The respondent, a 32-year-old man from Syria, crossed into Greece with 10 other Syrians, including two women, ranging in age from 16 to 43 years old.
On July 3, 2021, they left the centre of Edirne and walked around 6 km to the Evros River. At 10 pm, they crossed the river and then walked for about 18 km. At 6 am they stopped to hide because the sun was coming up, but four officers found them. The respondent recalled:
“The guys kept saying ‘police’ so I ran away. They caught the others and I hid among the trees 200 meters away for 3 hours…I was running but I still heard them screaming at them and after that, I walked for another 300 meters and hid until it became dark and I started walking to the camp…the guys with me knew it [as] Fylakio camp. It was far from me—400m. I slept and woke up at 8 pm. I woke up to see a police car patrolling the area. It was white and ‘police’ was written on it in blue. Then I kept crawling, so the officers wouldn’t catch me, all the way to the camp and I saw there were police cars around.”
The respondent said there were four officers using binoculars to search the area. They were wearing sage green shirts and pants with ‘police’ written on their backs and traveling in a white police jeep. He recalled:
“I was near the camp and there was a road between where I was hiding and the camp and I couldn’t go to the officers because they would catch me but I chose a corner to jump from and get to the camp… [The camp was] about 500 by 300 metres and inside it there are separate small rooms and each room has a fence surrounding it. I tried to jump from the fence; it’s a high fence, around 7 metres tall with barbed wire at the top. I decided to jump and then I got stuck on the fence. Then I started screaming and the officers came and pulled me down and put handcuffs on me and opened the door from the side where I tried to jump and took me inside. I got in and kept walking from the other side where I tried to jump to the front door. They put me in that police car; they took me far from the camp, about 300 metres away. And then they took me out of the car and started the investigation.”
They asked him where he was from, how he got to the camp, and how many people he was traveling with. He said “They beat me and searched me; they didn’t find anything with me. I asked for a bottle of water and he hit me with the bottle in my face.” The officers kicked and punched the respondent, and spoke to him in Greek, using hand gestures to make him understand what they were saying.
He was kept there for 30 minutes while the officers looked to see if anyone else was hiding, but they didn’t find anyone. Then they drove him for around 30 minutes down a paved road to what the respondent described as a “police station”. Along the way, they passed through two small villages. The police station was big, and outside there were small cells to hold detained people. There was a Greek flag and numerous Greek police cars, which were white and blue and had “police” written on them.
The respondent saw three officers at the police station. One officer, who searched the respondent, was wearing a dark blue uniform with something written on the back. The others were wearing black uniforms, with nothing to signal that they were police. They photographed the respondent from all sides and then put him in a holding cell alone for about one and a half hours. Then, a white van arrived, driven by two officers wearing civilian clothes. The officers pushed and shoved the respondent, forcing into the back of the car and saying “Stand up and go go!” in English. They didn’t speak any other language but the respondent thought they looked Persian or Afghan.
The van drove for about an hour along a paved road; the respondent could see out of a small hole in the back door and said he noticed they were going in circles and seemed lost. At around 6 pm, they arrived at a detention site, which was around 1,000 square metres and surrounded by a one-metre-high cement wall. There were houses within eyesight of the detention site but none were very close.
The respondent saw seven officers at the site, all of which were wearing sage green uniforms. The officers searched the respondent then put him in a three by three metre cell. The cell contained four bunk beds and a toilet; the respondent said, “It was nasty. They didn’t have anything clean in there. It was like they were bringing dogs to put them there.” At first, the respondent was alone in the cell, but he went to sleep around 10 pm and when we woke up in the morning he found around 70 others with him. By the end of the day, there were around 120 people in the same cell. The others were all men between the ages of 18 to 35 from Afghanistan and Syria.
The respondent spent two days in the cell, during which time he wasn’t given any food or water. He recalled, “In the toilet there was water. I didn’t know where that water came from but I drank it because I was thirsty.” At around 11 pm on the second day, the respondent and around 120 others, from Syria, Morocco, Afghanistan, and Iraq, were loaded into the back of two big green camouflage military trucks by four officers wearing black uniforms and balaclavas. Two officers got in each truck. Inside the back of the truck, the respondent said “It was hot and we could barely breathe. We were so crowded.”
They drove for about an hour until they arrived at another detention site, where another 40 or so people were loaded into the two trucks. The new group included 10 women and people from Afghanistan, Syria, and Somalia. The driver drove recklessly along unpaved roads; the respondent said they “kept colliding into each other.” Finally, they arrived at a wooded area next to the Evros/Meriç River.
The group was unloaded by the four officers and told to sit on the ground and stay quiet. They spoke a language the respondent didn’t recognize but assumed was Greek and searched the group, including the women, and asked for money. They also slapped and punched some people in the group. The respondent said that during the time he was detained both he and others asked the officers for asylum “many times” but that “they screamed and told one of us ‘fuck you and fuck camp.’”
A blue, plastic, three-metre long motorboat was removed from where it had been strapped to the top of one of the trucks. The officers told ten people to bring it to the river. Then, around ten people at a time were put on the boat, which was driven by two people wearing civilian clothes and white sneakers who looked Afghan but didn’t speak. The respondent was in the last group to cross. They were brought to an island in the middle of the river where they spent about 15 minutes and then began to cross to the Turkish side of the river; they were able to wade across the river, though at some points the water was up to the respondent’s chest.
Through looking at a map and tracking the respondent’s route, the pushback location was agreed to be near Lagyna, Greece.
The respondent then walked for about 2 km until he arrived at a small village where he took a taxi to Edirne, which was about 100 km away.