The respondents are two Algerian men, aged 29 and 27 years old. They recount a violent pushback from Bulgaria to Turkey.
They took a bus on 23rd July 2021 from Edirne to Lalapasa, then to Hamzabeyli, crossing the border at approximately 3pm. It was just the two men who crossed, without a smuggler. As soon as they crossed a grey ford patrol car came, so they ran and hid in a forest to avoid being seen. There were four officers inside this car, one was wearing a sage green shirt and pants with the bularian flag on his uniform, and three were wearing black uniforms which had “Polizie” written on their chest. These officers spoke Bulgarian and English – one of respondent’s was able to identify the Bulgarian language as he is able to speak a bit of it. None of these officers were wearing officers. Two of the officers got out of the patrol car to look for them.
The respondent was shown a series of Bulgarian police and military uniforms, and confirmed the sage green uniform as below:
The two young men crawled for 400 metres to get far away from the border fence, and they hid until 9pm that evening. Then, they continued walking. They walked for four days – not resting, walking throughout the day and the night. They both ran out of food and water, spending two whole days without food and water.
They were just about to approach the city of Siminovo to get some food and water, “we were about to die from hunger and thirst” explained the respondents. But on the road just before the city, they were apprehended at about 7 pm around sunset on 27th July.
They were apprehended by two officers, wearing sage green uniforms without balaclavas. The respondents confirmed these officers to be in the same uniforms as the Bulgarian Border Police uniforms (as shown in the image above). These officers were driving a black Landrover with “border police” written on it.
These officers ordered the two men to sit down and started asking where they were from. The men told the officers they were Palestinian. The officers said “do you have phone or money? Give it to us”. One of the respondents did not have a phone, but the other did and the officers took it. The officers continued to question the men, asking where their bags were. The men explained that they left them in the forest. Then the officers were asking for documentation/papers to prove they were Palestinian. But the men told them they didn’t have any papers, and they heard the officers telling each other that they thought they were Pakistani.
The officers did not return anything they had stolen from the two men. But subsequently searched them. They were not forced to undress, or beaten. They were denied food and water. “I had a bottle of water” explained one of the respondents, “they took it from me and I kept begging to give it back”. To which the officers said “No water, no come Bulgaria”. The officers spoke Bulgarian to each other and English to the respondents.
The ordeal of being apprehended and searched took about 1.5 hours. After this time, an old green camouflage land rover came to pick them up. In this vehicle, there were three officers – two wearing bulgarian border police uniforms, and the other was wearing a black uniform with a “blue band on his arm and police written on his chest”, which is what Frontex officers wear. This officer spoke in English, and said to the officer that had caught the two men “thank you”.
The respondent recognised the following image of the Frontex officer, but without the German flag:
The two Bulgarian border police officers handcuffed the two men with ties, and the officer with the blue armband watched. This was around 8 pm.
The young men were then loaded into the boot of the Landrover, which was very dirty. It was just them in the boot of the vehicle. They were driven for about 3 hours, on paved and unpaved roads. The driving was reckless and fast. “Everytime they drive on hole in the road the handcuffs tighten more. The more we suffer, they were laughing”.
When they stopped, they were taken out of the boot of the Landrover and ordered to take their shoes off and they had their handcuffs taken off. Another car arrived – it was a grey congo – which had another three officers in it, also wearing Bulgarian border police uniforms. These officers gave one of the other officers “the key to open the door” [in the fence]. These officers stayed here and brought a tree branch and started to beat the two men. These officers also kicked them in the face, while the men tried to hide their faces from being kicked and beaten.
They beat us as they were pushing us back through the fence, which was near an unpaved road and a forest. The first location they got to after being pushed back was Hamzabeyli.