The respondent, a 21-year-old Moroccan man, recounted a series of three pushbacks that happened within a five-day period. First from Greece to Turkey; then from Turkey to Greece; and again from Greece to Turkey.
On the 3rd of April, the respondent crossed to Greece from Bosna (TR) with 5 other men, all Syrian, aged between 18 and 30 years old. They had spent two days walking approximately 50 kilometres into Greece when they were all apprehended by four officers. Three of them were wearing a blue police uniform, including one wearing a balaclava. Those three officers spoke in Greek. And there was “something in Greek” written on their uniform. The last officer was wearing civilian clothes, and according to the respondent, he was Syrian. “He talked to me in Arabic. He asked me from where I was and if I was hiding any money on me. With the other officers, he spoke in Greek”.
The respondent claimed that they were caught on an agricultural field and they had already passed the town of Orestiada. It was around 10 AM.
Then, two other officers in sage green uniforms came in a large white Mercedes van, with no signs showing if it was a Greek police car or not. After the officers had taken their phones, the group was loaded in the Mercedes van. The respondent said that two officers came with them. There was no seat to sit on inside the vehicle, nor were there any windows and the car was locked from all sides.
They drove for about ten minutes, on both paved and unpaved roads. Then they arrived at a detention place which was surrounded by a barbed fence that was “not so high”. The respondent recognized the place as Orestiada detention site since he was detained there in a previous pushback.
The detention site consisted of a ground floor building, old, with a small yard, and in the back, there was an entrance leading to one cell. The respondent said that there was no sign or plate to indicate that it was an official governmental building. He recalled that there was a building that looked like a hospital near to the detention place. “I couldn’t focus very well because once we got there, the officers asked us to turn around so that we would look at the wall”. There were four other officers wearing green camouflage uniforms and balaclavas. The respondent saw a red and yellow logo on their arms, and it was written police in English on their chest and their back.
Once the officers had searched the group and took their money, supplies and belongings, they took them to the back of the building to lock them in the cell which was already full with about 60 to 70 people, aged between 18 to 40 years old, coming from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syrian, and Algeria. The cell was about 4×3 metres, had four beds “one above the other”, and a toilet. It was “stinky and dirty. The walls were written all over with the names of the people who were detained there before”, according to the respondent.
The respondent and his group spent two days in the cell and during this time, they were denied food, water, and medical help for those who were sick or injured. The officers didn’t provide translators to allow the people to understand what was being said.
“We kept asking for water but they were only yelling at us in English to shut up. They were saying other words to us in Greek but we couldn’t understand.”
The officer never took the fingerprints of the people and didn’t give any form or document to sign. Also, there was no precautionary measure taken due to the Covid pandemic.
After those two days, three officers in green camouflage uniforms, wearing balaclavas, came at night time to load all the people who were in the cells in a big sage green military Mercedes truck. “We were overcrowded in this vehicle. The driver was fast and reckless” said the respondent. They drove for about 30 minutes on an unpaved road until they reached the Evros/Meriç river where a plastic boat was waiting in the water. On the riverside, there were eight other officers. Three of them in green camouflage uniforms, wearing balaclavas; five of them wore black jackets, civilian pants, sneakers, and balaclavas. “I couldn’t see anything that showed they were Greece officers or not”, said the respondent.
Those officers started to kick and beat the people “randomly” with “police batons”. Some of the officers who wore the black jackets and the civilians’ pants spoke in Syrian Arabic with the Syrian people.
“They asked them if they were hiding any money or phones. When they found out that someone was hiding something they hit him four times with a baton on his head and his legs”.
Then, the officers loaded the people on the boat by groups of 10 to 12 people. Two other officers in black uniforms were on the boat, using paddles to move on with the boat. They spoke in Syrian Arabic to the Syrian people.
“They told them to sit properly, make space, and to not move much in the boat, said the respondent. They also told us that we should run fast when we get to the Turkish side”.
All the people were taken to the other side of the river, on the Turkish land. This pushback happened on the 5 of April. Once they got to Turkey, they were apprehended by seven Turkish soldiers in green camouflage uniforms. The soldiers gathered them in a “military truck”, and drove them to a building that looked like a “military barracks,” although “it didn’t seem like it was an offical building”, specified the respondent.
The respondent and his group were kept there for one or two hours. During this time, the Turkish soldiers counted them, before taking them to the river and forcing them to go back to the Greek territory through the river, without any boat or anything. They had to walk in the river. Some of the people from the group made their way back to the Greek land, while the respondent and two other men (one Afghani and one Syrian) stayed on a small island in the middle of the river, near Karayusuflu.
“We tried to escape but we couldn’t go back to Greece because we didn’t have any supplies anymore and we couldn’t go back to Turkey because the Turkish soldiers were controlling the border. We were stuck on this island.”
The respondent and his two friends spent one night and one day on this island, before swimming to the Greek side. “It was not easy, we were hungry and thirsty.”
Shortly after they got on the Greek territory, the respondent and his two friends were apprehended by four Greek officers wearing camouflage uniforms who were driving two military trucks. Those called two officers wearing sage green uniforms (one of them wore a balaclava) who were driving a white Mercedes wan, similar to the one which brought them to the river in the first pushback. The respondent and his Syrian and Afghani friends were loaded in the white van to go to a detention place. After a 30 minutes drive, they were taken to the same detention building as the one where they had been detained in their first pushback. When they arrived, they found 12 other men, aged between 18 and 45, coming from Syria, Afghanistan, Morocco, and Algeria. Those people were some of the ones who crossed the river to go back to Greece after they had been pushed back by the Turkish soldiers.
The respondent and his friends had been brought to the detention site at night time. It was already two days since their first pushback and they spent another 20 hours in this detention place. There, besides the officers who drove the van, were three more officers wearing sage green camouflage uniforms. The officers spoke only in Greek. During the detention period, the officers hit the people randomly with batons and sticks. The people didn’t get any food or water and they didn’t receive any paper to sign. The officers didn’t take their fingerprints.
During his detention time, the respondent said that the officer kept on bringing other people who have been apprehended to the detention site. Those people were men coming from Syria, Afghanistan, Morocco, and Algeria, aged between 18 and 45 years old. After 20 hours, there were about 75 people in the cell.
They were all loaded, at night time, in white vans. After a half-hour drive on paved and unpaved roads, they arrived at the riverside. Eight officers were waiting there. They all wore balaclavas, three of them were in civilian clothes; two wore black uniforms and three officers were in camouflage uniforms. “They were violent. They punched us, they hit us with a baton and kept beating us to force us to keep our eyes on the ground”, explained the respondent. It was also so dark that he couldn’t see properly how the place where they were brought looked like.
A boat that was about 2 meters by 1 was waiting there. It was driven by two Syrian men wearing black clothes and balaclavas who spoke Syrian Arabic.
“They talked with the Syrians who were with us. They told them to keep running once they will have crossed the river, and not let the Turkish army arrest them.”
The officers loaded in around 12 people at the time on the boat. The respondent was in the first group to cross and claimed: “They started with the Syrians. Me and one Algerian man we crossed with the Syrians”.
Once they were on the Turkish side, the respondent identified the place as Kapikule. Then they walked about 30 minutes until they arrived at a gas station which was near a bus station. Then they took a taxi. The drive, which was about 10 kilometres, took them 10 to 15 minutes before reaching Edirne. This last pushback happened on the 7th of April.