The respondent, a 37-year-old-man from Algeria, experienced a total of six pushbacks before the most recent, which was a violent chain pushback from Bulgaria to Greece to Turkey.
The respondent explained that he crossed on the 4th of August 2021 from the Evros/Meric River, near Kapikule, Turkey to Greece and then later to Bulgaria. He recalled that he was with a Moroccan friend and while walking on the second day before entering Bulgaria and still in Greece, they met a group of six Syrian men, with whom they walked together the whole time. The group’s ages ranged between 28 and 37. They walked for two nights and approximately 80 kilometres. Once in Bulgaria, the group walked for another three days and an estimated distance of 120 kilometres. Throughout the journey, the group of eight stayed together, as they were taking the same road.
All of them were reportedly apprehended just before sunrise while asleep, approximately 35 kilometres away from Sofia, in the middle of a forest by five officers. They were described as wearing civilian clothes, such as shirts and pants. Two of them were reportedly wearing black jackets which had “Polizei” (“police” translated from German) written on their uniform. The three others were just wearing camouflage jackets. The respondent noted that they did not wear balaclavas and started immediately beating the respondent and his transit group. Among each other, the officers spoke Bulgarian and one officer with the black jacket reportedly spoke in English to the Syrian individuals.
The respondent described how two of the officers only beat him and his Moroccan friend, as he reported that they assumed they were smugglers for about four minutes, until he fainted. After waking up again, they reportedly started beating and kicking him again, also using a black plastic baton.
“Now, any time I sneeze or cough, blood comes out of my mouth. While they were beating us, we tried to express that we want asylum and we kept saying, we are in peace and came for asylum, but they beat us even more and said ‘Asylum get the Asylum, here it is’ and beat us more”.
The respondent described being woken up by having water thrown over his face and being put into the trunk of a green Ford car together with the seven other men. The trunk was too small to accommodate the group, so the officers used force to make them all fit in. The respondent could not recall how many of the five officers went with them or who was driving, but later at the pushback site, just three of the five officers were there.
They drove fast and recklessly for what the respondent estimated to be 50 mins on mostly paved roads, and for approximately three kilometres on unpaved roads until they arrived at the pushback site (which was unidentifiable by the respondent) at the Greece-Bulgaria border. The respondent added that he wasn’t given any documents to sign by the Bulgarian authorities.
Arriving at the pushback point – a place along the green border with no fence – they took the group out of the trunk and said “go and never go back”. They were forced to undress and left in their underwear. All their belongings were taken by these three officers, who were the same ones who apprehended them at first. Two of the five officers that had beaten the transit group did not come, probably because of the lack of space in the car the respondent suspected.
According to the respondent, the eight men were pushed back and walked for 20 kilometres into Greek territory. On the way, they recalled finding a plate with “Ormenio” written on it. Next to a road, a truck stopped and they were apprehended a second time, this time now in Greece. The respondent described it as a military green camouflage truck with approximately eight to ten officers, all dressed in green military uniforms, with a logo of the Greek flag on their sleeves. These military officers kept the respondent’s group waiting and asked questions like “Where are you from, from where are you coming” to which the respondent answered that they are all Syrian and came from Bulgaria. One officer came to check the respondent, slapped him on his head and insulted him, “although I was already injured and naked. They kept laughing at us”.
The officers spoke English to the group and Greek to each other. One of the officers reportedly searched the area for other individuals while the other officers stayed watching the respondent and the other men. After waiting there for approximately 40 min, a white old Ford van without a number plate arrived with two officers sitting inside. They were both described as wearing civilian clothes and balaclavas. At about 4 PM, these two plain-clothed officers reportedly pushed the group and forced them to get into the van’s trunk.
After reckless driving for around 2 hours, first on paved roads and then further on unpaved roads, they arrived at the Evros/Meriç River. “You can’t imagine how many times we hit the side of the van when the van drifted..”. The respondent recalled that the van did not stop on the way, he was injured and it was very hot and the air condition was so bad that they could hardly breathe.
At the riverside, there was a white and blue Nissan vehicle with “police” written on it and three officers. Two of the officers were described as wearing sage green shirts and pants with Greek insignia on their sleeves, and the other was dressed in black and with a balaclava. These three officers slapped the respondent and the other group members several times to hurry them up. The respondent further explained that the officers kept the group hidden so as not to be seen by Turkish border control who was patrolling the area.
After walking for what the respondent estimated to be 100 m, the group was forced and threatened with firearms to enter the boat and drive back to Turkey. The boat was unstable so they used their hands to paddle but as the water was not deep, all of them jumped in the water and waded through the river until they reached Turkish territory. At the shore, they walked for approximately two to four kilometres until they were close to Üyüklütatar, 24 kilometres outside of Edirne, and continued walking for an estimated 4 hours until they arrived in Edirne.
Throughout the whole chain pushback, no food, water, or medicine was provided for the injured individuals. Instead the officers “kept joking, that they don’t care if I die or stay alive, all they care about is that we don’t stay in their country”.