The respondent was a 31-year-old Syrian male. He was travelling in a group of 14 people, all of whom were Syrian apart from one Afghan male who was the road guide. There were 4 minors in total in the group, one 5-year-old male, one 7-year-old female, and 2 teenage boys without their families. The 10 adults were 4 women and 6 men. The oldest in the group was 35 years old.
The group drove from Edirne on December 8, at around 1pm in a smuggler’s van. The van drove for around 1 hour. Just before the border, the group got out and walked to the fence, waiting close to Hamzabeyli.
The group waited in the forest near a high barbed wire fence for around one hour. A Bulgarian border police car waiting at the fence, so the group waited for the car to leave before they crossed. The car was a black Land Rover with ‘Border Police’ written in white writing. The respondent identified the car as like those in the picture below.
Inside the car were 3 officers, but the respondent could not see their uniforms clearly, except the green sleeve of the officer in the back. After one hour, the car left and the group crossed the fence using a ladder and jumping on the other side and running into the forest for around 1km. The group were aiming to reach Sofia and were expecting a car to pick them up at a certain point beyond the border to take them there. The group walked for four hours into Bulgaria.
At around 8pm, the driver called to say that he had been caught by the police on the way, and they would need to arrange a new pickup point. The group waited for 5 hours in a forest near to a paved road close to Mamarchevo. The respondent marked the place on the map below.
After 5 hours, at around 1am on December 9, the group started walking to another point. The group walked through the forest avoiding paved roads and villages. They arrived at the second point at around 4am. The respondent remembers all the spots clearly as he was navigating using google maps.
The group waited at this spot for the driver and hid in the forest close to an unpaved road and some mountains. The children were freezing cold, and the respondent and his son were particularly uncomfortable as they were suffering from croup (also known as Angina trachealis, causing a cough, and breathing difficulty). The respondent was carrying medicine for this illness.
The group waited until the driver called to say he would not arrive until the next day as the sun was rising and they needed to wait until it was dark again. At this point it was around 6am.
The group decided to take it in turns to sleep, some people slept while others kept watch. At around 9pm on December 9, they started moving again. They walked for 4 hours to another point and arrived around 200 or 300m from an unpaved road. The respondent identified this spot on a map as close to Pchela village. They arrived there at around 1am on December 10.
The driver told the group to light their phone torch to show where the group was hiding. Then a black mini van arrived, which the respondent believed to be a Ford transit.
Once the van arrived the group realised that it was a trap. There were 4 or 5 officers in the van with the driver. One of the officers was driving the van. All of them wore black jackets, pants, and boots with black balaclavas, but with no logos or marks that they were officers. They all carried guns.
Once they saw who was inside the van one group member started running. The officers started to fire their guns in the air to stop him and force the others out from their hiding place. The officers caught some people in their group and the respondent’s wife and children stayed hidden in the trees.
Then a black Land Rover arrived, with border police written on it. This car looked the same as the one they had seen when first entering Bulgaria. The car had 4 more officers inside. These officers wore green jackets with the word ‘Police’ written on their back, like Bulgarian Border police uniform jackets, as pictured below. They parked the car near where the respondent was hiding and started shouting at everyone to get out. At this point the group member put up his hands to surrender and came out of his hiding place. Then one officer in a black uniform pulled out his gun and shot him in the lower leg. Then 3 officers in the black uniform pulled him by his shirt and started beating him. They continued kicking him, punching him and kicking him for around 10 minutes.
The officers gathered everyone in the group all together and started searching them one by one. They confiscated phones, money, power banks, shoes and jackets. They also took clothes they had in their bags, leaving everyone barefoot in shirts and pants.
There were no female officers, so the male officers also searched the women. The respondent stated that they touched them ‘in a shameful way’ and also took jackets and shoes from them.
The officers left the children their shoes but also searched them. They confiscated medicines and even a small bottle of water from the respondent’s son’s backpack. The officers kept the group there for one hour, and beat all the adults.
Over the space of one hour, the officers kicked members of the group and beat them with a police baton. They hit the women on the back with the batons.
One of the officers asked the respondent in Arabic ‘Where do you want to go?’ He spoke modern standard Arabic. The respondent could not identify the dialect but said that it was not Syrian. The respondent replied that they wanted to go to Sofia. The officer said, also in Arabic, ‘Is Sofia so beautiful as to go to this much to get to it?’ Then he said, ‘I will show you Bulgarian beauty’ and then hit the respondent with a baton in the chest and kicked him. At this point the children started crying and the officer screamed at them to shut up.
They also heard the officers speak Turkish with the Afghan man. They asked him where he was from, and how much money he had. When they spoke to each other the respondent believed they were speaking Bulgarian.
After an hour, a green military truck arrived. The respondent identified it as similar to the truck pictured below.
There were 2 officers in the truck wearing a camouflage military uniform, identified as Bulgarian army uniform, pictured below. The officers had a Bulgarian flag logo on their arm.
The officers loaded all the group into the back of the van, except for the original driver who was kept in the first van. They could see him looking from the window of the van.
The guide was seriously injured from his gunshot wound and the group had to help him into the van. The back of the truck was 3m by 1.5m and was very cold and locked from all sides.
The officers drove the group to the fence, which was around a 10 minute drive. At the fence, there were the two officers in camouflage uniform, and the 3 officers with the black Land Rover. This was at approximately 3am on December 10.
The site was forest on both sides, the respondent stated it was likely not far from where they had originally crossed. They took everyone out of the car one by one and hit them with batons to push them back into Turkey. The respondent carried his two children and was not hit, but his wife was hit in the back with a baton as she got out of the truck.
Two members of the group helped the man with a gunshot wound get out of the truck. One officer hit someone carrying the injured man and he fell. The injured man screamed from pain and the officer laughed at him and hit his injury with a baton. He shouted at him to pull up his leg, shut up and beat the other 2 group members to carry him out of Bulgaria.
The group kept walking until they saw a paved road and reached a town called Vaysal. They asked for help using a phone and called the smuggler, who sent 2 taxis. One taxi took the guide to hospital in Istanbul and the other taxis brought the group to Edirne.
The group had requested asylum from the officers as they asked to go to camp in Sofia. They did not offer food or medical help or take photos or fingerprints of any member of the group.