This testimony is part of a chain pushback from Bulgaria to Greece, and subsequently to Turkey. This account covers the first pushback ordeal of Bulgaria to Greece, while the testimony “We were lucky to find a small pool of water and we drank from it like we were animals” covers the second pushback ordeal from Greece to Turkey.
On January 17, 2022 the respondent and two other people on the move (POM) were pushed back from Ivaylovgrad, Bulgaria to Mikro Dereio, Greece. This incident is the first part of a chain-pushback the respondent and his two friends experienced. The second part of the chain-pushback is documented here “We were lucky to find a small pool of water and we drank from it like we were animals”
The respondent is a 32-year-old male Moroccan. He started his journey with two Moroccan male friends, between 27 and 32 years old, from Edirne, Turkey on January 13, 2022.
The group left Edirne at around 8 pm and walked for two hours until they arrived at the Turkish-Greek border fence at around 10 pm, when they crossed the border.
The journey of the group within Greece was continued by walking for two days (January 14 and 15) on unpaved roads and trails in the mountains in order to not be noticed by the authorities until they arrived at the Bulgarian border. They only took smaller breaks to sleep for approximately two hours in between. They didn’t enter any villages on the way but passed them at a distance in order to avoid any potential risk of being noticed.
On January 16, 2022, at 2 am they arrived at a place in the mountains near the village of Zoni where they ate and rested for approximately five hours. The respondent stated that he didn’t think they were seen or noticed by any authorities controlling the area or any cameras. Around 7 am on the same day the group continued walking and crossed the land border to Bulgaria, then continued walking at a normal pace for approximately 15 kilometres through mountains and on muddy grounds. They had to cross a river, which the respondent identified as the Arda river.
All three members of the group managed to pass the waist-deep water of the river and continued walking until they arrived at a forest on a mountain close to the village of Varbovo at around 5 pm on January 16, 2022. There, they tried to rest and warm up as their clothes were completely wet from the river crossing and they did not have additional clothes to change. After their two-hour break the transit group continued walking:
“It was such a muddy and slippery mountain. My friend was about to fall from a hill and nearly died… We kept walking until it was night and foggy and we couldn’t see anything.”
When the phone they carried ran out of battery they had been walking continuously for more than 7 hours. The last time they could check their exact location was at 3 am on January 17, 2022 and they were located in a forest about 10 kilometers away from the village of Harmanli where they took a 15-minute rest before continuing the walk for another hour. One member of the group was too exhausted to keep walking so they decided to rest and sleep for 4 hours. “We were so exhausted that we barely could move so we rested until the morning when we continued walking”, tells the respondent. They planned to go to Harmanli to buy bus tickets to go to Sofia.
The group continued walking at around 8 or 9 am. As the ground in the mountains was too slippery they decided to walk closer to a paved road (which was identified as road 808 by the respondent through a map) leading to Harmanli. The respondent described how they used unpaved roads and moved slowly and cautiously in order to not be seen.
The respondent recalled that suddenly a black land rover drove fast on the same unpaved road and the transit group tried to hide. It turned out that the car was staffed with what the respondent referred to as “officers” and that the respondent believes they knew the transit group was there. The car parked and 5 people got out, reportedly screaming at the group in Bulgarian. The respondent and his companions were very afraid and feared that they might have dogs that they could let go after them which is why they froze at the place they had been hiding.
“We were on our knees with our hands in the air. Once they caught us they immediately started kicking and beating us and screaming at us. We were begging them [to stop]: ‘please, please’ but they kept beating us and said ‘fuck you’ and screamed at our faces. They kept suffocating me by the neck and punched me”.
The respondent reported that this assault continued for more than half an hour and kicking, punching with fists and metal batons were used for the beating.
The five persons referred to as “officers” wore forest green jackets and olive green pants with Bulgarian flags on the uniforms, “border police” written on the arms and the back, and a logo on the shoulders.
The officers reportedly carried firearms, and the respondent said that two officers aimed a weapon at the transit group and threatened them.
The officials started to ask questions about where the group came from and where they were going in English, and “every time [we] answered, they kicked us and beat us with the metal baton”. When one member of the group answered that they aim to go to the refugee camp in Sofia, the officials started to search him in detail and the respondent explained that they took his personal belongings, including money and mobile phone. “They [the officers] searched my friend and found the phone and the money he had. The officer put the money and the phone in his pocket”.
The officials spoke to each other in Bulgarian and the respondent said that the group later understood that they agreed on filming each other:
“He asked him to take a video of him beating our friend by kicking. His colleague started taking a video with his phone and they were laughing. He didn’t stop – he also started kicking us everywhere.”
The reported assault lasted for 2 minutes and the punching and kicking was at random places on the body; batons were used. Afterward, the respondent described how the officers started to scream at the transit group and asked for “money money para”. The group felt forced to give all the money they were carrying which amounted to around 250€ – the respondent himself reported that 70 € was taken, and his phone, backpack and shoes were stolen and not returned by the Bulgarian officials.
After approximately one hour the group was forced to walk around 200 metres until they arrived at the black land rover they had noticed before. The car had logos on the side and “police” written on the front.
The three men were reportedly forced to enter the 2 x 2 metre sized trunk of the car in which they were locked. They couldn’t breathe properly or see anything from the outside. The car drive was not continuous. After approximately 30 minutes they stopped and the officers left the car for about 10 minutes before the drive continued for another 15 minutes until they arrived in an area with unpaved roads in the mountains.
The respondent reported that the men were taken from the trunk of the car. The officers kicked them hard to make them “go fast”. “One of the officers aimed a gun at us to force us to run”. They were pushed back to Greece in this way at around 1 pm on January 17th, 2022.
The men started running as the respondent said they were afraid to be shot. They only slowed down when they had to climb down a hill. After some time they started to walk at normal pace:
“We were suffering; we were barefoot; we kept walking for one hour. When we found a rock with a Greek flag we knew that we are in Greece”. They couldn’t recognize the exact time or location of the pushback as their phones were confiscated before. The next location recognized by one member of the group was Micro Derieo after they continued walking for another 8 hours.
The respondent detailed that one member of the group tried to ask for asylum for all of them but was beaten by the officers for asking. No papers were signed and no pictures or videos were taken apart from the video of the beating of one member with an officers’ private phone.
When asked whether they were provided any food, water or medical assistance the respondent said: “They took what we have. Do you think they will give anything? Of course they never do that. They never care about us”.
After this, the group continued their journey which resulted in another pushback. The second part of the chain pushback can be found here “We were lucky to find a small pool of water and we drank from it like we were animals”