“Two Syrian guys driving the dinghy: ‘don’t move, don’t do anything stupid, we will all die inside the river’”

  • Date and time: April 6, 2021 00:00
  • Location: Approx.10 km to Edirne
  • Coordinates: 41.1517222, 26.5137964
  • Pushback from: Greece
  • Pushback to: Turkey
  • Demographics: 90-105 person(s), age: 14, 21, 23, elderly persons 50-60 years old , from: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Morocco, Algeria
  • Minors involved? Yes
  • Violence used: beating (with batons/hands/other), kicking, insulting, theft of personal belongings, reckless driving
  • Police involved: 6 police officers upon apprehension in Thessaloniki, on motorcycles and in one car, wearing blue uniforms, 2 officers wearing blue uniforms driving a white police car with blue stripe (transportation between police stations in Thessaloniki), 9 police officers at station in Komotini: 3-4 in civilian clothing, the rest in uniforms; a brown truck, other police vehicles - cars and vans
  • Taken to a police station?: yes
  • Treatment at police station or other place of detention: detention, fingerprints taken, photos taken, personal information taken, 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: Anonymous Partner

Original Report

The respondent is a 21 year-old of Moroccan nationality. He has been pushed back from Greece to Turkey, from where he returned to Greece. He states he returned to Thessaloniki approximately 15 days before the interview was taken.

The respondent states that he had initially entered Greece approximately 20 days before Ramadan, around March 28th or later. The details of his journey describe walking on foot and traveling under a truck from the Evros border until Thessaloniki. There were four in the group, but one of them was forced to return to Turkey as he suffered injuries while traveling under the truck. He states that his friend realized he needed medical care and decided to return to the border. The rest of the group continued the journey.

Upon arrival in Thessaloniki, they were informed that in Aristotelous square, one of the central squares of the city, they will be able to receive information about services available and about places that are safe to sleep, from other people on the move. Not having met anyone, the group had no choice but to sleep in the square in spite of the rainy weather. In the morning, they woke up surrounded by police officers. There were two motorcycles each carrying two police officers, and one white car with the “police” insignia with two officers. The uniform they were wearing was blue and they had “protection vests”. The respondent reports that the officers handcuffed them and searched their bags and clothes. The respondent stated that the handcuffs were very tight and hurt his wrists.

They were taken to a police station in the vicinity of Aristotelous square where they were body searched and were held for three hours.  Afterwards, they were transported in a white car with blue stripes to a second police station where they were fingerprinted and asked for their personal details. There was no interpreter present, the respondent states. They were allowed to shower and were given six euros to order food. They were held between approximately 11 a.m. until midnight thirty the same day.

Asked if he expressed the wish to apply for asylum, the respondent states that the police officers were constantly shouting and preventing them from speaking. There was no interpreter present and only one person in the group spoke some English (the respondent was unable to assess how well). He did mention that the person speaking English asked not to be sent back to Turkey. The respondent managed to ask for asylum with the help of one of the Syrians he was detained with and who was able to speak Greek and translated for the respondent. He says that his request was ignored.

The respondent was asked to describe the police station. He described a small cell where he was detained with 9 other people: his group of two men, two people from Pakistan, one from Albania, one from Morocco, and three men from Syria.  The outside of the police station resembled a house, a small villa with three floors. The entrance door is regular and not reinforced with metal however it has an additional “fence door”, the respondent says. He added that he did not notice signs with “police” written anywhere.

Around midnight thirty, different police officers came and removed from the cell the respondent and his two travel companions. They were wearing big black jackets and the respondent did not notice insignia nor writing. The officers were carrying weapons. They drove a Peugeot van, white with blue stripes and “police” inscribed on it. The respondent asked the police officers, with the help of his English speaking friend, for the handcuffs to be looser as his wrists were hurting, but the officer tightened them instead. They were transported to a third police station, approximately half an hour drive from the second one. He states that the road they used must have been a highway as they were driving fast.

The third police station he describes as being much bigger with bigger cells and being a bit out of the city. In their cell there were five people from Pakistan and one from Iraq.

The following morning, around 11 a.m. they were asked to sign the “khartia” (a document issued in Greece that regularizes temporarily the situation of people on the move until they apply for asylum; its content states that a person has 30 days to leave Greek territory unless the person applies for asylum or produces documents to prove that their stay is legal). They were not given a copy of the khartia they signed and they were not provided with interpretation. The respondent says that after his return to Greece, he was apprehended again on the streets of Thessaloniki and was released with a khartia dated from the day of his pushback, confirming his account.

