A 25 years-old Kurdish man, a citizen of Turkey, fled Turkey because of political persecution and arrived in Greece on 25 June 2020, around midday, after a difficult journey on foot. He was alone, walking through fields when a villager started following him on a motorcycle and seemed to be calling the police. In order to hide from the villager, the respondent jumped into a deep concrete irrigation canal. He struggled for half an hour to climb back up from the canal. He continued to walk towards the town of Kastanéai. During this time, he was communicating with friends in Turkey and in Greece. When he arrived in the town, he stopped to rest and change his dirty and ripped clothes.
He continued to walk and a grey pickup truck came towards him. The Greek soldiers in the car asked him where he was going and he told them that he is a tourist. However, when they asked him for a passport, he showed them his Turkish ID and told them that he is a political refugee and wants to apply for asylum in Greece. The soldiers gave him water. The respondent explained to them that he is politically persecuted in Turkey and was sentenced to prison, and asked them to not send him back. They said that there will be no problem and that he is safe. The soldiers allowed him to call his family and friends and tell them that he was safe. They waited there and 8-10 cars arrived one after the other – personal cars, one police car, and a military vehicle. An officer in a military uniform and his face masked with a balaclava approached the respondent and asked him who he was. The Greek officer spoke Turkish. He explained again who he was and that he is seeking political asylum. “Why are you coming to our lands? How did you get here?” the officer was asking. The respondent explained and the officer left. The cars started leaving as well.
A white van with no police marks on it and no windows in the back arrived. Two tall persons in plain clothes got out of the van. They were very rude. “You do not treat a living being like this?” the respondent said. One of them kicked his bag, picked it up, shook out all that was inside, and started checking the stuff with his foot. The respondent asked why he was doing this and the officer started yelling at him what sounded like cursing in Greek, throwing his things around, and body-searched him. He threw away the respondent’s books and pens that he was carrying in his bag, and took away his ID, driving license, and mobile phone. Then they threw him and his empty bag in the back of the white van.
After the van took off, the driver was driving recklessly, so that the respondent was being thrown around the empty backspace of the van. After a 15-20 minute-drive, they arrived at a police station marked with Greek flags and police cars around it, in an urban place. They ordered the respondent to get out of the van and searched him and his empty bag again. They took off his shoes and socks, and removed shoelaces from the shoes. Then they ordered him to get back into the van and clean the garbage from it. The respondent resisted since it was not his garbage and they tried to push him in by force. Other policemen in uniforms came and ended the wrestling.
The police took him into the police station. There were 7-8 detention cells full of people – women, children, youth, babies, men, and elderly from different countries (Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan,…), about 70-80 people. They brought him to the last cell, where there were 3 other Turkish citizens, who had been there three days already with no food or water. The beds were made of metal frames with no mattresses. “Why are you keeping people here for days with no food and water and no beds?” the respondent asked a police officer. The officer replied: “Is this a hotel?” “It is not a hotel, but we are humans,” the respondent said and got no reply. On the walls, there were notes about refugee rights in different languages, which our interlocutor found ironic.
There were a lot of police officers passing by. The respondent was asking over and over again when they were going to start his registration and asylum procedure, but they were telling him “later.” 5 hours passed with people in the cells yelling and crying. One of the police officers was a pregnant woman, who was treating people very badly – she was yelling at people and children, swearing at them, and hitting the bars with a baton. The respondent told us that he will never forget that woman and her inhumane behavior while she was about to become a mother. At some point a person in the respondent’s cell yelled to someone in another cell. An officer approached and thought that it was the respondent who had yelled, so he started swearing at him. Our interviewee cursed back and the officer entered the cell and started pushing him against the wall. Another officer came and put them apart.
