The respondent, a 30 year old Syrian, experienced more than 10 pushbacks, 3 of them within the past month, all of them between land borders. The most recent pushback he experienced from Strandzha (BG) to Malkoclar (TR).
He started his journey on the first of February in Istanbul. The smuggler had rented a van to get them to Edirne. The respondent was with 10 other people who were all from Syria, male and between 19 – 50 years old.
They left Istanbul at 6 pm and arrived in Edirne at 10 pm. On the next day, the 2nd of February the smuggler took them at 8 pm in the same van to the border where they crossed to Bulgaria. The drive from Edirne to the crossing point took 1,5 hours. The driver of the van didn’t take the group directly to the border but parked at some place from where the group walked to the border. They walked an additional 4 hours to the border with 10 minutes resting in between. The walk was through a forest and on an unpaved road and they reached the spot at 1 am, the 3rd February.
Once at the border, they waited for 5 minutes to check if somebody could see them. The spot was near to the village Şükrüpaşa.
The agreement was to walk 20 km on Bulgarian territory to a point near route 59 from where a driver would pick up the group.
The group walked 7 hours continuously by just taking 5 minutes of break to get to the agreed point. They walked through the mountain and in a forest and arrived at 8 am on the 3rd of February. They decided to hide until night and if the car didn’t come by then to pick them up, the guide would find another pickup point from where the driver could come to.
From 8 to 10 am they hid in the forest near an unpaved road. The nearest city to that place was Stoilovo, about 10 km away. The spot itself was in a small forest surrounded by weeds and thornbushes. The 11 men were apprehended at 10 am. Uniformed men came and parked on the road close to where the transit group was hiding. The respondent first assumed that it was a normal patrolling car, but later understood that the uniformed men somehow knew about the group hiding there. They came directly to the hidden spot, which was about 400 m far from the unpaved road.
The men in uniforms were screaming Bulgarian and seemed very angry but also spoke some words in English. The respondent described them as 6 men wearing sacramento green jackets and pants with “border police” written in on their backs, in black boots and an insignia of a lion with the Bulgarian flag stitched on the left arm. The respondent recognized the uniform as the one shown in the pictures below:
The 6 men arrived in 2 black landrovers, which also had “border police” and a sign written on the side of the car. The third vehicle was a green Jeep with words in Bulgarian written on it and white stripes.
The respondent recognizes the vehicles in the following pictures:
2 out of 6 of the officers threatened the group with guns, so nobody would run. The other 4 were armed with guns, having them in the holster. The two guns (pistols) were facing the respondent and the others. The respondent describes the gun as a black old russian gun and a Beretta M9. The respondent recognized the two pistols which are shown in the pictures below.
They started beating, kicking and punching in the face immediately everyone in the group for 30 minutes. The beating was described as “random” and “all over the bod[ies]” of the respondent and others in the transit group. They used a metal baton and a broken branch from the trees for the beating. After 30 minutes they left them for 5 minutes, started smoking. One of the uniformed men stubbed out his cigarette on one of the respondent’s friends’ head. The friend started screaming so the man brought the branch and kept beating him individually for 3 minutes.
After the beating they forced the group to undress till they were completely naked and searched all of them for another 30 min.
They took shoes and everything that was in the bags: money, jackets and phones. In total they took from the group 700 Euros and just gave pants and shirts back.
After beating them up, the uniformed men asked the transit group where they crossed, who the guide was, and to where the group was going. They answered that they jumped from the fence and wanted to reach Sofia and ask for asylum.
“We only asked for our old friend who has a heart disease to get back his medicines which he carries in his backpack. If they wanted, they would never stop beating us – until we are dead.”
The friend who asked for the medicine got hit with the metal baton on his knees until they were bleeding and he could barely walk after that.
“They never care or ask for our documents”. After 1 hour, at 11 am, the men in uniforms made them step in a line and made them walk to the unpaved road. In order to walk faster, they kicked and hit them with a branch. At site there was another truck waiting for them into which the group was loaded in. The respondent was the second last person.
The truck was forest green in color, with a small window on the top and a small door for the trunk itself. The trunk was 4 by 2 meters in size and had no place to sit. They had to stand on the cold metal, as their shoes were taken away previously, and the weather was very cold.
The respondent identified the truck as the one below:
All of the 11 people of the group were loaded in the trunk. 2 men wearing green camouflage jackets and pants with black boots (which looked, according to the respondent, similar to the bulgarian army) were driving the truck. One of them was armed with a gun, which was tied on his neck. The respondent recognized the gun and uniform from the pictures below:
The two men were standing next to the truck, waiting for everybody to be loaded in and then locked the door. The driving was reckless and fast. All the way on unpaved roads as the respondent and the group were shaking inside the trunk. They could barely stand because of the reckless driving and the injuries sustained from the beating. “The pain was insufferable”.
After 45 minutes they arrived next to the fence, surrounded by forest. The fence had a small door in it. The same men were at site, wearing uniforms similar to the Bulgarian border police and Bulgarian army. 6 of them were wearing green sacramento jackets and pants with “border police” written on their backs. 2 of them were wearing green camouflage uniforms which looked similar to the bulgarian army with a bulgarian flag stitched on their right arm sleeves.
After arriving at the site, the transit group was taken out of the truck one by one and beaten again for 2-4 minutes with a branch until they all ran through the small door to Turkish territory. Everybody got heavily beaten, even on their heads. The friend with the bleeding knees was beaten up even more. Only the men who were dressed in green camouflage which looks similar to the bulgarian army uniform did not participate in the beatings.
The door, according to the respondent did not look like an official door, but rather 2 by 1 meters in size and opening more like a garage door. As the uniformed men already had taken all of the belongings from the transit group, they did not search the transit group again before pushing them back.
“We were pushed back in the middle of nowhere, only wearing shirts and pants”.
At 12:30 am they were pushed back to Turkey. “We were lucky, we had to carry our friend who was more injured than us”. They walked for 40 minutes until reaching a small village called Malkoclar where they asked for help from a civilian who drove them back to Edirne if they paid 300 Turkish Lira per person. The guide asked to use the civilian’s phone to call the smuggler who later paid the money for everybody once they arrived in Edirne.
The group asked for asylum after they were beaten up and in response to the officers question where they were going. The response was then more heavily beating. “They don’t want us in Bulgaria”. During the whole time no food or water was given nor medical assistance. “We thank god cause we stood alive after all that beating”.