A 52-year-old Kurdish man from Turkey arrived in Greece together with another person in order to seek political asylum on the 16th of December, 2020. At around 1 pm, they were about 500 meters inland from the Evros/Meriç river border, and were heading towards a police station near Feres, as they were stopped by 3 Greek soldiers. They explained to the soldiers that they are Kurdish refugees, fleeing persecution in Turkey, and wish to apply for international protection. The soldiers said “ok”, treated them well, and called the police. After about half an hour, three policemen in uniforms arrived with a police car, and the soldiers left.
The policemen were rude and started cursing at the transit group. As they body-searched them, the police forcefully stripped the respondent’s friend. When he resisted, they beat him with fists and kicked him. They took their ID cards, mobile phones, and the money they had on them. 800 euro was stolen from our respondent and around 750 euro from his friend. The two explained to the police that they are Kurds fleeing persecution in Turkey, and wish to apply for political asylum. The respondent showed them a court document stating that he was sentenced to 18 years in political prison in Turkey. A policeman made a phone call and two policemen in uniforms arrived in a white van with no official markings. They ordered them into the empty backspace of the van, where there were no windows. The van was driving around in circles for 1 hour, passing by the Feres police station several times, as the respondent could see in the slit of the van’s backdoor.
Finally, they stopped at a border gate.
A black van arrived (a bit larger than the white one) with three tall officers in black uniforms wearing balaclavas. One of them opened the van’s backdoor and ordered them to get out. He spoke Turkish. The two explained again that they wish to apply for asylum. “It’s over,” he said. The two got scared, thinking that he might have been a Turkish officer. They ordered them into the windowless backspace of the black van and drove for about 10 minutes. Then they stopped, opened the backdoor, and told them to get out. They were at the Evros riverbank.
According to the respondent, the officers in black spoke a non-Greek language, English or German among each other. They also had an EU emblem on their shoulders.
On the river, there was a dinghy with three young migrants on it, either Arab or (more probably) Afghan, according to the respondent’s assessment. The officers told them that they were on the border with Bulgaria, which was a lie. They refused to get out of the van and objected to being pushed-back. They dragged them out by force and gun-point, and hit them on their backs with the backs of their rifles so that they fell and rolled down the riverbank to the dinghy. “As they were wearing balaclavas, we thought they could kill us. Because in Turkey we have come across this and lost our close ones this way [by being murdered by masked officers],” said the respondent. They had no choice but to board on the dinghy.
The three dinghy-drivers told them that they were going to Turkey and refused to say more. They left the two on the other bank of the river and returned to the Greek side. They stayed in the woods near the border for three days with no food, water, phones, or money, because they were afraid of encountering Turkish authorities, as they would have been arrested and imprisoned. As they were wandering around in search of the way without any navigation, they found themselves near a police station three times by mistake. They thought that it was a Turkish police station, so they ran away, but as the respondent later realized by looking at their location on the map, it must have been a Greek police station on Greek soil.
“We lived such a traumatic thing. The most difficult thing was those three days there. For three days, we stayed in the midst of Turkish soldiers. We stayed there for three days. I have an arrest warrant in Turkey, they are searching for me, because my trial was concluded, I need to be imprisoned. So with this fear…”
On the third day, they found a way to Ipsala, Turkey. They got a taxi to Keşan, where the respondent knew someone, who paid for their taxi when they arrived. They wanted to go to Istanbul, but it was dangerous, because they needed to enter an ID number and a code in order to travel according to the Covid-19-related regulations. After they returned to Istanbul, the respondent waited for 10-15 days before fleeing the country again together with 3 other people. His friend has remained in Turkey and is forced to live in hiding. The respondent told us that he is afraid to flee the country because of the possibility of a pushback and arrest, as he had been sentenced to at least 10 years in political prison.
In his second attempt to find safety, the respondent arranged a lawyer in Greece beforehand and kept in touch with them while crossing the border by sending them his location. The group also took photographs of themselves after arriving in Greece to prove that they were there, in order to prevent being pushed-back. The lawyer advised them to register at the Feres police station as asylum seekers and sent them its location. As he had been pushed back by the police from that very police station, the respondent decided that he would rather walk till Thessaloniki in order to avoid another pushback. However, the lawyer informed the police about the refugees and they came to pick them up around 5 am. After walking for about 40 kilometers, they were 20-30 kilometers from Alexandroupoli.
The respondent was convinced that the police were planning to push them back again because a policeman was continuously asking him when was the last time he sent his location to the lawyer and how often was he sending it. He told him that he sent his location just an hour earlier. The police brought the group to the same border police station near which the respondent had been pushed-back before. When they asked him where his ID card was (which had been confiscated by the Greek police during the pushback), he was afraid to say the truth and said that it had been taken by the Turkish police. They stayed at the police station 6-7 days. Then they were sent to the Fylakio refugee camp, where they stayed for 24 days while their asylum applications were initiated. When they were released, they went to Athens in order to continue their asylum process.
“After us, they beat and threw-back [pushed-back] eight of our friends. In the last period, especially on this [Evros] border, I think the European Union police knows it, too. I think the special forces were from them. “How can people be helped, I wouldn’t know. Because people are really in big trouble. Big traumas are lived. I mean lives are ruined! For example, a lot of our friends have been arrested [after pushback] and are imprisoned. There was our HDP [People’s Democracy Party] mayor of a town in Diyarbekir. Him, too, for example. Actually, I shall say this: around the Fylakio camp, there is a town, a place where they left us. There, a friend leaves the camp and is about to take a bus and come here [to Athens]. The Greek police catch him and, despite having a document proving that he has started the asylum process, the police take him and bring him to the border [official border crossing] and hand him in to the Turkish police. In exchange for money. These friends are not in prison.” The Kurdish refugee in question held an asylum seeker card (“ausweis”), the respondent told us. “This friend is now in the Edirne prison, serving 12, 13 years of imprisonment.”
The respondent told us that he had to leave his family behind and flee in order to escape unlawful imprisonment. His wife and daughter had to move to a remote place away from their home city in order to be safer from state violence, but as long as they remain in Turkey, they will remain exposed to police violence and harassment. The respondent is hoping to get them to safety, too, once his asylum gets approved.
“Look, I am 53 years old. I stayed in prison for 13 years, besides this I was arrested a few times in this recent period [under the current regime] and I was tortured. In fact, I never wanted to come to Europe. I still don’t want it. For example, if I hadn’t had this sentence, I would have returned to my country; I would have returned to my family. I love my country. But I came here out of necessity. I came here at the age of 53 because I had to flee. We don’t have any other chance to live. No chance; either you are going to die – and people have died, they are telling us either die or leave. We are coming to ???. We are not after these people’s money, not after these people’s ???, not after these people’s lands. We came because our lives were in danger and no other reason. If we [the Kurds] had a country, we would have gone there.”