The respondent, a 20-year-old Syrian woman, was pushed back from Matochina, Bulgaria to Hatipköy, Turkey on August 12th. She left Edirne on the 10th of August at around 4 pm along with 11 men, two other women, and five children—all Syrian. They walked for about six hours and then spent two hours at the border waiting in the rain. At around midnight, the group crossed into Bulgaria and then spent over a full day walking approximately 70 kilometers, with the aim of reaching the camp in Sofia.
At around 2 am on August 12th, they were apprehended by four male officers in a forest near a main road that led to a town. The officers were wearing sage green shirts and pants with “border police” written on the back; some of them were also wearing black jackets. The respondent recognized the uniform and insignia from the following pictures:
One of the officers spoke a little Arabic to the group, saying “go, go”, but in general the officers spoke English to the group and Bulgarian to each other. The respondent recalled, “They forced us to get on the ground and they started screaming. They asked the men to take off all of their clothes in front of us and then they searched us…[a male officer] tried to search me but I screamed and he stopped. But he searched the other women and touched their bodies and they were crying.” They searched the kids as well and separated the men from the rest of the group, beating them for about three minutes with a tree branch. The officers took their food, extra clothing, phones, and money.
After roughly a half an hour, the group was loaded into two green Nissan pickup trucks. The respondent was put in the trunk of one car, which measured around one by two meters, with eight other people, including two other women, the respondent’s infant and two small children, one man, and two other children. The respondent stated that she had asked for asylum, saying:
“I talked to the officers and told them that I am with my two little kids and I want asylum and it was hard for me to get to Bulgaria and I was begging them to let me stay and I was crying cause I don’t have anybody left for me, but an officer pushed me in the trunk and locked the door on me.” She said they couldn’t breathe properly in the car, recalling, “It was hard—there were too many of us in the trunk and it was dark and the kids were crying.”
For over an hour, they were driven along an unpaved road through the forest. The respondent said: “[The driving] was reckless and fast and we kept colliding into each other.” Finally, they arrived at the pushback site, where the officers opened something like a garage door in the border fence and screamed at them to go through.
All nine people were pushed back through the fence. They walked for three hours until they arrived at an old cemetery. There, they stopped to rest and then found the men they had been separated from. Together, they all walked for another hour until they arrived at a village where the respondent took a taxi back to Edirne, less than an hour away.
When asked if she had anything else to add, the respondent said:
“I just want to know why they push us back. We have suffered and we were with hungry and thirsty little kids and they humiliated us. Why all this violence? I walked for a long distance with my kids after they took everything from me and I don’t have anybody and I am from Idlib and there’s still war.”