The respondent, a 28-year-old man from Algeria, was in Kamara district of Thessaloniki on the 22nd of August 2020, when four persons in plainclothes approached him at 18:00. They asked him for his documents (“khartia”), claiming that they were the police. However, they did not show any official identification. Our respondent did not have the document, so they took him into a black personal car with no police signs and drove him to a place, apparently, an informal police station near Kamara, Thessaloniki, which was about a 10-minute drive away.
The place was an apartment in a residential building with no flags or any signs of an official state office, and no police cars parked in front. There were two offices in the flat and three cells for detained persons. All of the “officers” working there, two men and one woman, were wearing plain clothes and none of them showed the respondent any police badge or other identification document at any point. They were speaking Greek to each other.
When they brought him to the “station”, the “officers” took our respondent’s fingerprints, all personal information, and photographs. This made him think that he would be issued a police registration document, a “khartia.” He spent a night there in the cell. He was not treated violently, was given food and water, and had access to toilets. All of his valuables were confiscated and stolen – his mobile phone, money, silver rings, and other jewelry.
The next day, 10 more people from Pakistan were brought and put in the cell together with the respondent and they all spent another night there. On the 3rd day (24th August 2020), at around 15:00, they brought them all together to a large white van with seats inside, but no windows and no police signs. They drove for 20-25 minutes to a city near Thessaloniki, where they changed the vehicle. The place looked like a closed camp, a detention center for foreigners. They waited there for about 10 minutes until another vehicle arrived, which was the same as the previous one, a large unmarked white van for people’s transportation with no windows and Greek registration plates. The persons driving the second van were also wearing plain clothes.
They put all 11 people into the van and brought more people with other cars, who were also put into the same van. Altogether, there were about 40 people squeezed inside. “It was so hot, I couldn’t breathe in there,” the respondent shared.
After a 3 hour drive, the van stopped at a large building that might have been a police station or a military post near the Turkish border. 15 other people were brought and put into the van, bringing the total to 55 people. The group included old men, two women, one small child, and minors. Around 20:00, they were all brought to the Evros/Meriç River.
At the border, there were around 12-15 people, identified by the respondent as Greek soldiers wearing army pants, black t-shirts, and balaclavas. No flags were visible on their uniforms, and they spoke Greek to each other. They immediately started beating the people. They used metal batons and beat everyone except women and children. The mistreatment at the border lasted for about 40-50 minutes. The respondent’s back was hurt from the beating. “It was dark and we couldn’t see who would beat us, the beatings came by surprise,” the respondent said. Some people’s shoes were confiscated by the soldiers.
None of the people was given a chance to express the intent of applying for asylum in Greece. They were not allowed to speak to the officers or look at them. “If you want to speak to them, they will directly beat you,” the respondent explained.
There was one black-blue inflatable rubber dinghy on the river, operated by two persons of Pakistani origin, according to the respondent’s evaluation of their outlook and language. They were wearing balaclavas. They were driving the dinghy back and forth, picking up people in groups of 15. When they arrived on the other side of the river, our respondent’s group started yelling at the dinghy drivers and throwing stones at them for collaborating in the violent pushback. The masked dinghy drivers did not reply. According to the knowledge in the migrant community that our respondent shared with us, the Greek authorities are systematically using people from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other Asian and Middle Eastern countries as dinghy-drivers during pushbacks across the Evros/Meriç River. The respondent witnessed it in most of the eight cases in which he was pushed-back to Turkey. The dinghy drivers did not speak with the Greek soldiers, but it seemed as if they were in agreement. According to rumors in the migrant community, the Greek authorities promise these migrants Greek residency and legal documents in exchange for their collaboration in the illegal pushback procedure.
According to our respondent’s observations, another mass pushback must have taken place this night on the Evros/Meriç River. There must have been other cars bringing people to different points at the riverside. The officers must have been loading cars with people, bringing them to the border for the pushback, and then returning to get another load of people, and so on. He concluded this after meeting people in Turkey that were pushed-back on the same night. In his case, at no time during the entire process was he shown any official identification by the officers involved in the pushback.
After being pushed-back, the respondent slept in the woods for about 4 hours with a large group of people and then walked to the village of Uzunköprü (Turkey), which was about 70 kilometers away from the pushback point. He described how on the way, individuals he believed to be Turkish army officers attempted to stop them by shouting, but they ran away and dispersed. Our respondent remained together with his 3 friends. He did not have any navigation and did not know where they were, but was able to find the way due to his previous pushback experience. They received some money from the locals in Uzunköprü, with which they bought bus tickets and continued their way to Istanbul.