On the 20th of August, a 19-year-old Syrian and 14 companions aged between 11 and 43 were pushed back from Bolyarovo, Bulgaria to Vaysal, Turkey. The group crossed from Turkey into Bulgaria at 20:00 the previous night. No smugglers were involved.
Along with a group of 44 other Syrians, including four minors and three women, the respondent crossed the Turkish border into Bulgaria. On the night of August 19th, the group took a taxi from Edirne to the Bulgarian-Turkish border, where they were dropped off and walked around 500 meters to the fence. Cutting a hole in the fence, the group crossed onto Bulgarian soil. They continued the next stage of the journey on foot, walking around 24 kilometers with only two five-minute breaks along the way, until they were stopped in the forest near Sharkovo by six Bulgarian Border Police (GDBP) patrolling on foot. At this point, the group had split in two; the respondent and 14 others led in the front group while the remaining 30 people followed behind. The people in the first group were physically beaten and stripped of their phones, money, and clothing. Among the group were four minors between 11 and 16 years old, who were also beaten by the officers.
The respondent said that the officers spoke English to the group and Bulgarian to each other and stated that they were wearing green sage-coloured shirts and pants. When shown a photo of the GDBP via an internal document listing different uniforms, the respondent confirmed their identity (see image A below).
After roughly one hour, three green pickups arrived, which were later identified by the respondent as cars belonging to the Bulgarian Border Police (see image B below). The group of 15 were packed into the trunk of one car and driven along unpaved roads to the border. The time was approximately 18:00. Cramped into a small trunk that measured approximately 2 by one meters with neither water nor room to move, the group was transported for about 40 minutes. The driving was described as “reckless” and aggressive, and the respondent said it was hot and difficult to breathe.
When the cars stopped, the group of 15 were met by 10 officers dressed in the same uniforms as those who had originally apprehended the respondent. The officers had two jeeps with them. The respondent also identified the vehicles as “sage-green Nissan jeeps” matching the same look and make as the Bulgarian Border Police (see image B below). Wearing only their underwear, the group was pulled from the jeep’s trunk one by one, while four officers’ stood at the door and hit them with batons. The officers opened a garage-door-like door in the fence and pushed the group through the fence and back over the border.
Barefoot and almost naked, the 15 Syrians walked along a thorny ground for about four hours back towards Vaysal. In the forest, four Turkish soldiers clad in green camouflage stopped them; they gave them food and water and one soldier gave his shirt to a man who was cold. Then the group continued on foot along the road until they reached Vaysal, from where they took a taxi to Edirne.
The respondent added that when they asked the police for asylum, “They said ‘Bulgaria, no’ and [instead] beat us with a baton.”