“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, sexual assault, threatening with guns, forcing to undress, theft of personal belongings, reckless driving
  • 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

Two testimonies were collected that refer to the same pushback incident on 10th March, where a transit group of about 55 people was pushed from Bulgaria to Greece, and then Greece to Turkey. The second testimony is to be found here.

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 cars, they identified as belonging to the police.

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.