“Just tell me, are you not going to register me?” the respondent was asking the police. “Wait, wait, the boss is coming in the evening around 8 o’clock,” they replied. “Why is the boss coming?” “Istanbul, Istanbul,” they replied. When it was getting dark, a tall officer in black uniform carrying binoculars arrived. Our respondent realized that he would be pushed back. He took his medical mask from his pocket and bound his shoes with it (as his shoelaces were taken away) and started thinking how he would save himself from persecution in Turkey. Officers in uniforms and plainclothes started taking people out of the cells. Our respondent wanted to wear his trousers (since he was wearing shorts and was worried about the journey in the forests), but they did not let him. The 4 Turkish citizens were taken out of the police station last. There were 8-10 officers, all wearing black uniforms and balaclavas; some were holding batons and some were pointing automatic rifles at the 4 people. The officer from the police station without a balaclava who had attacked the respondent in his cell earlier was also standing on the side and was smiling at the respondent.
There was a green metal army truck in front of the station and everything was quiet, even children and babies stopped crying. (The respondent speculated that they might have given them something to keep them asleep.) The group of 4 was lined beside the wall. An officer gave the respondent back his ID and wallet (still having money in it). They took two Turkish citizens aside and started beating them very badly with sticks and kicking them when they were on the ground until they were full of blood. Then they came to the respondent and one of them said “Did you swear at my friend?” Before the respondent could reply, he attacked him. He kicked him in the stomach and continued beating him with the stick and kicking him. When he was on the ground, the officer stepped on his head.
“In that [moment], a lot of things go through your mind. You came here from Turkey, you have experienced the same things [violence] there. A feeling of belonging, I mean you have no bound to a place. You are thinking: What am I? Where do I belong? Where is my world? Where am I from? You think these things. To not belong to a place is a very bad feeling. Where are you going to complain? Nowhere. There is no place to complain to. There is no person to complain to. There is no one, no one can do anything. My life passes before my eyes; my childhood, my youth, university years, and so on. We came till this age, finished school, only to end up in this situation. This is what I was thinking. And another [event] passed before my eyes. In Van [a Kurdish city in Turkey] Turkish police made an operation at a construction site. They made the workers lay down on the ground and stepped on everyone’s heads. This image crossed my mind. At that time, a Turkish policeman was asking the workers: ‘What did this state do to you? What did we do to you?’ And in that moment I was thinking: What the hell did I do to you? A Kurd’s faith never changes. Today, not only in the four parts of Kurdistan, today, you are experiencing the same things everywhere in the world. In the supposedly very civilized Europe you are living the same thing. Allegedly a place of ‘human rights.’ You are living the same things there and the same things in the Middle East. Both in exile and back there [in Kurdistan]. Really, you cannot say anything and you cannot do anything. This is really very difficult for a person. If only there was something to do. It is really very difficult.”
The officers picked them up and took them to the truck. They opened the back door and ordered them inside. The space was packed with people, around 75, all squeezed together, standing one over the other. The police pushed them in. There was almost no air to breath and everyone was trying to get close to a small opening in the wall. During the trip, our interviewee conversed with some Kurds from Syria and Iraq. For some of them, this was their tenth or fifteenth pushback. “They got used to it by this point, unfortunately,” said our interviewee. They advised our interviewee to hide his money and ID card and say that he was Syrian if the Turkish police stopped them on the other side of the border. He hid the money and ID card in his pants.
The trip took 20-25 minutes. The time was about 10 pm when the truck stopped somewhere in the forest. The officers called the “Turkish” guys out of the truck. An officer was taking them behind the truck one by one. When he took our interviewee, he demanded money. When our interviewee refused, he body-searched him and found his ID and money, 300 euro, and took the money. Then they ordered them back onto the truck, which continued to drive for about 5-10 more minutes. The truck stopped right at the riverbank and the officers again called for the “Turks.” They made them sit on the ground and gave them bottles of water.
“What are they going to do now? Everything comes to mind. Are they going to kill us? Can they not kill? They can. They can do anything they want. /…/ It is happening. Unfortunately, thousands of people experience this; dead, killed, losing life there, thousands of people,” told us our interviewee.
