“Self harm during pushback: stranded on an Evros island for days, respondent inflicted 20 lacerations on his chest with a piece of glass in a desperate attempt to end the group’s ordeal”

  • Date and time: June 20, 2021 00:00
  • Location: 1st pushback point: Svilengrad, 2nd pushback point: Pythion/Sığırcılı
  • Coordinates: 41.381466, 26.6110934
  • Pushback from: Bulgaria, Greece
  • Pushback to: Greece, Turkey
  • Demographics: 60 person(s), age: 12-50 , from: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia
  • Minors involved? Yes
  • Violence used: beating (with batons/hands/other), kicking, pushing people to the ground, exposure to air condition and extreme temperature during car ride, sexual assault, gunshots, forcing to undress, theft of personal belongings, reckless driving
  • Police involved: Bulgaria: civilian-clothed Bulgarian officer with dog; two Bulgarian officers wearing blue uniforms with “border police” written on their back in English; Black Helix Truck. Greece: two civilian-clothed Greek officers; white van; 8-9 Greek officers in dark blue uniforms; 12 civilian clothed third country nationals speaking Farsi and Arabic, identified as Syrian and Afghan; 15 officers wearing safe green trousers and shirts and balaclavas; two small EVO trucks with yellow tarpaulin; 15 officers in sage green uniforms and balaclavas; 5 white and blue greek police cars. Turkey: 7 turkish military officers in camouflage uniforms; green military truck
  • Taken to a police station?: yes
  • Treatment at police station or other place of detention: detention, no translator present, denial of food/water, personal belongings taken, beating, denial of medical assistance
  • Was the intention to ask for asylum expressed?: Unknown
  • Reported by: josoor

Original Report

The respondent is a 27-year-old man from Algeria, who had experienced a total of 25 pushbacks, all in the Evros/Meriç region between Greece and Turkey. The respondent, in his most recent pushback, recounted a chain pushback from Bulgaria to Greece, and subsequently from Greece to Turkey on 19th June 2021.

The respondent, and two others – a Tunisian man and a Moroccan man, aged between 27-32, crossed the Evros river near Kapikule, and walked for 8-10 days through Greece, and up through Bulgaria, before they were apprehended in Bulgaria. The respondent recounted they were caught near Malko Gradishte at around 8 am by one officer who used a dog. This officer was in civilian clothes and holding a dog. The officer didn’t beat the respondent and others from the transit group there, he just took some of our supplies and left them at the location they were apprehended, but did not take all of the group’s supplies and belongings. This officer then called two more officers. The three men were walked by the civilian-clothed officer, for about 50 metres where they met the other officers with their vehicle, who were wearing blue uniforms with blue trousers and a shirt, which had “border police ” written on their backs. 

These officers loaded the three men into the back of the trunk of the officers vehicle, which was described as being a black Helix truck. The respondent explained they were driven for about 21km to be pushed back to Greece. The respondent reccounted the location was near Svilengrad at around 10am. The officers forced the men across the border and yelled “go back to Greece and never come back!” in English to the group.

In Greece, the respondent and his friends got lost on the way. They tried to go back to the Evros river to go back to Turkey. They walked for about 7-10km until they arrived at a small village on the Greek side, called Ormenio. The respondent explained he asked a Greek citizen of the village to call the police and to take us back to Turkey. Because the respondent had actually lived in Greece for some time, he was able to converse with the man he approached in Greek. The man told the group to rest and called the police.

After approximately 2 hours, at about 1 pm, the police arrived. Two officers came, dressed in civilian clothes, driving a big white van. Neither of the officers were wearing balaclavas. These officers loaded the three men into the trunk of the van and drove them to a detention site. The respondent explained that he and his two friends were Palestinian, as if we explained we were from “Big Morocco”, the officers would have beaten them. The respondent explained what he meant by “Big Morocco”, meaning if they are from countries like Algerian, Tunisia or Morocco. As a result, the three men were not beaten.

After about 1.5 hours of fast and reckless driving, moving from unpaved roads to paved roads (deliberately), they arrived at a detention site at approximately 3 pm. The respondent described the detention site as at the side of a city, it was a big building with lots of cells inside. The respondent explained that he could not see anything from the outside as the van was driven right up to the front door of the cells. He did remark that he could hear the sound of cars, suggesting that there potentially was a road close by. [location to be clarified]. 

At this detention site there were about 8-9 officers, all wearing dark blue uniforms without balaclavas. The uniforms had ‘police’ written in english on the back of the uniforms. If you spoke english it was okay, but if you didn’t you could not understand what they were saying. The respondent, because he could speak a bit of Greek, heard the officers say to each other, in Greek, “see that one, search that one” and so on.

