The respondent is a 24-year-old male Syrian. He started his journey to cross the border in a transit group consisting of 7 POM of whom 6 were Syrian and one person was Moroccan plus one Syrian smuggler. Their ages ranged from 22 to 30 years.
On March 9, 2022 the transit group traveled together with a smuggler from Istanbul to a river site at the Evros river close to Meric where they arrived at 4 pm. They prepared an inflatable boat they had carried with them in hiding and waited between trees for the sun to set to cross the border via the river.
The smuggler the POM collaborated with promised them that after the river crossing they would continue walking using directions on maps on their phones to get to Gianoulli, Greece where a car was supposed to pick them up to take them to Thessaloniki. The smuggler did not leave Turkish territory but promised to facilitate their journey by staying in touch with them via phone.
The transit group crossed the river at around 7 pm of March 9, 2022 using the inflatable boat. After arriving in Greek territory they continued by walking for five hours until they arrived at the arranged pick up point in a forest close to Gianoulli at around 2 am of March 10, 2022. When they tried to contact their smuggler, as agreed, he did not answer or pick up the phone. Hence, the POM decided to wait and continuously call him. When the sun rose around 6 am and they hadn’t gotten a response they decided to stay in hiding in a small forest in a valley close to Gianoulli during the day.
As they still hadn’t gotten a response from their smuggler when the sun set again on the evening of March 10, 2022, they decided to continue their journey to Thessaloniki on foot. They walked for three nights in Greek territory until they got apprehended on March 13, 2022 around 2 pm close to the village of Kechros where they had been resting and hiding in a small forest during the day.
The respondent recounts:
“We were hiding in small forest near to Kechros where we heard the mosque call for prayer. We were surprised and happy thinking maybe we can get help because we needed some food and water. We thought about sending one of us there and tried to figure out who can go and get us supplies for the road – later when it gets dark, before we continue walking”
While hiding and waiting for the night to arrive the POM were suddenly surrounded by 6 men in uniforms. Two of them wore black bulletproof uniforms without any writing or logo. According to the respondent, these uniforms looked like the ones in the picture below (Image 1).
Image 1: Officers in EKAM uniforms – the respondent clarified that the uniforms looked similar, including the guns, but without any balaclavas
Four men wore blue long-sleeved uniforms with “police” writing on the left chest and a logo on the left arm, recognized as Greek Border Guard uniform (Image 2).
The men in uniforms arrived in two vehicles. One of them was a black Nissan Navara Pick-Up as depicted in Image 3. The respondent described that it had “police” written on its side and carried a badge, consisting of a “a cross in yellow inside a logo” which was identified by Image 3.1 as possibly resembling an old EKAM logo.
The other vehicle was an unmarked, olive green Toyota Land Cruiser as depicted in Image 4.
Image 3: Black Nissan Navara Pick-Up – the respondent noted that it had “police” written on its side and carried a badge, consisting of a “a cross in yellow inside a logo”
Image 3.1: Logo of EKAM special forces – the respondent recounts that a yellow-colored logo resembling this was on the side of the Nissan Navara car, next to “police” writing
Reportedly the uniformed men carried weapons identified as similar to a Berretta M9 (Image 5) and Heckler & Koch MP5 (Image 6), identified by the images below.
When the transit group was caught by the six uniformed men, the uniformed men threatened them with guns “to not make any move”. They kicked and beat everyone with plastic batons for about one minute each person. Afterwards, they were made to collect their belongings and walk to the parked cars where they were asked to sit down. There, the POM were kicked again against their shoulders by the uniformed men and their phones were taken from them. They were never returned. In this instance, one of the men took a photograph of the whole group. The respondent believes the photograph was taken with an official phone as it carried the logo of the European Union on its back.
They were asked by the uniformed men about their nationalities, how they crossed the border, and about the whereabouts of their smuggler. The POM replied truthfully but the respondent noted that the Morrocan person stated that he was Syrian. Those in uniform spoke Greek amongst each other and English to the transit group. After 20 minutes a white, unmarked van, identified as a Ford van by Image 7 below, arrived and the POM were loaded in its trunk.
