“They just ordered us to jump in the middle of the river. They don’t care if you’re holding a baby or not”

  • Date and time: March 10, 2021 00:00
  • Location: Lavara/Karayusuflu
  • Coordinates: 41.263815, 26.432683
  • Pushback from: Bulgaria, Greece
  • Pushback to: Greece, Turkey
  • Demographics: 55 person(s), age: 2-50 years old , from: Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Morocco, Tunisia
  • Minors involved? Yes
  • Violence used: beating (with batons/hands/other), kicking, threatening with guns, forcing to undress, theft of personal belongings
  • Police involved: 5 Bulgarian officers wearing green uniforms travelling in two police cars; 3 Greek officers in green uniforms with a white and blue police car; 2 Greek officers wearing uniforms with Greek flags on them driving a white truck; 4 Greek officers at detention centre; 1 truck; 6 Greek officers wearing green uniforms and balaclavas; one 2 by 4 meter plastic motor boat
  • Taken to a police station?: yes
  • Treatment at police station or other place of detention: detention, denial of access to toilets, denial of food/water, personal belongings taken
  • Was the intention to ask for asylum expressed?: Yes
  • Reported by: josoor

Original Report

The two testimonies included below refer to the same pushback incident on the 10th of March, where a transit group of about 55 people was pushed from Bulgaria to Greece, and then Greece to Turkey. 

Testimony 1:

The respondent is a 20-year-old woman from Iraq who was traveling with her husband, their 2-year-old daughter, and three other men from Iraq, Algeria, and Libya between the ages of 30 and 40. They walked for around five or six days from Edirne (Turkey) to Greece to Bulgaria, where they were apprehended in the mountains by five officers wearing green uniforms travelling in two police cars.

The officers took them to “an abandoned place” where they “beat the men” and “took everything they had”, including their money, and repeatedly said “money, money”. Then, the respondent says:

“They took us to the Greek border. They pushed us back. They took everything we had in that cold weather. They don’t have any respect for anybody—even a woman with her little kid. Then they took us to Greece. We kept walking in Greece until the Greece officers caught us.”

The group was pushed back close to Mikro Dereio.

The respondent said that three Greek officers:

“threatened us with weapons to stop walking. They hit us, they didn’t respect us either. Then they searched us.” The officers hit them with a tree branch, and “they hit everywhere, in the back, neck…they just hit you when they have the chance.”

The officers took the rest of the money that the group had hidden along with phones they had hidden. They encountered another group of four people, including a Moroccan woman, and were put in a white truck driven by two officers, whose sage green uniforms had Greek flags on them. They were driven about two hours to a detention centre where they were searched again. According to the respondent, “they took off all the guys’ clothes. One of the guys said, ‘no, please my clothes’ and they hit him. Even we, the women, were frisked by a man.” The respondent recalled:

“they don’t respect anyone, even a woman like me. They were searching me and they were yelling at my little daughter and even tried to hit her. It was inhuman. Then they put us in the cell.”

They remained in the cell for about 24 hours, during which time they weren’t given food, water, medical attention, or access to a toilet. The cell they were in was small, with about 10 or more people in it, and there was another cell with around 50 people. The detainees were from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Morocco, and Tunisia, ranged in age from two years old to around 50, and included children around six or seven years old and four women. The respondent said they asked for asylum, but the officers “did not care and did not even answer.”

At night, the group was driven for about an hour by truck to the Evros/Meriç River, where they were met by six officers who spoke Greek and English wearing green uniforms and balaclavas and carrying guns. Two of the officers were in a boat and four were “beating people and taking their belongings.” The respondent recalled:

“They [the officers] started hitting us and when [the officer] was searching me, he was touching my body and he was clearly harassing me and they beat everybody—even my husband. Then they put us all in the boat and took us to the Turkish side in the river. But before that, they gathered us in a line and they checked us and took the rest of our money…and they hit everybody, women and men.”

About 20 people at a time were put in the boat, and only the two officers driving the boat were wearing life jackets. Then, the respondent remembers:

“they just ordered us to jump in the middle of the river. They don’t care if you’re holding a baby or not.”

