A 22-year-old Syrian man recounts his violent pushback from close to Golyam Dervent, Bulgaria to Vaysal, Turkey. This was the third pushback he had experienced.
The respondent crossed at around 8 pm on 26th December, close to Hamzabeyli. He was in a group of 4 other Syrians – aged between 22 and 42 years – there was one woman in the group, the rest were men.
A car picked them up and took them to the border. They were dropped a few kilometers from the border fence with Bulgaria, approximately 2-3 km at most. They walked this distance to reach the fence. They arrived at the border at approximately 10 pm on 26th December 2021. They were surrounded by forests from both sides and crossed into Bulgaria.
They crossed into Bulgaria at around 11 pm the same day. The group started to walk fast to avoid being seen. They found a way in the unpaved road and it was a little bit muddy. They kept walking for almost four hours without stopping. The group crossed was through the middle of mountains on a road, surrounded by forest. They walked about 6 km in 4 hours.
At about 3 am, the group saw the light of a car coming towards them, so they hid on the side of the road, hoping they would not be seen. They were not able to identify the car as they did not see much due to the darkness and that they were hiding. Out of concern of being spotted, they chose to stay far away from the road.
The group was heading to a point where someone was supposed to pick them up and take them to Sofia, so they waited for a bit longer until the coast was clear to then start walking fastly to get to the meeting point. They kept walking for another 5 hours until they arrived and hid there. The sun started to rise at about 8 am. They waited in a forest near the road, close to a village called Lalkovo, for a driver to pick them up. They waited there for one hour before they were caught.
After one hour, they were sitting down and they heard dogs barking. The group started to get afraid.
The woman in the group was suddenly attacked by a German Shepherd dog. The dog started pulling her from her coat and she screamed loudly. The attack lasted for about five minutes. There was also another German Shepherd that started attacking the rest of the group for about 15 minutes.
Then, 6 (all male) officers appeared. The officers were all wearing green uniforms – shirt and pants – and black boots. Some were wearing green jackets and pants, and sage green pants. The uniform had “border police” written on its back and kind of a logo on the arm. They were holding guns in their holsters. The uniforms described were consistent with the Bulgarian border police uniforms pictured below.
Backs of Bulgarian border police uniforms (https://www.balcanicaucaso.org/eng/Areas/Bulgaria/Balkan-route-fragile-calmness-on-the-Bulgarian-front-199954)
One of the officers held the dogs, the other 5 started beating the group for 10 minutes using plastic batons. There was no logic to the beating, it was random. The respondent explained that he was not sure if the woman in the group was beaten as well, but she was screaming because she was afraid. Apparently, her coat helped her to avoid serious injuries from the dog attack.
The officers then started searching the group and forced them to undress to their underwear in front of the woman. This took about 10 minutes and they were undressed individually. The officers did not undress the woman but searched her and kept touching her in intimate areas. This lasted about 5 minutes. The officers took her jacket and the money that she had hidden in her underwear. Other members of the group also had money taken from them.
The respondent explained that they asked for asylum after they were beaten. He explained to the officer that they wanted to go to a camp. They were denied this right. They were also denied food, water, and medical assistance.
The officers gathered the group and burned all the things that were taken from them but kept the money that they had stolen. The officers did not return any personal belongings to the group – not even water or the medicine they stole from a man in the group. According to the respondent, this man had breathing problems and needed this medicine. He begged to be returned the medicine and one of the officers screamed at him and kicked him. The officer smashed the medicine with his boots.“They [officers] emptied the bottle of water in front of us and they didn’t give it to us to drink”, the respondent explained. “A kind of schadenfreude”.
This happened at about 9 am on December 27th 2021.
Then four officers made them wait while two officers went to bring the cars. The respondent guessed the cars could not have been far as the cars came after 5 minutes. Both cars were black land rovers with “border police ” written on the front of them. The respondent identified the cars as like those in the image below.
Bulgarian Border Police – Discovery Landrovers (Source: https://sofiaglobe.com/2019/03/08/bulgarian-border-police-get-70-off-road-vehicles-costing-more-than-7m-leva/)
The officers spoke to the group in English and Bulgarian to each other. The respondent explained that he knew some Bulgarian and heard them talking to each other saying “see those bastards”. One of the other officers was talking to his wife on video call and showed the group to her with his phone camera. The respondent explained that he did not speak to the officers in Bulgarian: “No way! If they knew you talking Bulgarian – you dead”.
Subsequently, the cars arrived. In the first car, the two dogs were loaded while the group of 5 was loaded into the trunk of the second car. The one woman in the group could not walk properly, she was stressed and scared. One of the officers kicked her hard on the back to make her walk and she was loaded into the trunk of the car with the other members of the group. The size of the trunk was 2 x 2m and there was no place to sit. The respondent explained that they could not breathe properly:“We were totally locked in like we are beef meat to be transported”.
They were not able to see anything outside and driven for 20 minutes along unpaved roads. The respondent remarked that their driving was very fast. Then they arrived at the Bulgarian border to Turkey. The other car with the two dogs did not come to this location.
The group was taken out of the trunk and the officers pulled a small opening in the fence, approximately 1 x 0.5 metre, and made the group crawl through it. This was not an official entrance. The vehicle was parked very close to this “door”, about 5 metres from it.
The officers told the group “next time we will kill you” and then they started screaming “Go go go!”.“We were in the middle of nowhere. Barefoot. No phone. No water. I wanted to ask the officer where to go but he pulled out his gun and aimed it at me and said “Go!”
The total time the group was at this location was 10 minutes
The whole group kept walking for 3 hours without shoes until they arrived at a village called Vaysal, Turkey where they were able to get a taxi. The cost for the taxi ( ~600 TL for all of them) was covered by one member of the group who was able to somehow hide the money from the officers.
“The officer was ready to kill me. He aimed [the gun] at me. Do you think he would care if I was injured? They take our medicines, they never care. They consider us as dust. They will never return you any belongings”.