At 9 pm on June 25, 2021, the respondent, a 25-year-old Tunisian man, was pushed back from a spot near Dilofos, Greece to near Kapıkule, Turkey. He left Edirne on June 23 with three others, two Tunisian men and one Kuwaiti man, the youngest being 25 and the oldest being a 50-year-old politician seeking asylum in Greece, but one Tunisian man turned back before they crossed. They went to a place called Kapikule, walked five kilometers to the Turkish border, and then crossed the Evros River on a plastic boat. Another person helped show them the way but did not cross with them.
Once in Greece, they rested in a forest during the day and walked at night. They were apprehended around midnight near a road leading to a town called Valtos by two female officers and one male officer. The officers were wearing a black uniform with the Greek flag on the sleeve and driving a blue and white unmarked car. The respondent recalled, “They were hiding between the trees and suddenly they apprehended us and told us ‘Stop! Police.’ Then they asked us to sit down and the male officer kicked me on my back.” They spoke some English to the group but spoke Greek to each other.
“They asked me to remove my belt—the other guys didn’t have belts. They asked us ‘Do you have phones?’ We said yes…[They took the] three phones. The female officer asked me to open my phone; I said no…She didn’t do anything but she looked angry and she started screaming in Greek.”
The officer also asked if there were more people traveling with them, to which they responded that there weren’t.
After about ten minutes, a white Volkswagen van arrived with two officers wearing jeans and a t-shirt, including one who spoke fluent Arabic with a Syrian accent and was carrying a “big iron bar.” The translator asked them where they were from and they lied; the Tunisians said they were Libyan and the Kuwaiti said he was Syrian. The officers pushed the men into the trunk of the van, where they found around ten other men ranging in age from around 20 to around 50, two of which were Iraqi and the rest Afghan. There were no seats and the van was very dirty and smelled like oil and gas.
They were driven for approximately one hour. The respondent said:
“They stopped many times—the Iraqi man could see through a hole in the side of the trunk and he could see that they kept moving from one detention site to another…[The driver] went fast and sometimes he hit the brakes and the conditions weren’t very comfortable…In the beginning, it was an unpaved road but later it becomes paved like we were getting to the city.”
The detention center was surrounded by a five-meter-high iron fence and had a Greek flag. There were houses nearby, including some with red roof tiles. The respondent remembered seeing over 10 officers, wearing green pants and yellow t-shirts with Greek flags and ‘border police’ written on them, as well as one wearing civilian clothes. The respondent said, “I was the last one out of the trunk so the officers asked me to clean the trunk.” They took the others inside and put them in a cell and when the respondent had finished cleaning, he said:
“One officer and three others were there watching. One asked me to take off my clothes to see if I was hiding anything…I was in underwear and he touched my body.” He continued, “They took everything we had. After searching me, they took my money, my supplies, my bags.”
Then the respondent was taken to a cell, where there were a total of 20 people inside, including ten Pakistani men between the ages of 20 and 30. He guessed that there were two other cells that held Syrians. The cell he was in measured about three by two meters and had five iron beds. There was a toilet but he said, “The smell was very disgusting and it smelled like pee—no fresh air, you could barely breathe.” They had a dirty plastic bottle that an officer filled up with water for them. The officer that filled up the water bottle had on green pants and a green shirt with a word written in yellow on the back; the respondent said this officer used him as a translator. The respondent said:
“They only gave us water after I asked an officer to give us food. After one hour he brought us a box with food and water inside: one bottle of water and around four sandwiches that we shared and one apple that we shared. There was cake that the officer said was for the women.”
The respondent was brought to the cell at around 1 am and stayed there for more than 15 hours; when they were let out it was evening. During this time, more people were brought to the three cells until there were around 80 in total. There were 10 women, all from Iraq, and 8-10 children, including a baby. The ages of the people ranged from around one to around 50 and included people with Iraqi, Kuwaiti, Pakistani, Afghan, Indonesian, and Algerian nationalities. The respondent said:
“We couldn’t [breathe properly] and it smelled nasty, and for three minutes they opened the toilet faucet to fill up the water bottle and then the water mixed with pee on the ground and the ground was full of water and we couldn’t sit anymore either.”
The respondent heard the Kuwaiti man ask for a translator because he didn’t speak English; the respondent said: “He was a politician and he wanted asylum but they ignored him and there was no response from them.”
Finally, over 20 officers—two in black pants and shirts and the rest in sage green uniforms—came to take them out of the cells. The people in the other cells were brought out first and taken away and then the people from the respondent’s cell were loaded into an old green camouflage military truck. Some of the people in the group, including children, were pushed, kicked, or punched by the officers as they got in.
An old man wearing civilian clothes and an officer wearing a black uniform were driving the truck; they drove in a fast and reckless manner for about 15 minutes along both paved and unpaved roads. Then they stopped and called for a white van, which arrived without a license plate. The respondent said they stopped because “There was a girl that had a panic attack. When we looked at her she was like a dead person—she didn’t even move…The friend of the girl gave her help but the officers didn’t.” He added, “She was around 25: a short girl with yellow hair. They called another car; I assumed they took her back to the detention center. I hope she is still alive.”
They continued driving for another 15 minutes until they arrived at the pushback site, which was in the middle of a forest with an unpaved road that went down to the river. There, they found six officers wearing green camouflage uniforms and balaclavas, with nothing to signify that they were Greek officers. In total, there were more than 100 people being pushed back, who the respondent said were brought from the same detention center where he had been held. The group included people with Pakistani, Afghan, Iraqi, Tunisian, Algerian, Syrian, and Kuwaiti nationalities, and ranged in age from a 1-year-old baby to an old husband and wife who were 70 years old.
The respondent said he heard the officers speaking Kurdish to each other and English to the group. The officers asked the people in English where they were from. There was a woman who spoke Kurdish and talked to the officers; they told her “to lay on the ground and not make any noise.” The respondent also said, “They were so violent they hit us and kicked us…They used iron sticks, plastic sticks, and tree branches…[They hit] randomly but they didn’t touch the women and the kids—they treated the women and kids well.” The respondent was searched for a second time at the pushback site.
The officers were blowing up the boats when the group arrived. They were plastic, around three meters long, and had two paddles each, which were used by the Kurdish-speaking officers. In total there were six boats and around 15 to 20 people were loaded into each one, even though they had a capacity of around four or five people. The respondent recalled, “They took us to the other side of the river and on the way there was a woman about to fall into the river, but the officer caught her.” The respondent was in the last group to cross and said everyone was brought to the Turkish side of the river. Once in Turkey, the respondent walked about eight kilometers with an Iraqi family, who ended up paying for a taxi and offering him a ride. The respondent said:
“They were Kurdish and the officers speaking Kurdish were good to them. They gave them water and even cigarettes and they probably were hiding money. They paid 40 euros for each taxi.”
At the end of the interview, the respondent added, “Personally the mercenaries slapped me and hit me with a branch on my chest. And twice on my right shoulder and the same for my left shoulder.”