers).
Rather than driving to a camp, the group were taken directly to the Greek border (which they arrived at around midday). At the border the North Macedonian police forced the group to cross back into Greece. The respondent said that they slept one night in some improvised shelter, before finding a train line which was going to Thessaloniki (suggesting they were pushed back close to Gevgelija, MNK). The group boarded a train and arrived in Thessaloniki on 14th April 2020, where they were forced to reside in abandoned buildings because they asserted being scared of the police and of the risk of being pushed back further into Turkey.