On June 11th, 2022 at around 5am the respondent, a 21-year-old Moroccan male was pushed back from the area of Palli, Greece to close to Üyüklütatar,Turkey. This was the 9th pushback he experienced – 6 from Greece and 3 from Bulgaria.
At 8pm on 09/06/2022, he and two others – of Algerian and Moroccan nationality, aged 21-29 – left Edirne on foot for the Evros/Meriç river border area near to Kapikule. They were carrying supplies for the road and a rubber boat.
They walked a distance of around 16 km over 3 hours, arriving to an area by the river with some trees. There they started to prepare their boat, which took 30 minutes to complete. They managed to cross together by boat, reaching Greek territory by around midnight.
On Greek territory the group started walking in a small forest, then got to some farmland between corn fields and bean fields, before following on to an unpaved road, which they followed for almost three hours. The respondent explained that they crossed the main road – “number 51” – that goes to Orestiada and continued walking through small forests for another three hours until they arrived at 6am at a small forest that was near to a village. The respondent did not know the name of the village but later identified it with the help of a map as Palli. During the course of their walk they had rested two or three times for five minutes. They decided to hide in this small forest until sunset.
The respondent described hiding between the trees in the forest, trying not to be seen by anyone. The group was not far from an unpaved road. Their plan was to get some rest until sunset and to then continue walking. They managed to stay there and rest for almost two hours.
Then they started to hear the voices of some people walking nearby. At first they thought it was the sound of another possible transit group like their own but then suddenly a group of seven uniformed men appeared, screaming at them in Greek. Four of them were aiming their firearms towards the transit group, who raised their hands in response to show that they were not armed or posing any kind of threat. The officers that were not pointing firearms at the transit group also had firearms in their holsters. Each of the seven men was also armed with a black plastic baton.
The respondent stated that there was sufficient light at this time to see clearly the men that apprehended them. None of the armed men was wearing a balaclava.
Three of the men were wearing a marine blue uniform – short-sleeved shirts and pants – and hats with the word ‘Police’ written in English in yellow text. On their left sleeves there was also some text in Greek. The respondent identified the uniforms as resembling the image below, stating he was 80% sure that the logos on the left sleeve and the text above them were the same as those of the men in the marine blue uniforms. The only certain difference was that their shirts had short sleeves.
Two of the men were wearing a black uniform – short-sleeved shirts and pants and black bullet proof vests – and blue hats. These uniforms had no identifying insignia or logos.
The other two men were wearing sage green uniforms – short-sleeved shirts and pants. On their left sleeves there was a Greek flag with some Greek text in yellow above it, and on the backs of their shirts there was more text in Greek in yellow, with the word ‘Police’ written underneath it in English. The respondent was unable to identify anything else regarding the uniforms.
The uniformed men spoke to each other in Greek. Then one of the men wearing the black uniform – “a bigger, fatter man” – asked the group in English where they were from.
“We said we were Moroccan. He looked at me and started saying ‘Moroccan… Moroccans every time, every time.’”
Then one of the men in the blue uniforms kicked the respondent. Following this, the older man in black who had spoken English to them demanded their telephones. The respondent and his companions showed the uniformed men what they had in their pockets, while some of the other men started to check through the group’s bags:
“They opened one of the bags and there was some food, salami and biscuits. They searched but didn’t find anything. Then they started sharing our biscuits and chocolate we had and ate it in front of us.”
Throughout this whole ordeal, the transit group were kneeling on the ground – for about 15 minutes. After giving over two phones during the search, two of the uniformed men – one in black and one in green – pulled out their plastic batons and started beating them with them. This beating lasted about five minutes. The respondent and the rest of the transit group was beaten “everywhere. On the back of the head, under my head, on my shoulder.”
The men said little else to the group in English, only speaking to each other in Greek, so the group did not understand what they were saying.
The group were then made to gather up their things and were walked for around 300 metres to an unpaved road. They arrived to three vehicles – a green Land Rover, a gray Land Rover Discovery and a black Nissan pickup truck. They were made to put their backpacks in the trunk of the pickup truck. As with the two phones, this bag would not be returned. The group was made to sit while one of the men in black made a phone call. After almost 15 minutes, a white old van came.
The respondent described the green Land Rover as having a blue siren on the top, with no identifying writings on the vehicle, simply the brand of the car written on the bonnet in white font.
The respondent stated that the gray Land Rover Discovery had a blue stripe and a “kind of blue logo on the bonnet” and recognized it to be the same as the vehicle in image 1.