They were stuck on an island in the river with other families before they managed to get across to the Turkish side, near the town of Karayusuflu.

 

Testimony 2:

The respondent, a 46-year-old man from Iraq, walked for one night and one day to get to Bulgaria from Turkey, crossing through Greece on the way. He was with a group of five other people that included an Algerian man, a Libyan man, and an Iraqi couple with their 2-year-old baby daughter.

The group arrived at a small village, Valche pole, where they received food and water from some people there and then hid in an abandoned house. Later, six Bulgarian police officers arrived in two cars, wearing blue uniforms with Bulgarian flags and “police” written on their shoulders and back. The respondent said, “he (one officer) punched me in my face and kept saying ‘money’. They took it all and about 100 euros and 100 Turkish lira and the rest of my papers, which were in my wallet,” including “my identity card, my money, and everything related to my Iraqi identification.” The police took all of the belongings from everyone in the group and put them in the back of the cars, kicking and hitting them along the way. The group was driven less than 30 minutes, first on a paved road and then on an unpaved road, with fast driving.

The group asked for asylum, however, the respondent said the officers:

“didn’t let us talk too much, but we did talk about getting us to the camp, but they didn’t accept and they just took us to the border and took everything from us. Then they started screaming after they took everything from us and kept saying ‘go go go.’”

The group then walked for three days until they arrived in Mikro Dereio, where they were apprehended at night by three officers wearing uniforms that were described as “greenish-yellow”, who spoke Greek, English, and Turkish. The officers searched the group and asked if they had mobile phones but didn’t find anything. They were taken into a car and brought to a detention site where they encountered another group of five people between the ages of 22 and 25 who had also been detained, including one woman. Three more officers arrived, wearing sage green uniforms with the Greek flag on them, in a military truck. They frisked the group again, but the respondent said, “they didn’t find anything because the Bulgarians took everything from us.”

The group was brought to a detention site in the middle of a small village, where they were met by six officers wearing the same green uniforms with Greek flags on their shoulders as the ones before. These officers made the men take off their clothes and took the women to a separate room where they were searched with a metal detector. The respondent says they found money on him but that one officer gave it back to him. 

From about 3 am until 4 or 5 pm the next day, the group was kept in one of two rooms that was about 4×3 meters and had a dirty floor. They had access to a toilet, but it was broken. There were more people in another cell, with a total of more than 100 people detained in the two of them. The other detained people ranged in age from 2 until about 50 years old and included people from Iraq, Tunisia, Morocco, and Afghanistan. The respondent said, “they didn’t give us anything. We were yelling to just give something to the little girl and they gave us chocolate.” There was also a handicapped man but he was not given any help. 

The respondent tried to ask for asylum but said the officers “don’t want to hear you talk. They keep telling you ‘shut up shut up’ and they don’t want you to talk and they didn’t give us anything to sign.”

First, a group of about 60 people were taken away in a big military truck. Later, the respondent was put in the same truck, driven by three officers, with around 55 people. They were driven for about one hour, during which time they were constantly colliding with each other as a result of the fast driving and hard braking.

They were brought to a wooded area along the Evros/Meriç river, where they were met by ten officers armed with guns wearing green camouflage military uniforms with Greek flags on them. There was also one man in civilian clothes wearing a balaclava who spoke Arabic with an Algerian accent. He asked the group about money, saying “Euro, Euro, Euro”. 

The officers repeatedly hit the people in the group with batons, kicked them, and punched them in the face. One Syrian man “couldn’t breath because the officer hit him straight to the chest.” They also took the rest of the group’s belongings, “even the shoes”.

Around 18 people at a time were loaded onto a green, military-style boat that was about 2 by 4 meters and powered by a motor. The respondent crossed in the second of three trips and said the water level was “high”.

On the other side of the river, they spent two hours walking through a forest, which was “hard to cross”, until they arrived at a small village, where people gave them food and water. A local man drove them – 3 men, one woman, and one child – about 40 kilometers, which took roughly an hour and a half, to Edirne.