“When [the man in uniform] found my phone he told me to open [it], slapped me [in the] face, and then said ‘good boy’”

Injuries inflicted on the respondent during the pushback
  • Date and time: March 10, 2022 03:00
  • Location: From Malko Tarnovo (BG) to Şükrüpaşa (TR)
  • Coordinates: 41.9797938, 27.5250475
  • Pushback from: Bulgaria
  • Pushback to: Turkey
  • Demographics: 3 person(s), age: 17-28 years old , from: Syria
  • Minors involved? Yes
  • Violence used: beating (with batons/hands/other), kicking, threatening with guns, forcing to undress, theft of personal belongings, reckless driving
  • Police involved: 8 men. All dressed in Bulgarian border guard uniforms; 3 black land rovers.
  • Taken to a police station?: no
  • Treatment at police station or other place of detention:
  • Was the intention to ask for asylum expressed?: No
  • Reported by: Aid Brigade Sarajevo

Original Report

In the early hours of March the 10th, the 28-year-old Syrian respondent and two other Syrian people on the move (POM) were subjected to a humiliating and violent pushback from Bulgaria to Turkey. Among the group were one woman and one minor. This was the respondent’s fourth pushback from Bulgaria to Turkey.

On the previous day, the three POM traveled to the border by car. Five kilometers from the crossing, they got out and began to walk. At around 19:00 they crossed from Turkey into Bulgaria. All three POM made it across. Hiding in a forest nearby, the three Syrians waited until nightfall. At around 20:00 they headed north. After fifteen kilometers and five hours of tireless walking, they rested behind trees near the town of Gramatikovo. They soon heard the sound of a drone. It hovered overhead  for around 10 minutes. 

Twenty minutes later, they were blindsided by the flashlights of four men – later confirmed to be dressed in Bulgarian border guard uniforms with Police written in English on the back (see Image 1). The respondent explained: “We started seeing flashlights coming from different sides…we couldn’t run because the woman who was with us was exhausted…we tried to hide…but they caught us.” One of the men reportedly threatened the POM with a weapon similar to a Beretta M9 (see Image 2). The respondent reported that the uniformed men had first arrived in two vehicles that resembled Bulgarian Border Police landrovers. The four men parked the vehicles a few meters away, approaching the POM by foot (see Image 3).

Image 1: Sage Green Bulgarian Border Guard Uniforms
Image 2: Beretta M9
Image 3: Black Bulgarian Police land rovers

The four men dressed in sage green uniforms addressed the POM in Bulgarian and a few words of English. Within an arm’s length of the group, one of the uniformed men began kicking the woman and the 17-year-old boy. Screaming in Bulgarian at the POM, the woman began crying. That only triggered further verbal and physical abuse. The respondent described that “while they were beating us the man wearing a Bulgarian border police uniform said ‘Bulgaria?’.” With an iron rod in hand, he repeated it again and again. The POM responded with earnest pleas, saying “we swear, camp, camp!”. The men in sacramento green uniforms only continued to beat them even more.  

Stripped naked in front of the woman, the men were then searched head to toe. The uniformed men did not make the woman undress. The way the men searched her, however, was reportedly extremely humiliating. The respondent reported that they “touched her body everywhere, even in sensitive places.” When told to hand over their phones and money, the woman gave them all the money she had. “When [the man in uniform] found my phone he told me to open [it], slapped me [in the] face, and then said ‘good boy.’” The men addressed the POM in English and Turkish. At the end of the search, only their clothing and shoes were returned to them. With the POM’s phones, money, bags, and remaining food in hand, the four men then forced the POM to walk in a line for around three minutes until reaching the land rovers parked nearby. 

When they arrived at the car, the respondent found two additional men dressed in sacramento green (see Image 1). On the license plates, the respondent could make out a BG and CB. The four men loaded the POM into one of the trunks. As the woman entered the vehicle one of the uniformed men reportedly touched her back. The only response the situation allowed was, for her, to cry.  Following the tears was self-abuse as the woman reportedly began slapping herself in the face “because of the shame of what happened to her…she didn’t stop crying…she was traumatized.”  

Inside the vehicle, the POM found themselves in a two-by-one meter trunk. “We could barely fit,” stressed the respondent. In the front of the vehicle sat three of the six uniformed men. For approximately 40 minutes the POM were driven fast along an unpaved road. The second land rover followed behind. When the car stopped and three POM were unloaded, the respondent found two men dressed in the same sacramento green uniform waiting for them (see Image 1). Both carried weapons in their holsters – the make and mark which the respondent could not identify. They drove the same black land rover as the previous six uniformed men (see Image 3). In front of him, the respondent described that he saw a “big door….that could fit a truck through it” along with unpaved roads. Surrounding both the Bulgarian and Turkish sides of the fence was forest. The two new men in uniform sat in their car with cigarettes in hand. They looked at the POM and barked: “Shut up while we finish smoking.” With no other choice, they did as they were told and stood in front of the headlights until the officers rounded off their last puff. 

When they finished smoking, they told the woman to take off her sneakers and then forced her through the gate in the fence to the Turkish side alone. With only the respondent and minor left, the two uniformed men wheeled their iron batons and tree branches and started beating the two POM. Hits with batons and branches were followed by kicking. The beatings were reportedly random, with focused blows at times to the arms and legs. Ten minutes later, the violence finally stopped. The men in sacramento green ordered the two POM to remove their jackets and shoes and, “to run fast from the door and go to Turkey.” 

The time was approaching 3:00. 

Back on the Turkish side, the two male POM found the young woman hiding in the trees about 50 meters from the pushback point. The three walked for around two kilometers before reaching Şükrüpaşa at around 4:00. There, they decided to sleep, yet had little success. “We couldn’t sleep…we were so cold and barefoot…we didn’t think we could stay alive until the morning.” In the village, they spotted a man who – seeing the woman’s condition – offered to drive the three POM east. Two hours later, they arrived in Edirne. 

No food, water, or medical support was offered nor were translators provided. Neither photos nor fingerprints were taken.