On April 8th, 2022 around 7 pm the respondent and 7 other people on the move (POM) were pushed back from Bulgaria to Turkey. In the course of the whole pushback incident from apprehension to actual pushback across the border, at least 43 POM were involved. The respondent is a 39-year-old male Tunisian and this is the first pushback he experienced.
The respondent started his journey to cross the border in a transit group consisting of 3 male POM. The nationalities of these men were Syrian and Moroccan and the ages ranged from 25 to 39 years. On April 2, 2022, the transit group left Edirne at 2 pm and drove for around 2 hours to the area Kırklareli in a taxi organized by a smuggler. The respondent clarified subsequently that they were taken close to the Bulgarian-Turkish border by the taxi and the smuggler “showed us the way”, close to Dereköy. The vehicle stopped on a highway that was connected to the border by a paved road. From there, the group and the smuggler walked for a couple of meters.
The deal they had made with the smuggler was to be brought to the land border between Bulgaria and Turkey and to continue on their own afterwards but with the help of maps-pin points. Their destination was to reach Sofia, Bulgaria. They had paid 200 € each to the smuggler.
At around 4 pm the group arrived at the border fence. The area was described as being located in a forest from both sides while the border fence was a high barbed wire fence with cameras planted on top of it every 5 meters. The smuggler cut a hole in the border fence and all 3 POM climbed through it. After that, they continued walking for six days in Bulgaria. They took only one-hour long breaks after walking for many hours.
The respondent could not specify for how many kilometers they had walked but stated that they were only five kilometers far from Sofia when they were apprehended:
On April 8, 2022 at around 7 am, the three POM walked on a paved road leading to Sofia as their phones had run out of battery and they therefore were not able to continue walking in the forest as before, without getting lost. As they walked on the street, a blue car with a logo and English “border police” writing approached them and stopped next to the group. The vehicle was identified as being similar to the one in image 1, resembling a Frontex Jeep.
Two men left the car. They wore black uniforms with English “police” written on their backs and on the front of the jackets, black pants and black boots. One of the men wore a blue armband with the EU flag. The respondent recognized the uniform as resembling Bulgarian Frontex uniforms from image 2. They carried weapons in their holsters.
Image 1: Frontex Jeep. Source: Lena K
Image 2: Bulgarian Frontex Officers with blue armbands – The respondent clarified the men wore this uniform but no hats.
The uniformed men stopped the POM and asked them for documents, speaking Bulgarian. The respondent recounts: “They knew that we didn’t have any [documents] because our appearance showed that we had been walking for a long distance and the clothes were dirty”. They were searched physically but no personal belongings were taken from them at this point. They were asked questions about their nationalities and how they got to the point of apprehension.
The uniformed men started to make phone calls and the POM had to wait next to the car for about 10 minutes. Subsequently, they were loaded on the back seat of the vehicle and taken to what the respondent refers to as “police station”. The drive took around 10 minutes and they drove through the city of Sofia. The POM told the men in uniforms that they wanted to go “to the camp”. First, this request was ignored “but after they loaded us while we were driving they said: ‘Don’t worry. We will take you to the camp!’”
They arrived at the place described as “police station”. It was a six or seven-floor building with a glass door and an entrance area, followed by a long hallway with offices on both sides and a big cell at the end of the hallway. On the front door was a Bulgarian flag and a big sign with Bulgarian writing, indicating the building was an official building.
In front of the building many “civilian cars” and vehicles referred to as “police cars” were parked. These were described as white Skoda cars with a blue stripe and recognized by image 3 as a Bulgarian Police car and additionally blue Volkswagen vans with writing, recognized by image 4 as a Bulgarian Police van. In the surrounding of the building were many other high buildings and several cars.
Image 3: Common Bulgarian Police car
Image 4: Bulgarian Blue Common Police van
Inside the detention site over 20 other people in uniform were present. They wore deep blue jackets and pants with a logo on the shoulders – the same logo the respondent recognized on the vehicles – and “police” written in small capital letters on the top of their left chest and on their backs, recognized as Bulgarian police uniforms through image 5.
Once inside the detention site, 2 men wearing the described blue uniforms asked the POM to hand over their phones and to leave their backpacks on the floor, then searched them physically. Their personal belongings were stolen and never returned. They were asked about their nationalities and how they came to Bulgaria.
The respondent recounts: “I started telling them what happened and suddenly one of them slapped me in my face and punched my friend in his face also. They started kicking and slapping us for almost 10 minutes.”
Subsequently, at around 8 am, the POM were put into a 4 x 4 meter-sized cell with “iron bars” instead of a door and with one bunk bed inside. Inside the cell, approximately 40 other people from Syria, Morocco, Algeria and Iraq within an age range from 20 to 50 years were detained. Among them were at least three women.
The detainees were not offered any food or water during custody, nor were they given access to a toilet. The respondent stated: “No [we were not allowed to go to the toilet]. I didn’t ask but you are not allowed anything in there”.
No documents were checked, no translator was present, no fingerprints or photos of the POM were taken. The respondent and his transit group stayed in the cell for about 4 hours, until around 12 pm, when 4 men, wearing the same deep blue uniforms as described before, took all the people from the cell and loaded them into the trunk of a truck. The vehicle was described as a green, old Zil Mercedes soviet truck and identified by image 6 below. The trunk measured 3 x 4 meters. As there were no seats inside, the POM had to stand all the way and they could not sit on the floor as the trunk was too crowded with all 43 people inside.
They drove for around 6 hours and the driving was described as fast. The POM could not see outside, nor could they breathe properly. The car stopped 4 times along the road and groups of people were taken from the trunk. “All we could hear were people’s screaming of pain and beating outside”.
The respondent and one of the people from his initial transit group were among the last group to be taken out of the trunk. After 6 hours, at around 6 pm, they arrived at the border site, close to an unpaved road. At this location, 2 men wearing green camouflage uniforms with Bulgarian flags on the arm, identified as Bulgarian army uniforms by image 7, and 4 men in sacramento green uniforms with jackets with “border police” writing on the back and a logo on the shoulder, identified as Bulgarian Border Police uniforms by image 8, were present. They held tree branches.
At the location, there were two black discovery landrovers with “border police” writing which the respondent identified as Bulgarian Border Police vehicles by image 9.
The remaining 8 POM of Syrian, Tunisian and Moroccan nationalities and their ages ranging from 20 to 39 years and all males, were taken from the trunk of the car they came in and the uniformed men immediately started beating them for at least 20 minutes. They were beating with tree branches and kicking. The respondent stated that they were beaten on all parts of their bodies but especially on his arms which caused serious bruises (see image 10).
After that, the POM were searched again and their shoes, jackets and money were taken by the uniformed men and never returned. This incident took around 30 minutes.
Image 10: The respondent’s arm with bruises obtained from beating by uniformed men during pushback. Source: Josoor
Subsequently, the uniformed men opened a door in the border fence which the respondent described as “unofficial” and pushed all 8 POM back to Turkey when the sun was about to set, at around 7 pm.
Once on Turkish territory, the group started to walk away from the border. The respondent followed the others and they walked through mountains first, then followed an unpaved road until they arrived at a river where they drank from. They continued walking for 12 hours and subsequently arrived to Edirne.
The respondent expressed his intention to ask for asylum when they were apprehended in the first place. The response:
“First ignorance. Then they told us ‘yes we will take you to the camp’ but nothing happened. All we got was beating!”