The respondent, a 27-year-old Palestinian man, crossed into Greece at 3 am on June 23 from Turkey. In a group with nine Algerian men and one 18-year-old Tunisian woman, they traveled 15 minutes by car from Edirne and then walked for 45 minutes to the Evros river, where they went to the other side on a smuggler’s boat.
The respondent recalled:
“We walked for 15 kilometers and we ran out of water. We had to enter a city to get water, then we went back walking. Then we walked along the highway; while we were walking the group that I had been with split into two groups, one in the front and the other in the back. Suddenly three jeeps apprehended us and they were all over us.”
The jeeps were white with “police” written on them in English and they carried eight officers wearing black uniforms and brown camouflage uniforms. The officers hit the respondent with a stick and kicked him; he said, “They surrounded us. The officers came and started hitting us and kicking us randomly everywhere in our body…I got beaten so hard I couldn’t see too much…They used a police baton and they kicked and punched us. Most of the time they kept kicking us.”
The officers asked the group, “Where did you get here from? And who brought you and helped you get to Greece?” They asked who the leader of the group was and confiscated everyone’s phones. Then they made a phone call and three officers wearing brown uniforms arrived in a white van with two doors in the back. The officers pushed all 11 people into the back of the van, hitting them on their arms and back with a branch to make them move faster. They were driven about 10 minutes along a paved road; the van didn’t have windows in the back so the respondent couldn’t see anything during the drive. The respondent also said, “When they caught us they took a picture of us with their smartphone. They took pictures of the whole group then one of each of us.” The group was not told why they took the pictures.
They were taken to a detention center; the respondent recalled:
“The detention center was isolated from the city. When they took us out from the van there was a big yard and there were cages and the ground was cement. When we arrived they asked us to put our belongings on the side and then they put us in a cage.”
He added, “There was a road close by and there were some houses far away. And it’s far from the gas station that we wanted to go and get water from.”
There were over 20 officers at the detention center. All of them were wearing brown uniforms but some of them had a logo on their chest. They spoke to the group in English and told them to put down their bags; the respondent said they took his phone and clothing. They also asked the group where they were from, which they answered honestly. Then, the respondent said:
“They put us there in the cage for 15 minutes, and then there were three officers wearing the same uniform. They told us to take out all the shoelaces from our shoes and pants and they took necklaces and watches from our hands, and from time to time they slapped us. There was a guy that didn’t understand what the officer was saying—they started beating him really hard everywhere on his body. There were two groups: three officers controlling us and asking us to remove stuff from our clothes and three outside searching us…So when I went to be searched I was wearing pants over shorts and I didn’t remove them, and once the officer found out that I didn’t remove the wire of the short he slapped me. And they asked me to take off all of my clothes, only the underwear was left. I told him it’s only underwear; he asked me to take it off. I was naked and then they gave back my pants and t-shirt and shoes, but as they liked, because some of my friends didn’t get back their shirts, some didn’t get back their shoes.”
The respondent was put into a holding cell that measured about six by five meters. The cell had nine metal bunk beds and a cement floor. It also had a toilet that was dirty; the respondent said it was “dirty and smelled bad.” In the cell were other people, including a friend of his that got separated from the group before they were apprehended. More people were brought to the cell until there were a total of 17 people, including people with Iranian, Algerian, Turkish, Palestinian and Tunisian nationalities. The respondent spent four hours in the cell, during which time two of the detainees were told to clean the yard and the toilet. They were given water but no food. The respondent recalled:
“When we were in the cell, an officer wearing a sage green uniform and gloves looked for someone among us. He found him and then took him out to another room and the officer started beating him—we could hear him scream for 5 minutes and then they brought him back…He couldn’t talk, he just slept immediately.”
After about four hours, the group was brought out by an officer who was wearing a green camouflage uniform and balaclava and carrying a stick; he had nothing on to show that he was a Greek officer. The officer spoke English with the other officers and the respondent’s friend heard him speaking Kurdish. There were also two officers wearing sage green uniforms standing in the hallway telling the group to hurry up and kicking them as they walked by. The group was put into the back of a green military truck. The respondent estimated it was around 7 am but said, “…it was raining and still early—I couldn’t figure out what time it was.”
They were driven around 15 to 30 minutes along an unpaved road until they arrived at another detention center. The respondent recalled, “We didn’t get out of the trunk. There were around 40 people loaded into the truck with us. They were wearing only shorts and some of them were unconscious and there were traces of beatings on their body. There were also two other blue vans.”
They were driven another 45 minutes along an unpaved road to a spot along the Evros River in the middle of a forest. The respondent said, “[The driving] was reckless and fast. We were crowded and we kept colliding into each other and we could barely breathe.” The other vans also came to the pushback site.
In total there were around 60 people brought to the site, including Iranians, Algerians, Afghans, and other Arabic speakers, who the respondent guessed were Syrian. The ages of the people in the group ranged from 8 to 44 years old and there were six women. There were also six officers at the site, wearing black shirts, camouflage pants and balaclavas, with nothing to signal that they were Greek officers. They spoke in Kurdish to each other and broken English to the group, telling them to get out their money if they had any; the respondent said, “They only knew ‘sit down’ and ‘euro.’”
Before the group was loaded in the boat, the respondent said that everyone had to be searched. He said, “They took all of our clothes and touched sensitive places in our bodies.” The women were also searched by male officers; they didn’t take off their clothes but they did touch their bodies.
“They didn’t beat me but they did beat some people in front of me.”
After they arrived at the river, at around 11 am, a white jeep arrived with a plastic motorized boat that measured about two by one meter. Two of the Kurdish-speaking officers drove the boat while the other four kept watch. They loaded eight people at a time into the boat; the respondent said, “Even in the boat they were still violent. There was someone next to me—they held his head and put it in the river while the boat was moving.” This location was thought to be close to Lavara by the respondent.
The respondent was brought across the river in the last group. They were brought all the way to the Turkish side, where they walked around 1.5 kilometers or about 30 minutes. Then, close to Alibey, they were surrounded by 10 Turkish soldiers wearing green camouflage uniforms.
“I couldn’t see [what happened] because I was able to run away, but I could see the Turkish army threatening them with weapons and beating them with the back of the gun and saying bad words and I had to hide in there for 30 minutes.”
He said they beat one woman and several young men that crossed the river together.
Then, the respondent walked to a village with a mosque and took a taxi to Edirne. The drive took approximately two hours and cost 450 Turkish lira. He said, “I was lucky that in Greece they didn’t find the 45 euros I was hiding.” He added that while in Greece he asked for asylum but said, “Sometimes they ignored me and sometimes they slapped me on my face. Even when I asked for a bottle of water they slapped me.”