The respondent is a 24-year-old man from Morocco, who traveled with a 20-year-old man as well from Morocco. This was his 6th pushback, as he had already been pushed back once from Greece to Turkey, and four times from Bulgaria to Turkey.
The respondent and his friend started walking from Edirne on 17.01.2022 at 8 pm for nearly a day towards Hamzabeyli, from where they were planning to cross the border. The day after, at 5 pm on the 18th they reached Hamzabeyli. From time to time they rested for 10 minutes. After arriving at the border, in order not to be seen from anywhere, they hid in the cold for a while in a big forest. The respondent described the fence as 5 meters high which is barbed from everywhere. Cameras are placed on the fence in order to control the area.
After some time, 4 men (from Algeria and Morocco) passed by and told them that the crossing point had been changed because they saw police cars on the previous point. The other 4 men then crossed from another point.
The respondent and his friend kept waiting for 3 hours near the fence but in the forest and hid behind trees. At 9 pm on 18.01.2022, they cut the fence crossed to Bulgaria. After crossing they started walking fast in the forest and tried to stay far away from the highway 7 of D535, which they saw on the map. They walked through the forest and mountain for 10 h for about 25 km with resting only 15 minutes 4 – 5 times.
“We couldn’t sleep. If we sleep in that weather we would have died and we had really nothing to stop the cold from getting in our clothes. They were really cheap and barely could protect us from the cold wind”.
Their destination was Sofía.
At 7 am on the 19th, they arrived at a small city and found a spot near agricultural land where they rested and hid in a small hill between the trees and high weeds for the day. It was near Elhovo, Bulgaria.
“We didn’t stay long, they caught us in there”. The two had put their bags as pillows to get some sleep to continue walking at night, when it’s dark. “So we put our heads on the bag for 30 minutes only”. Then police officers were kicking them to wake them up. They continued slapping and screaming at the respondent and his friend.
“We woke up afraid and they kept kicking us and threatening us with weapons in front of our faces to keep kneeling”. In total 4 men, identified as “officers” by the respondent were kicking them randomly. 2 of the men were dressed in Sacramento green jackets and olive green pants with black boots, similar to the uniforms worn by the Bulgarian border police. The two other men were wearing forest green woolen shirts and olive green pants with black boots. On the back they had written “Border police” with insignia and Bulgarian flags stitched to the uniform.
The respondent recognised the logo and uniforms as the following pictures:
Further on, these men, identified as “officers”, started searching the bags and throwing everything on the ground and then searching the respondent and the friend one by one. They took their jackets and gathered them together with the other stuff. They were told to remove the shoes which were then also collected with the other stuff. After that, the officers searched their pants and asked for phones and money in English. Among them, the respondent could hear them speaking only Bulgarian. They didn’t speak much, only a few English words like “Go, Stand up, where are you from”.
They took everything: phone, money (50 Euros), backpacks, food and water. “They cut my pants with a knife to get where I hid the money and slapped me for that.” One of the officers brought a branch and asked the respondent to stretch his hands and started beating his outer palm with the baton to punish him for hiding money, about 5 times, each time for 10 seconds. Nothing was turned back. “He was even upset about me having an old phone and started giving me that look, then he broke the phone and smashed it with his foot”.
In total all that described above lasted for 1 hour. The officers, set fire to the belongings of the respondent and his friend, kept smoking while they were kneeling barefoot and had to watch the fire. They walked for 5 minutes barefoot and were asked to stay in line. The car was parked on the side of the road. It was a black land rover with big tires and “Police” written in white on the front, just like the picture below.
To that car, they were loaded in the trunk which was 2 by 1 metres in size. It was dark and locked and they couldn’t see anything. These officers started driving to the border for about 30 minutes on an unpaved road. There were many potholes on the way that made them bump into each other in the trunk. The officers parked the car and let the respondent and his friend stay in the trunk for almost 15 minutes, he could hear them outside talking. “I was totally afraid and scared. I thought they were planning to kill us”.
In one of the previous pushbacks, 2 months earlier, one officer shot fire on the people to stop them. That contributed to the fear of the respondent being killed.
The officers opened the door and took them outside. As the respondent’s hand was hurting, one officer asked “What’s wrong” and told him to show his hands and hit him with a police plastic baton again on his back. He laughed and told me to walk and kicked him to walk faster.
They opened the door in the fence and pushed them back to Turkey. It was a 1,70 meters by 0,50 meters door on the fence which had to be pulled from the top to open a small window through which one had to crawl to cross. The area around was forested.
In Turkey, the respondent and his friend walked for 4 hours, until reaching Dereköy at 3 pm, still the 19th of January 2022.
They walked on a paved road until getting a ride to Edirne by a Turkish man in a trunk.
“We lost everything, we didn’t have any chance to survive if we go to other place”.