“They said, ‘Money: no problem. No money: big problem'”

One of the families from the pushback group, including young children and women
  • Date and time: June 8, 2021 00:00
  • Location: Bolyarovo/Hacıdanişment
  • Coordinates: 41.909467, 26.820052
  • Pushback from: Bulgaria
  • Pushback to: Turkey
  • Demographics: 17 person(s), age: 2-3 to 50 years old , from: Palestine, Syria
  • Minors involved? Yes
  • Violence used: beating (with batons/hands/other), kicking, forcing to undress, theft of personal belongings, reckless driving
  • Police involved: 2 officers wearing sage green uniforms with Bulgarian writing on their chests and Bulgarian flags on their sleeves, 1 with a balaclava; 2 green police cars and 1 black police car with “border police” written on them in both English and Bulgarian; 6 officers wearing sage green uniforms with the Bulgarian flag on their arms, 1 had “police” written on his back in English; 2 green Jeep pickup trucks; 4 officers wearing sage green uniforms
  • Taken to a police station?: no
  • Treatment at police station or other place of detention:
  • Was the intention to ask for asylum expressed?: Yes
  • Reported by: josoor

Original Report

This report contains two testimonies from the same pushback from Bulgaria to Turkey that occurred on the 8th of June, 2021.

Testimony 1:

The respondent is a 33-year-old Syrian man. He was traveling in a group with 16 other people from both Syria and Palestine, including eight women and three small children. They crossed into Bulgaria via a border fence near Hamzabeyli and walked for about three kilometres through a forest when they were stopped by two officers wearing sage green uniforms with Bulgarian writing on their chests and Bulgarian flags on their sleeves. One of the officers was also wearing a balaclava. The respondent said, “They saw us and came to where we were hiding.”

The officers spoke Turkish and English to the group and Bulgarian to each other. They told the group, “money: no problem. No money: big problem.” Then, the respondent recalled:

“They started searching us one by one. They undressed us and they left us in the rain and they didn’t care. There were women and they kept beating us to get us to show them the money and if you didn’t they kept beating you.”

The police kicked the group and hit them with a baton; the women were slapped and beaten with a stick. The male officers searched everyone in the group, including the women, and took their clothes, shoes, money and phones. The respondent recalled, “They took 1300 euros. They even took the kids’ clothes off to search them.”

After around one hour, two green police cars and one black police car arrived, which had “border police” written on them in both English and Bulgarian, carrying six officers. These officers were also wearing sage green uniforms with the Bulgarian flag on their arms; one officer also had “police” written on his back in English. The respondent said, “We couldn’t see very well because they kept beating you to not raise your head from the ground.” 

All 17 people in the group were loaded into the back of one car, which only measured about two by two meters and would normally accommodate a maximum of four people. They were driven around an hour along unpaved roads; the driving was fast and reckless. When they arrived at the pushback site, there were two green Jeep pickup trucks and four officers wearing sage green uniforms. The respondent recalled:

“Two officers were holding batons. They were standing by the door in the fence. They kept taking us one by one from the trunk and they kept beating us one by one to force us out of the door in the fence.”

He said the door “was like a garage door—they pulled it down then they took us through it.”

The respondent says they asked for asylum but, “…they didn’t care. They asked you for three things: where is the money [and] where are the phones. That’s all they care about. I hid 320 euro with my wife; they searched her and they took it from her.”

He also said, “They only gave a bottle of water to my wife because she had kidney sickness and to an old woman, but when we asked for food or water, they beat us.” From the fence, they walked about four hours to the nearest village in Turkey, which was Hacıdanişment.

Testimony 2:

The respondent is a 24-year-old woman from Syria. She was traveling in a group of 17 people from Turkey to Bulgaria at a point close to Hamzabeyli. The group was Syrian and Palestinian and contained 8 women and 3 children, including a baby 

The group was apprehended by two officers in a forest after walking 4 hours from the Turkish-Bulgarian border after crossing at Hamzabeyli. The officers were wearing sage green uniforms and one officer was wearing a balaclava. 

The officers were rude and threatening. They searched the women’s bodies and forced them to remove their hijabs. The officers confiscated the phones and money from the group as well as the shoes of the men in the group which the officers did not return. The officers confiscated the respondent’s medicine and 320 euros of her money. As the respondent protested strongly against being searched, the officers slapped her and hit her with a baton. The officers spoke to the respondent in English, although she spoke very little English. 

Those in the apprehended group attempted to prevent the children from being searched but the officers also searched minors, forcing the children to undress and searching inside the diapers of babies. They also forced the children to get undressed. 

The group was forced to wait for 2 hours until 3 black jeeps arrived. The officers loaded the whole group into the back of one of these trucks. At this point a total of 8 officers were present. All officers were wearing a sage green uniform with the Bulgarian flag on their arm and the word Police written on their backs. The respondent stated that the officers were violent during the process of loading people into the trucks, and hit a woman with a baton that was carrying a baby. Inside the truck it was very overcrowded and the respondent states that she had difficulty breathing. 

After the group was inside the back of the jeep, the officers drove the group for 30 minutes to the border with Turkey. The driving was fast and reckless causing those in the back to collide with each other.  

Upon reaching the border, which was identified as close to Golyam Dervent/Bolyarovo, 2 officers in a sage green uniform forced people out of the truck. At the border was a fence in the forest with a small door. The officers used batons to threaten people and force them to walk back into Turkey. The respondent stated that multiple people in the pushback group expressed clearly that they wished to apply for asylum in Bulgaria. During the process, the officers repeatedly mocked the group, saying that they would take them to Sofia and insulting them using curse words in English. They also repeatedly asked the group if they had money. 

The respondent and one elderly woman were given water by the police, but the rest were denied food and water. 

Upon crossing back into Turkey, the group walked for 4 hours in the dark and through the forest to the nearest village. Many individuals in the group were injured, one of the women in the group was elderly and the men of the group did not have shoes as they were confiscated by the police. The group eventually arrived at Hacıdanişment village in Turkey.