Image 1: Frontex 4×4 in Greece. Source: Lena K
The Nissan pickup truck had nothing written on it.
The group was reportedly loaded into the trunk of the white old van. The respondent described it as rusty on the inside and on the doors. He stated that the paint was clearly old and that it was locked by a wire from the outside. He was not sure of the brand and although it had license plates, he did not manage to see them properly.
There was no one else in the van besides the respondent and his companions.
It was hot inside but they were able to breathe properly. He did not know how many others besides the driver came in the van. They drove along unpaved roads with many potholes for an estimated 30 minutes. The driving was sometimes fast and as the van had no windows they could not see outside.
It was around 9am when the van stopped at the detention site and the group were ushered out. They were in front of a flat-roofed single-story white building with a Greek flag. It was surrounded by a wire fence with a big gate. There was a yard inside and a cage on the side of the building also; “a cage on the side in case the cell is full, they load people in it.”
There were two white vans parked in front of the building, bigger than the one they had just been transported in. The respondent only saw the backs of the vans and could not be sure about any identifying logos or writing. He stated, however, that they both had license plates with GR on them.
Across a paved road there was a house just in front of the detention site also. The respondent described the surrounding landscape as “scattered houses and forest. I think it was on the side of the village or city or where we are.”
Aside from the Greek flag, there was no other indication that this was any kind of official police or army building. At this location, there were eight more uniformed men. They were armed with either firearms or metal batons covered in plastic, but their weapons were all in their holsters. None of them wore balaclavas. The respondent stated that he was sure that he could identify any of their uniforms from a photograph.
Two of the men were wearing sky-blue short-sleeved shirts and navy blue pants. The shirt had police written on the pocket. The respondent identifies the uniform to be Frontex and the same as that in the photograph below, except without the hat and gloves.
Two more men wore green short-sleeved t-shirts and green pants. Their sleeves had the Greek flag on the left arm with some writing in Greek above it. The respondent stated that the uniform-shirts and pants were very similar to those in the photograph below.
Image 3: Greek Border Guard uniform
Four more men wore camouflage pants and navy short-sleeved shirts. These men would later search the transit respondent group, after putting on white gloves. Their shirts reportedly had the Greek flag but no other writing.
After the transit group was taken out of the trunk of the van, the van left. The group was taken inside and made to stand near to the wall. By this time, three of the officers in the navy shirts and camouflage pants were holding their batons.
“They started beating us for almost five minutes everywhere on our body. We were screaming, ‘please sir, please sir’ but they didn’t care about what we were saying.” The respondent stated that they were beaten with the batons “randomly” all over their body.
Following this, they were told to turn to the wall and raise their hands in the air. Then, the same men started to search them.
“Then one by one they asked us turn and look at them and remove all of our clothes. They left us naked, each one of us for 10 minutes, and they were searching everywhere in our clothes. After they didn’t find anything they asked us ‘where is the money?’.”
The men did not find any money and eventually the group’s clothes were returned to them but not their shoes. Afterwards, the group was taken and loaded into a cell.
The respondent described the cell as five by four meters, with four metal bunk-beds. The ground was dirty and there was a toilet in the corner that was dirty and smelled. There were three regular walls and one wall with iron bars and a metal door.
When the respondent and his companions were taken to the cell, there were six other people already detained inside. By the end of the day, there were 80 people, all of whom would be taken to the Evros/Meriç river and pushed back. The entire detained group was made of Syrian, Algerian, Moroccan, Afghan, Sudanese and Pakistani nationals. Their ages ranged from 17 to 60. There were four women among the group, and around six minors.
Overall, they were detained for around 18 hours. During this time they received no water or food. Their documents were not checked and they were not made to sign anything, nor were their fingerprints or photograph taken. There was no translator present at any point.
Eventually, at 3am of 11/06/2022, the entire detained group was taken from the cell by a group of five men in balaclavas wearing black uniforms – black jackets and pants. Their clothing had no logos or text to indicate anything official. They were armed with tree branches and black plastic batons. The men reportedly came and opened the doors to the cell and said, “out”, in English.
There were two vans parked outside the detention site. The men loaded the group into these two vans, beating people on the head as they passed to get them to hurry up. The respondent was not sure if the women in the group were also beaten as they were positioned behind him in the order of the group leaving the cell. He stated that he only saw the vans briefly from the side and back, that they were white with no writing or other identifying signs, except for a Greek license plate.
There were 40 people loaded into the same van as the respondent, including women and minors. With the van at such a capacity, the temperature was quite high and it was very difficult to breathe. The group was reportedly driven for 15 minutes. They could not see outside the van; “like we were animals loaded.” He also did not manage to see how many of the balaclavas group with the branches and batons came in the vans.