These officers took the supplies and belongings that they had left from Bulgaria, including taking all of their clothes. The men were left with just their shirts and pants. The officers did not beat them at this point, they were just forced inside a 3 x 3 metre cell where there were two bunk beds. The respondent remarked that there were either 3 or 4 cells inside this building, all with two bunk beds inside each. He could see this as he was able to look out of the cell through bars on one side, and the other three walls were made of cement.

Inside their cell, the officers had put 25-30 people inside each cell. They found a family in their cell, 5 people from Syria with children as young as 12 years old. There were also three women and their father too. The oldest age was guessed at about 50. The cell was described as dirty, and the toilet was broken. It was “nasty”, remarked the respondent.

In total, there were at least 60 people inside the cells – with nationalities ranging from Syrian, Afghan, Algerian to Moroccoan and Tunisian. There were at least 7-8 women, from Syria and the respondent was not sure about how many children there were but he said there were “lots”.

They spent 5 hours in the cells, with no food, water, or medical assistance. There was no translator present for those who did not understand what the officers said before they were put in the cell. For those 5 hours in the cell, the officers said nothing to them.

After 5 hours of being detained the groups were then taken to the river. Many uniformed officers came to take them, the respondent estimated about 27 officers came. These 27 officers included 12 third-country nationals who were speaking Syrian-Arabic and Farsi, of which the respondent identified them as Syrian and Afghans. The other 15 officers were wearing sage green trousers and shirts, and balaclavas. The respondent did not hear these 15 officers speaking so was unable to identify the language they speak.

The 60 people were loaded into two small EVO trucks, covered with yellow plastic tarpaulin, being beaten by the officers to make them hurry up. The 12 third-country nationals were included in the officers that were beating the group with tree branches. These officers also said to the group “don’t talk”, “don’t move”, in Arabic or Farsi and showed them how to walk while they were being loaded into the truck. Also, one officer in a sage green uniform was beating the group too, to encourage them to go quicker into the truck. The respondent remarked they could not breathe properly in the truck because of the lack of space and air. Members of the group managed to position the women and children near the door and sides of the vehicle to try and get some fresh air. The respondent remarked that potentially two of the sage green uniformed officers drove the truck, it was definitely these officers but could not confirm it was actually two.

The drive to the river took about 25 minutes until they arrived at the pushback point, which was identified as close to Pythion. “It was too fast and reckless” recounted the respondent, driving along unpaved roads. “Sometimes he [the driver] pulled the break and we collided with each other”. The 12 civilian clothed third country nationals came in the same truck as them, and just sat and watched them. When the group arrived at the river, after sunset, they found more officers – around 15 – wearing sage green uniforms and balaclavas. 

The respondent explained that he thought that some of the officers from the detention came in five cars – the classic blue and white greek police cars – but was unable to confirm.

The officers at the river, and the third country nationals made the group kneel and look at the ground. The officers started searching everyone, including women who were searched by male officers. The officers split them up into groups of 10.

On the shore of the river there were three boats, all 4 metres long with paddles. The civilian clothed third country nationals drove the boat – there were two places in each. These boats were paddled across the river to an island in the middle. The respondent was in the last group that crossed across the water, and realised that everyone was on the same island and him.

The Greek police stayed and watched the group on the island after ferrying everyone across, they didn’t say anything or do anything initially, but just stared at the group to make sure no one tried to cross back. The Turkish authorities arrived near the island as soon as the group arrived on the island, of which the respondent identified seven officers wearing green camouflage uniforms, with a green military truck. The Turkish officers let women and children cross from the island to Turkey, as well as some of the older members of the group. But the officers were shouting at some of the old people in the group to go back to Greece.

The group was on the island for a total of three days. “People were drinking from the river” remarked the respondent, “people were so hungry, they could not afford to stay there”. Some Afghan and Pakistani men made it off the island as they were about to cross the river at night because there were only four Turkish officers left to keep watch at night. After two days the respondent explained that he and his two friends tried to go back to Greece so jumped into the water and the Greek officers shot warning shots into the air. After two days only two greek officers were left watching the island.

After two days there were about 30 people left on the island. The respondent explained that he just lost it. “I got mad and crazy. I started hitting myself. I found a piece of glass on the ground and started cutting myself with it”. After having made more than 20 lacerations and cuts on his chest, the Turkish authorities gave in and let the rest of the group cross to the Turkish side. The respondent explained that he could not stay on the island and had to do something to get off the island.

The Turkish officers took a photo of his injuries after he crossed, gave them some water and biscuits and let them go. The respondent however was not given any medical attention by the officers. The group walked for three hours and saw a sign that said “Edirne 34km” away. This location was identified as close to Sığırcılı.