The respondent is a 21-year-old man from Morocco who was pushed back multiple times from North Macedonia to Greece. The first and second time took place consecutively on the 2nd and 3rd of January 2022. The third, fourth, and fifth in succession on the 25th, 26th, and 27th of January 2022.
The respondent reported that the first time he was pushed back, he was together with one other person, the second time with two others. The third and fourth time he was by himself, and the fifth time he was caught together with another person. This report details the third time he was pushed back from North Macedonia to Greece.
After the first two pushbacks, the respondent stayed close to the border and crossed it again in the early morning of the 25th of January 2022. He reiterated that even if he reportedly did not have any food or water and felt like he was not physically able to walk again, he thought it would be better to keep moving due to the cold, so he decided to try again.
The respondent explained that after walking for approximately 12 kilometres, he arrived at a squatted building where he found some sleeping bags and slept for a couple of hours. He encountered some Macedonian residents close to the squat who he asked if he could charge his phone. He said that they invited him inside, provided him with a charger and some warm food. However, after a couple of hours, the respondent stated that they asked him to leave as they expressed their fear of being discovered by the police and being charged for smuggling.
On the way, the respondent came across a market located next to the highway, he entered the market with the intention to buy some food and charge his phone again. However, he explains that the police arrived at the site ten minutes after he entered; the respondent assumed somebody from inside the market called the police after seeing him.
The people arrived in two cars, described by the respondent as one dark blue Land Rover and a white Hyundai. The Land Rover had ‘police’ written on the car; the Hyundai seemed to be a civilian car. The respondent explained that, in the Land Rover, there were four persons wearing a dark blue uniform with ‘police’ written on their back, they were wearing scarves over their nose and mouth. In the Hyundai, there were two persons, one wearing the same dark blue uniform with ‘police’ on the back, the other was wearing civilian clothes. The respondent could not recall any flags but assumed they were Macedonian.
“The officer told me, ‘If you tell us who is coming with you on this trip, we will give you your phone to talk to your brother’ … It was mental torture.”
During the confrontation with the uniformed persons, one of them reportedly slapped the respondent and confiscated his phone. At this moment, the respondent got a call and was questioned by the man on who was calling him. After revealing it was his brother, the man reportedly tried to blackmail the respondent that if he told them who he was travelling with, he would be allowed to speak to his brother. The respondent stated that when he told them he came alone, the man turned off the Wi-Fi on his phone so he could not talk to his brother anymore.
The persones in uniform reportedly searched the respondent at the market, but did not take his money or phone, they did delete his WhatsApp. Then they waited for forty minutes for the arrival of another van; its driver was reportedly a man in the same dark blue uniform as the other three. The van was described by the respondent as dark blue with a blue flag with stars on it. According to the respondent the flag was similar to a Frontex logo.
The respondent explains that he was put into the back of the van with the man who slapped him. After a 30-minute drive they arrived at a “camp” that was located next to the border. The camp was reportedly surrounded by a fence and had caravans inside. Following from the coordinates provided by the respondent, the so-called camp could be the Vinojug Temporary Transit Centre. A similar “camp” is referred to in other testimonies that may constitute the same location.
“They told me, ‘Yeah, you could go back to Morocco or we push you back to Greece, there is no option for asylum here’.”
The respondent explains this was not the first time he had been there. During his first pushback on the 2nd of January 2022, he was also brought to the centre. He spent one night there and received food. He reports that he also asked for asylum to which they told him that there were two options: 1) staying at the centre for two months after which they would give him money and clothes, and send him back to Morocco, or 2) going back to Greece. According to the people in uniform, there was no option for asylum.
The respondent states that every time they caught him, he had to sign papers and write down his name, nationality, and date of birth. The translator who was present never explained what the documents meant. Reportedly, he signed the papers the first two times he was there, but this third time they did not ask him to sign the papers.
According to his statement, this time they took him inside an office, saved his fingerprints and photographed him, and noted his name and nationality. A Syrian translator was present who translated for the respondent. After 5-10 minutes, they reportedly took him from the centre to a border gate with the van, they were followed by the dark blue Land Rover that was also at the market. The same persons in uniform from before were present.
“I was trying to run away from them, but they caught me, and they used pepper spray and beat me with their baton.”
The man in uniform who was in the back of the van with the respondent told him to run away when they would open the door. The respondent reported that, when he tried to run away, they caught him and beat him with their batons and used pepper spray on his face. The respondent was hit on his elbow and on his wrist when he tried to cover his face from getting hit.
Then, the people in uniform opened the gate and pushed the respondent to the Greek side. The respondent explained he started looking for water to wash his face and described how he couldn’t see, and his eyes were swollen for around an hour because of the pepper spray.
On his way to Thessaloniki, the respondent encountered some Syrian people with whom he followed the train tracks to the city. They left him a map so he could go to Thessaloniki by himself.