Afterwards, from the police station they were loaded into a bus together with other people, in total 40 persons. The bus was blue and had written “police” on the side. Describing it in his own words:

“inside the bus there was cells, and each cell can take four people and there were like four chairs and they closed, so they don’t have to handcuff them”

The respondent states that the bus drove to Komotini where they stopped at a small police station. He describes around 9 police officers, out of which 3 or 4 were in civilian clothing and the rest wearing uniforms. At the police station they were transferred from the bus into an old truck, brown-colored, with a wooden structure. He states that these sort of trucks are usually used for animal transport to his knowledge. At the small station there were other people waiting, about 60-65 people

“there were so many people from Pakistan waiting, and they added them to the truck, and the truck didn’t have any chairs, any benches, it was just from woods, and it was super old… the truck”

Around 70 persons were loaded in the back of the truck, from the two groups together, while others were transported in vans or cars. The entire group amounted to approximately 100 people. Among them, there was a father and his son, around 14 years old, a woman around 23-24 years old, and many elderly people about 50 or 60 years old.

The respondent reports that the officers were violent towards them as they transferred them into the truck, pushing them and hitting them. During transportation, the officers were driving recklessly fast so people in the back were falling onto one another.

He also states that they were robbed of their belongings. He is unsure at what stage of the multiple transfers his possessions were taken away from him, but his phone, money, personal jewelry such as his necklace and a ring were taken and never returned.

The group was transferred to, what the respondent describes as “an army station, close to the river”.

“it was like a house, there is like a room it’s a room connected to the house, but it is separated, it is not inside the house, they just build it and connected it to the house. And it is surrounded by fence. And since we got off of the truck they start beating us. They were army, they were wearing balaclava and they were so many and they start beating us with, … like with a stick”

The respondent states that the officers were wearing beige uniforms with no visible insignia. A person in the group had lived in Athens for the past two years and was able to recognize that the officers were speaking Greek among themselves.

The respondent estimates that they arrived around 6:30 at this location. After two hours or so, and after the sundown, the officers brought a truck and proceeded to load people in the truck. The respondent reports extensive violence towards the groups and especially towards two people: the man who spoke Greek and another man who had bleached hair. The officers were hitting them with their batons and kicking them. The respondent states he was also hit with a baton over the shoulder and the arm and received a kick in his back.

The only woman reported in the group was separated and searched by the officers. Her headscarf was removed and not returned. Asked if there were female officers, the respondent said there were not and that the woman was body searched by male officers.

Then they were transported to the river:

“It was like a forest, a small road, like a forest road, (…) just the river, surrounding was forest. They met a Moroccan guy and three Syrian guys working with the army. And they had a dinghy”

The respondent witnessed a practice BVMN has been reporting on since 2020. He reports that there were four people on the move ferrying the dinghies between Greece and Turkey: one Moroccan national and three Syrians. The respondent could recognize the dialects they spoke when they interacted verbally. The people on the move had their own tasks, one was establishing a queue, the others were searching people and asking people to take off their shoes and give it to them. Upon request, one person in the group who was injured, received back his shoes.

“two Syrian guys were driving the dinghy, and one outside like trying to fix the dinghy, and when they were in the river they start like advising us: ‘don’t move, don’t do anything stupid, we will all die inside the river’, and they were talking in Syrian dialect”

The dinghy was described as grey. The respondent could notice the color in the moonlight. He also stated that one of the dinghies was malfunctioning and the person went and replaced it. He states that they must have had a van or a place nearby to store things. The dinghy was deflated and was pumped at the scene.

Everyone was pushed back to Turkey in the dinghies.

As he was ferried over to Turkish soil, the respondent says:

It was like two meters of like dangerous plants with needles, and we struggled a bit to get there, then we start walking without shoes, without jackets, super cold. We walked like five kilometers to get to a station where there was a market where we could buy some food. And in this station there was a place for taxis, but the taxis are super expensive, like 50 Euros for one person, so we got some food from the market, we had 15 euros; then one taxi driver told them there is a place close to here called Edirne and you can get a bus from there.

They walked around 10 kilometers to reach Edirne.