The respondent could not tell clearly whether the roads they passed on were paved or unpaved, but stated that at times they could feel some drift, indicating a smoother road.
The vans arrived at a forested area with a small cleared area next to the Evros/Meriç river. The entire detained group was unloaded from the two vans and lined up. The respondent was among the last ten people in this line. There were no visible buildings or lights in the area, only trees.
There were five men present at this location wearing black uniforms. Another two men were wearing olive-green shirts and pants. There were a further four men in civilian clothing. The respondent estimated that only one of the uniformed men had any logo or insignia – a Greek flag with writing in yellow. All eleven men were reportedly wearing balaclavas.
The respondent stated that the men dressed in civilian clothing were speaking Arabic, of the Syrian dialect.
Of the five men in black uniforms, four of them were holding big guns with what the respondent suspected was some kind of surveillance equipment, “something like a detector, aiming it to the Turkish territory.”
There was a rubber deep blue and white boat, 3 by 3 metres, already in the water.
The two men in the green uniforms spoke to each other in Greek. One of them, however, was harassing a young woman and he spoke to her in Syrian dialect. This man was also controlling a drone with his phone. The drone had been sent over to the Turkish side of the border.
The ones in the black uniforms spoke in Greek with the ones in the green uniforms.
The detained group were ordered to be silent, not to make any sound and to empty their pockets.
Everyone from the detained group was reportedly searched again. The respondent was searched by two of the men in civilian clothes and one in a black uniform.
From the first group to be searched again, they found some money, and they beat a young man and his friend for almost five minutes with a tree branch until he could barely move. Then, the Arabic speaker in the green uniform spoke in Arabic to the ones in the civilian clothes that were searching them, saying that there was not much time and for the detained group to take off all their clothes.
“Then they start telling us to take off our clothes. We all did, except an old woman, 55 years old.”
The rest of the group were all reportedly required to undress down to their underwear and undershirts. The respondent stated that one of the men in civilian clothes was pretending to search one woman and was harassing her while she was crying.
“He was telling her, ‘maybe you hid something in here’ and touching her sensitive places and she was pushing his hand many times.”
By this time, the respondent too was wearing only his underwear and undershirt. He stated that everyone was asked where they were from, and if they stated they were Moroccan, Algerian or Tunisian, they were beaten further. The respondent said that he was beaten for around one or two minutes, kicked and hit on his hips and back and arms.
He stated that the women were not beaten, but all of the minors were.
Then the detained were loaded in smaller groups of ten people on to the boat. Two of the civilian-clothed men that were holding branches got on to the boat. The boat did not have an engine, and the civilian-clothed men used paddles to get it across the river. The respondent stated that one hour had passed between arriving with the van and getting on the boat.
The boats never crossed the whole way across the river. Instead, the two men in civilian clothes paddled the boat almost five metres across the river and then told the group to jump. This included all of the women, who were in the same boat as the respondent.
The respondent stated that the water was up to above waist-level.
“I was afraid of it, because in the winter I was told to jump and it was deep and thank God I could swim a little until I pushed myself to the other side.”
The respondent was part of the last group to be pushed back, and there was one other friend of his in this group also. He witnessed everyone else from the entire detained group being pushed back also. By the time his group was pushed back, it was 5am of 11/06/2022.
As stated above, all of the women that were pushed back were in the same group as the respondent. The respondent stated that after they reached the Turkish side, they found the first group of people that had been loaded into the boat and tried to convince them to give some of their pants or shirts to the women so that they could cover their bodies. The people from this group removed their pants and gave them to the women. The respondent and other males were already wearing only their underwear.
They started to walk along an unpaved road until they encountered five Turkish ‘soldiers’. They interacted with the ‘soldiers’ in Turkish. The ‘soldiers’ reportedly gave them some water and food. They told the soldiers about what had happened and asked the way to Edirne. As it was far from their present location the soldiers told them their choice was to get to Üyüklütatar village and to get a taxi or to walk for 20 kilometres.
The respondent and others continued on to Üyüklütatar village. From there, some Syrians that were with them started to look for taxis. The respondent and his friend continued on walking on the roadside to Edirne, which took them six hours. They were barefoot and had no clothing except for their underwear.
The respondent and his friend arrived to Edirne by 12pm. They found some old discarded clothes on the road and put them on to cover themselves.
When asked if he had ever expressed his intention to claim asylum in Greece, the respondent stated, “No, we couldn’t.”