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 the 19th of June 2021.
The respondent, and two others – a Tunisian and a Moroccan man, aged between 27 and 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 detected near Malko Gradishte at around 8 am by a man, which the respondent identified as an officer, who had a dog on the leash. The officer took some of their supplies and left them at the location they were apprehended. This officer then called two more officers. The three men were walked by the civilian-clothed officer, for about 50 meters until 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 their vehicle, which was described as being a black Helix truck. The respondent explained they were driven for about 21km before they got pushed back to Greece. The respondent remembers the location was near Svilengrad and they arrived there at around 10 am. The officers forced the men across the border and yelled “go back to Greece and never come back!” 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. So, they walked for about 7-10km until they arrived at a small village on the Greek side, called Ormenio. The respondent explained that he asked a Greek citizen to call the police and to take them 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. 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. He said he would never tell the police that they were from “Big Morocco”, as he suspects that the officers would have beaten them for their nationality. The respondent clarified that by “Big Morocco”, he meant the three neighboring countries in North Africa: Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco. Indeed, the three men did not get beaten.
After about 1.5 hours of fast and reckless driving, moving from unpaved roads to paved roads, they arrived at a detention site at approximately 3 pm. The respondent described that the detention site was at the side of a city, it was a big building with lots of cells inside. The respondent described 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.
At this detention site, there were about 8-9 officers, all wearing dark blue uniforms. The uniforms had ‘police’ written in English on the back. The respondent, because he could speak a bit of Greek, heard the officers speak to each other, in Greek, saying things like: “see that one, search that one” and so on.
These officers seized the supplies and belongings that they had still left from Bulgaria, including taking all of their clothes. The men were left in just shirts and pants. Then they were forced into a 3 x 3 meters 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.
The officers put 25-30 people inside each cell. They encountered 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. The respondent guessed that the oldest person in his cell was about 50 years old. 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 several nationalities varying from Syrian, Afghan, Algerian to Moroccan and Tunisian. There were at least 7-8 women, 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 detainment, the groups were taken to the river. Many uniformed officers came to take them, the respondent estimated about 27 officers. These 27 officers included 12 third-country nationals who were speaking Syrian-Arabic and Farsi, which is why the respondent identified them as Syrians 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 their languages.
The 60 people were loaded into two small EVO trucks, covered with yellow plastic tarpaulin, whilst getting 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. 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 drive to the river took about 25 minutes until they arrived at the pushback point, which was identified as being 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 saw more officers – around 15 – also wearing sage green uniforms and balaclavas.
The officers at the river and the third-country nationals made the group kneel down and look at the ground. Male officers started searching everyone, including the women. Subsequently, the officers split them up into groups of 10.
On the shore of the river, there were three boats, all 4 meters 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 realized that everyone was on the same island as him.
The Greek police stayed and watched the group on the island after ferrying everyone across, they did not 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,” stated 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 surveil them at night. After two days the respondent explained that he and his two friends tried to go back to Greece so they jumped into the water but 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 could not take it anymore. “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 he had 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 allowed them to go. The respondent however was not provided with any medical attention by the officers. The group walked for three hours and saw a sign that said “Edirne 34km”. This location was identified to likely be close to Sığırcılı.