They drove for around two hours mainly on paved roads and the driving was described as fast and reckless. At around 5 pm the group arrived at the detention site. The building was described as a “first floor building [with] white coloured walls and a Greece flag on the fence surrounding the building. There was a small yard in front of the entrance and civil houses close to it.” Reportedly the site was located in an area dominated by forests and only spare civilization and a few domestic houses. The described Greek flag was the only sign showing it could be an “official” building.
At the detention site, there were 5 men in sage green uniforms with yellow stripes on the left upper chest and a blue logo on the sleeve, and writing on the back. The uniforms were recognized as resembling Greek border guard uniform (Image 8).
Inside the detention site the POM had to line up and two uniformed men put on plastic gloves and started to search everyone. They had to strip completely naked and each person was searched individually for about 5 minutes. They took everyone’s personal belongings and bags.
The POM were given back only pants, shirts and shoes except for one person and the shoes of one person. At this point, also the money they carried was returned.
Subsequently they were put in a cell measuring 6 x 5 metres, described as having “small window and four metal bunk beds without mattresses, dirty ground and a nasty smell. It consisted of three walls, old and dirty, and a big metal bar door”.
Inside the cell the respondent found around 53 other persons detained. Including his transit group they were about 60 people in the cell of Syrian, Moroccan, Algerian, Yemeni, Afghan and Iraqi nationality. They were mainly males but also three women including one pregnant women, 13 minors, of whom 11 were unaccompanied were present in the cell.
The age range of the group was from 10 to 50 years.
While being inside the detention site, no food or water was offered during this time and he recounts: “Even though we just asked for some water for the kids and the pregnant women the uniformed men screamed at us. They told us: ‘If you don’t stop making noise we will kill you all!’”
Neither medical help was offered, nor was a translator present at the detention site.
The POM were not asked to sign any papers, nor were photos or fingerprints taken at this instance.
The respondent and his transit group were detained for about three hours. After that, 9 men, 6 of them wearing “civilian clothes and balaclavas”, and 3 of them wearing the same sage green uniforms, identified as Greek border guard uniforms before (Image 8), arrived to the detention site and loaded the POM in the trunks of two white, unmarked big Mercedes vans, similar to Image 9. The respondent remembered that at least one of them had a Greek license plate.
Image 9: White unmarked van
Around 30 – 40 people were loaded into the 2 x 3 meter-sized trunks of the vans. Reportedly it was hard to breathe as the trunk was extremely crowded. They tried to really take care of the pregnant woman which was separated from her husband and loaded into the same van as the respondent. He described the 20-minute-long drive as “so reckless” and the POM were not able to see outside.
The vans arrived at a river site inside a big forest but with the lights of a village on the Turkish side of the river visible. Both cars were brought to the same place. There, 8 men wearing civilian clothes and 4 men wearing sage green uniforms, resembling the Greek border guard uniform as identified before (Image 8), were present. The ones in civilian clothing carried tree branches as weapons and spoke Arabic and Kurdish amongst each other and to the POM and told them “not [to] make a sound, [to] stay in line and especially to give all our money and everything we hide or have in our pockets before they figure it out when they search us. Otherwise we would get in trouble.”
Subsequently everyone was searched again, also minors and women, by the male officers.
The respondent recounts that the husband of the pregnant women, whom he had been separated from earlier, was looking for his wife and did not follow the order of the uniformed men. He got beaten up with tree branches and by kicking for 15 minutes while his wife cried out loud and was shouted at by the men in power. The respondent was also hit with a branch on his back.
At the riverside, a black paddle rubber boat with a white interior was prepared already and the POM were pushed back over the river and taken to Turkish territory in groups of six, with two men in authority steering the boat. The whole group of 60 people was pushed back which took at least 30 minutes. This was at around 9 pm of March 13, 2022 and the pushback point was close to the village of Doyran.
The respondent expressed his intention to claim asylum right when he was detained by the men wearing sage green uniforms, resembling Greek border guard uniforms (Image 8). He was ignored.