The respondent is a 40-year-old Syrian woman who crossed the border together with her husband and nine other relatives. On June 6, they left the city center of Edirne, walked around 7km to the border, and crossed the Evros/Meriç River. The 11 Syrians were between the ages of 16 and 43, two of them were women.
They crossed into Greece around 9 pm and walked until 3 am, covering around 25km. Given the description of the locations, the point of crossing must have been in the area around Kastanéai.
Starting at 3 am, the group rested for around one hour or less next to an unpaved road far from any settlements, but in sight of a building that had lights on.
Suddenly two officers apprehended the group. The respondent is sure that the officers had been using night vision devices and therefore were able to find them. The respondent stated that the officers started beating them immediately with a branch and then an object she described as a “plastic stick”.
According to the respondent, one of the officers was wearing a blue Greek police uniform, the other was wearing a green camouflage uniform, and both were wearing black balaclavas. The respondent carried €140 on her, her husband €220. The officers took €100 from the respondent and the full €220 from her husband. They also took their phone and all their other belongings.
The other group members had their belongings taken from them as well, and all 11 group members were frisked by the two male officers, including the two women and the minors. The respondent stated that when the male officer was searching “very sensitive areas” of her body, she started screaming and he stopped.
The officers then ordered the group to kneel down and wait. They had to remain kneeling for around 25min. After that, the group was ordered to get up and into a white van without any windows which had been hidden between the trees. The respondent recalls it was a Fiat.
The group of 11 was ordered to get into the back of the van, which was empty of other people and had no seats. They were driven for around one hour, which likely took them to a location around Tychero.
The driving was described as reckless, and “the longest part [of the way] was on a paved road and a bit on unpaved roads”.
The vehicle stopped at a detention site which was surrounded by a high fence, around 4m high, with barbed wire on top. The respondent could not see any buildings nearby. Two or three police cars, white with blue stripes and writing, as well as a white pickup without markings were parked in front of the detention site. There were 7 or 8 officers at this detention site. Some of them were wearing the blue Greek police uniform, others plain sage green uniforms. All of the officers were wearing balaclavas.
According to the respondent, as the group was exiting the van, an officer who was holding a branch used it to hit everyone while getting out of the car. “He screamed at us to keep our eyes looking at the ground while hitting us”. When asked for clarification, the respondent explains that only the men were hit, not the women, but also the 16-year-old (male) minor.
Again the whole group was frisked. “[They were not] looking for weapons or anything, they were just looking for money”. The entire group was ordered to undress completely. Once naked, the group members were ordered to crouch down. One by one, they were ordered to stand up and be frisked – the women also by the male officers again.
“They searched us and they took my hijab off looking for money and they kept touching my body and the other woman’s body, even in very sensitive areas…”.
The respondent also recounts how the officers took a ring from her husband. It was his mother’s ring which he had kept as a keepsake of her after she passed away. The officers found that ring and, despite his protest, threw it away.
The group was then ordered to enter a cell. It was around 3 by 4 meters in size, had 3 metal bed frames but no mattresses. Inside the cell was also a toilet but the respondent describes it as “very stinky and no water in it”.
Around 50 people were already in the cell when the respondent and her group were taken in. In total, she described there being around 61 people in the cell, all either Afghan or Syrian, including 8 women and several minors. The group was made to stay there from around 5 am to after sunset the following day, so around 17 hours. They did not receive any food or water during this time. When asked if the officers ever spoke to them during this time, the respondent says: “No. Beatings and humiliation, that’s all we got from them.”
When asked if they had expressed the intention to ask for asylum, the respondent replied: “You can’t talk. If you talk, they beat you. My brother asked for a bottle of water and they beat him and took him to clean their toilet.”
After sunset on the following day, June 7, the group of 61 was ordered to exit the building and get into the same white van that had taken the respondents’ group there. This time the drive lasted around 30min, on both paved and unpaved roads.
“We were around 70 people in the back, we barely could breathe and he kept driving insanely fast. It was reckless and we kept colliding into each other. Then the car finally stopped, but they kept us locked inside for another hour.”
14 officers or more were present at the location. “They were like terrorists, wearing balaclavas, and scary.” Some of the officers were wearing plain sage green uniforms, some blue Greek police uniforms, and some camouflage uniforms – but all balaclavas. The officers were armed, some with guns and rifles, some with batons.
A third time the whole group was searched. “Immediately they asked us for money. They only search for money, that’s what they care about.”
At least two people who were speaking Syrian Arabic were present at the detention site and cooperating with the officers. They also searched the group members and later on were the ones handling the boat. These two apparently third-country nationals assisting the Greek police were wearing dark uniforms but without any insignia.
The respondent stated that whoever they found still had money left was beaten and had it stolen by the officers. The officers also took everyone’s shoes, “and you don’t know where you walk and it was so dark”.
A second vehicle arrived, with around 60 or 70 more people, which means the group now included around 130 people from Afghanistan, Syria, Morocco, Algeria and Iraq.
Three inflatable boats were already present and inflated when the group arrived. They did not have any engines but paddles. In groups of 10-12, the people were ordered to embark the dinghies which were max. 240cm long. “It was too many people |in the boats]. It felt like the boat was about to gone down any second.” The respondent observed the rest of the group cross before her, as she was part of the last group to be taken across the Evros/Meriç River.
However, they were not taken all the way across the river, but ordered to jump into the water in the middle of the river and cross to the Turkish shore by walking. The water level reached the respondent to her neck. “It was high and I saw a person in the dark and the middle of the river holding another guy on his back, they had beaten him and broken his leg, he could not walk”.
On the Turkish side, the group walked for around one hour before they reached a village where they could get taxis.
“We were hungry and thirsty. We drank from the river and ate herbs we found. The taxis used us. They took 500 TRY for each group to bring us to Edirne for 35 kilometres.”
The drive lasted around 45min.
When asked if she wanted to add anything, the respondent said:
“What should I do now? I lost everything. They humiliated us and they took all that we had, for the third time. What can we do? Should I sell my kidney to survive? Should I commit suicide? I have no hope. I have no solution. We will die from hunger.”