The respondent, a 27-year-old Syrian, experienced his most recent pushback from Bulgaria to Turkey on the 25 of December 2021.
The man and 14 other people were staying in Edirne, waiting for the night in order to cross the border by nighttime. At 6 pm on the 23rd of December, a van was brought to that house and the people were asked to get in the van. They were supposed to be driven close to the fence, near to Şükrüpaşa and walk for another 10 km once on Bulgarian territory until a car would pick them up and bring them to Sofia. The van drove from Edirne towards the border for almost 1 hour, the rest they had to walk as it was a military zone and too near the border, so the car could not get closer. It was around 7 pm, 2 hours until 9 pm the group walked for almost 4 km. The respondent describes the area as very hard to walk, it was raining, very hard mountain and everything was wet. He adds that they crossed a small river, walked in the forest for a bit before arriving at a high fence that was barbed from all sides.
The group consisted of 15 people in total. All were Syrian, 2 women among them, and their ages ranged from 17 to 26.
At the border, they waited for 30 minutes watching until a small hole could be cut, through which everybody crossed. In total, it took 10 minutes, so they started walking in Bulgaria around 11 pm.
One man of the group was looking at a map and the whole group started walking in the forest until they reached a small village near the border. They walked through the whole night for 8 hours, the respondent estimated 14 km, on unpaved roads in the mountains and hid by the early morning, only taking a 10 – 20 minute break. Fearing the villages and the danger to be seen, they stayed between the mountains and called for a van to the mountains instead to a village. According to the respondent’s friend, who was leading the group using the map, they hid close to Gramatikovo.
At 8 am, the 24th of December, all of the group hid till 7 pm when it got dark. The hiding point was between hills so they couldn’t see anything from there.
They received a text message to saying it was better to stay and hide in that place until a van could pick them up. They waited until 2 am, on the night of 25th of December, started feeling hungry and cold because they ran out of food and didn’t have jackets to protect from cold weather.
At 2 am, they moved to a location which was 2 hours walking distance away. The group started walking in the forest so as not to be seen. They reached the location and waited for another hour closeby until 5 am, the 25th of December.
While waiting, 2 officers came from the back armed with guns and told them “stop stop”. 4 officers came and directly kicked a kid sitting next to the respondent with his boots in the face; he started bleeding. The officers kept beating all of the group with a branch, also the women among them. They asked for their phones, of which they only had 4, including one from the respondent.
The officers asked them to stand up in order to search them one by one, looking for money or hidden things. One officer found headphones in the respondent’s pocket, said “big problem” and wanted the respondent to unlock his phone so he could hear music. “He had fun”, he said, “it was a good headset”. Among each other the officers spoke Bulgarian. They searched everybody for about 40 minutes and took everything they found, one woman had 800 euros. “They made us stay undressed in front of the women, only in underwear.” The women were also searched by male officers, although female officers were at site as well.
“And we saw how the officer was searching the women and how he touched their bodies and they were scared and crying but he kept screaming on their face to shut up which scared them more.”
The officers took phones, money, power banks and anything they found suitable for them and gave only pants and shoes back before they brought them to the fence.
In total 6 officers were on site, one female officer among them. The uniform consisted of green jackets with “border police ” written on their back, a logo on their arm sleeves, and black boots. 4 officers were armed with guns, also holding branches and a plastic police baton.
After being searched, the respondent and others were asked to stand up and while they tried to get back dressed, they were beaten to hurry up. After 10 minutes, they had to walk for 5 – 10 minutes to the paved road from where they had been hiding. At the street, a black land rover was already waiting, and another black land rover appeared soon after with two officers in it. The 15 people were loaded in these two cars. “Police” was written in front of the car and the respondent confirmed the vehicle to look like the following image.
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 two officers in the arriving land rover were dressed in the same uniform. They loaded the people in the trunk of the cars, 9 people in the trunk of the respondent’s car, 6 in the other. The two women were loaded in the other car. The trunk was 2 by 2 meters in size, under normal conditions 3 people would barely have fit in. They couldn’t properly breathe, it was locked from all sides and they kept colliding against each other.
The window of the trunk was black so they couldn’t see anything on the way. The drive took about 30 minutes on the first 3 km paved and the rest unpaved road as there were many pitfalls. It was very fast and the people in the trunk kept hitting their heads against each other and the side of the trunk. They arrived at the border near the fence, all surrounded by a forest. The respondent saw an unpaved road near to the fence.
The other car with 6 people, among them the 2 women, was brought to another place at the border. There were 4 officers who came in the car with the respondent, the female officer among them. These officers took the 9 people out of the trunk by screaming and pulling them and told them in English to sit down. The respondent assumes that it must have been around 11 am.
After 20 minutes one of the officers opened a sliding door in the fence, by pulling it down and a small hole appeared. The female officer told the people of the group to take off pants and shoes and to go back like that. Just dressed in underwear they crawled back to Turkey. The officers were laughing and kicked them in their backs to go faster. The female officer said “Hey Arab no, Bulgaria no” and laughed at the respondent.
After arriving in Turkey, the nine people kept walking but were disoriented. They met a Turkish lumberjack who gave them some water and a phone to call the smuggler to help them. The smuggler called a taxi driver who took them from Karadere, where they had been, back to Edirne.
The intention to ask for asylum was not expressed as they were not allowed to talk. No water, food, or medical assistance was offered.“They [the police officers] didn’t listen to me. They were already clearly everywhere. They [Bulgaria] don’t want us, all they doing are all these fences and officers – they know we are peaceful and we are not a source of danger. But we are nothing for them. No one can feel our pain. That’s the reality”