During this, 6-7 officers in black uniforms with balaclavas started taking other people off the truck and taking them to the river. The river was about 50 meters wide, and there was a dinghy waiting on it. The officers were ordering people on the dinghy in groups of 8-10 and sending them across the river. The dinghy was being operated by two Syrian or Afghan men.
Everything was quiet and the policemen were whispering. They held a gun towards the people’s heads and ordered them to be quiet. Our interviewee was still convincing the officers to not send him across the border because he is fleeing political persecution. They told him to wait for the boss. The “boss” came and our interviewee explained again that he did not come to Greece to live in Europe, but is a political exile and has a prison sentence in Turkey, and asked him to not send him back. The “boss” looked into his eyes through the holes in his balaclava and said: “This is my country. I don’t want you here.”
He ordered the group of 4 Turkish citizens to stand up and board onto the dinghy. The migrant dinghy-drivers took them to the other side. Our interviewee was clinging onto the hope that the order for his arrest warrant in Turkey had not yet been released into the police system. The group of 4 did not know where they were, so they walked towards the lights of a village (Üyüklütatar). They walked into the village, where they got surrounded by the villagers and soldiers. Two people from the group ran away and the villagers and soldiers chased them, brought them back, and together beat them very badly. Other people from the pushback group were also sitting there in the square.
A villager approached our interviewee, as if he knew that he was a Kurd, and pressed him against the wall. He was asking him where he was from, searched his body, and found his ID card. Our interlocutor tried to deny his political identity by saying that he was going to Europe for work. “These border villages are a fascist, racist region, a place of racist Turks who hate Kurds. If they learned what I was, they would lynch me,” explained the interviewee. They checked his ID card, saw that he was born in a Kurdish city, and started swearing at him. While the soldiers were looking for the four people’s identities in their system, they let the group of four to the mercy of the villagers. The soldier checking the IDs returned and said to the commander: “There are three thieves and one terrorist.” “Who is the terrorist?” asked the commander. The soldiers took our interviewee aside and the villagers started beating him. The soldiers came in between after some time to prevent them from killing him. The soldiers handcuffed the group of four and put them into their vehicle. One of the villagers approached and told the commander that the boats were ready. They took the 70 foreign refugees, put them on the boat while beating them, and took them back to Greece. “There is no such a thing as humanity in the border regions,” said our interviewee.
The army vehicle brought the group of four to the Edirne gendarmerie station. They released the other three people and kept our interviewee in detention for one week without food or the right to contact a lawyer or anyone else. During this time, he was frequently questioned by the intelligence service. Luckily, he was released, because his arrest warrant had not yet been released into the police system. He went to Istanbul and later returned to Diyarbakir, his home city in Kurdistan. He had to stay in hiding, as his arrest warrant came out in a week’s time after his release.
In order to avoid imprisonment, he had to try to flee the country again. This time, he contacted a lawyer in Greece in advance and informed them about his location after he arrived in Greece. He hid his money. After he arrived together with two women refugees from Turkey, they went directly to a police station near Feres to register and request asylum. The police came out and ordered them to lay on the ground and yelled at them. Our interviewee told the officers not to push him back and that he has got a lawyer, who is following his location. They ordered them to get up and made them wait for about half an hour. A white van with no windows in the back arrived and took them to a police station. There, they were immediately registered and their photographs and fingerprints were taken. This made them confident that they would not be pushed-back. There were about 150 other people detained in the police station, all of them Turkish citizens. Our interlocutor was kept there for 3-4 days and then released with a police paper on 9 October, 2020.
“In the past Greece was not applying this [policy] to the refugees from Turkey. It is something that has been taking place in the past year, year and a half that they have been [pushing-back] especially those coming from Turkey. Among my friends with the same court files and close friends, hundreds of people experienced this, hundreds of people who were forced to flee Turkey because of political persecution. Some got arrested and put in prison, some were able to save themselves [from the arrest],” told us our interviewee.
After his pushback experience, our interviewee searched online photos of Greek border police. He identified with certainty the officer that beat him and other officers involved in the pushback on the photographs.