“They pulled each one of us out of the group, and then ordered the dog to bite him once on each leg”

  • Date and time: March 15, 2021 00:00
  • Location: Malko Tarnovo/Şükrüpaşa
  • Coordinates: 41.6710428, 26.5934227
  • Pushback from: Bulgaria
  • Pushback to: Turkey
  • Demographics: 8 person(s), age: 16-45 , from: Syria
  • Minors involved? Yes
  • Violence used: beating (with batons/hands/other), exposure to air condition and extreme temperature during car ride, threatening with guns, dog attacks, theft of personal belongings, reckless driving
  • Police involved: Range rover, blue nissan, pick up truck. 9 Bulgarian officers in black police uniforms with “police” written on them (including an alleged lieutenant) or green camouflage uniforms, and some of these officers had the Bulgarian flag on their uniforms, 2 officers wearing civilian clothes, extra 2 bulgarian officers wearing “border police” marked uniforms, mention of at least two german officers driving a black land rover, both of who had german flags on their uniforms
  • 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: josoor

Original Report

The following contains two testimonies from the same pushback incident from Bulgaria to Turkey involving 16 people who were separated into two groups and pushed back at slightly different spots at the same time.

Testimony 1:

The respondent is a 41 year old male from Aleppo, Syria. The respondent was in a group of 16 people, who were all Syrian and aged between 16 and 45 years old. They were caught by 11 Bulgarian officers, wearing black uniforms with “police” written on them or green camouflage army clothing, and others were wearing civilian clothes. The respondent identified them as Bulgarian as some had Bulgarian flags on their uniforms, and communicated to them in English. 

The officers had seven dogs, and arrived in three cars. The cars were identified as a Land/Range Rover (similar to a Land Rover Defender), a blue Nissan and a Pick-up truck. The respondent believes one of them was a lieutenant.

The group was apprehended in the evening shortly before sunset near a forest, about 5km from the first Bulgarian city after crossing from Greece, estimated to be Malko Tarnovo. One person in the group noted the number plate of the officer’s cars.   

The officers, as soon as the group was caught, ordered the dogs to bite them. “They pulled each one of us out of the group and then ordered the dog to bite him once on each leg” explained the respondent. The officers demanded the group’s belongings to be handed to them and conducted full-body searches. “They start checking us, even our boxers, looking for money. They checked us all”, remarked the respondent.

 “[The officers] ordered me to take off my pants. I was afraid because of the dog, you cannot move and one of them came behind me and kicked me, that’s what they did for the rest. Also, they took everything and ordered us to take off all of our clothes, even the shoes. Then they put us in a line and ordered us to continue walking and from time to time they ordered the dog to attack one of us”.

The officers did not give back the respondents shoes, “I came here barefoot”.

The officers did not communicate with them much. They just took photos of them and when they spoke to the group they would stand far away from them. The officers took the 200 euros the respondent had, as well as his clothes.

The group was loaded into the Nissan pick-up truck and driven through two villages. The respondent explained that in his vehicle, there were eight people and three officers. The driving was fast and reckless. “He [the driver] did that on purpose. When he gets to the street bump, he crosses it fast to let our heads hit the cars ceiling” explained the respondent.

The group was taken immediately to the border. The journey took about 30 minutes. There were two more officers carrying batons waiting for them at the border. They looked about 60 years old. They were wearing blue uniforms and had “border police” written on them. These officers were identified as Bulgarian.

However, also, the respondent elaborated that German speaking officers were also present. The respondent explained he could not focus on what they were wearing as “the space in the car was very small and we could barely breathe”, so they “opened that little window in the roof to breathe and we saw them”.

The two german officers (there were potentially more but the respondent could not see) were driving a black land rover. Someone from the group confirmed that one of the officers was German as he saw the german flag on their uniforms.

The two officers at the border ordered the respondent and his group to take off their jackets and shoes. They then proceeded to hit them randomly with batons and ordered them to get out of the truck. Some people were hit on their head, some on their shoulders, and some were hit on the back as they were forced to the Turkish side.

The respondent did not ask for asylum because “we couldn’t speak. If you speak, they let the dog on you. We were afraid to talk”. There was no translator present throughout the pushback, even though a lot of them did not understand what the officers were saying.

They were pushed back through a “door” in the fence to Turkey. They walked for 5km, and took two car rides, with the whole journey lasting about an hour and a half before they arrived in Edirne.

Dog bites from Bulgarian police dogs
Dog bites from Bulgarian police dogs
Injuries inflicted during pushback

Testimony 2:

The respondent is a 28-year old man from Aleppo, Syria. He walked for approximately 26km from the border with Bulgaria and Turkey before he was apprehended, along with 16 others, by Bulgarian police. The youngest in the group was identified as 15, and two others were 16 and 17 years old. The eldest in the group was 48. They were all Syrian.

They were caught in a forest and near a mountain and river, later identified as a location outside of Malko Tarnovo. They were caught by 6 officers, 3 wearing all black and the other 3 wearing green military uniforms. The ones wearing green military uniforms had the Bulgarian flag on their uniform and had something written on their uniforms in Bulgarian. The 3 officers all in black had “something on their shoulders, a logo that looked like an eagle” explained the respondent, and “police” written on their uniforms. Also, the respondent identified the German flag on these three officers.

When they were caught, the respondent asked the officers to take them to a camp, as “we are refugees”. They wanted to go to a camp, but one officer told him no.

The officers wearing green military uniforms communicated to the respondent in Turkish, but “I did not answer because they will think I am a smuggler and I will be in big trouble” explained the respondent. The respondent communicated back to them in English. 

When they were caught, the officers immediately surrounded them with several dogs. “One of the officers, he wasn’t acting normally. Like he did have drugs. His eyes and under his eyelid it was so red” explained the respondent.

“He was holding one of the dogs. He let the dog onto each one of us to bite us. Everyone was bitten on different parts of their body. The dog ripped my jacket, another dog ripped my pants, my shoes also”.

This officer that was believed to be on drugs and holding the dog threatened them with the dog continuously and filmed their reactions and laughed.

But the officers did not stop there.

“They took a branch from a tree and started hitting us with it. I didn’t understand what was happening because there was too much noise and we were confused. The little boys screamed. I got 3 hits over my head” continued the respondent. “They aimed at one spot, they kept hitting me over my head and they hit me on my shoulders”.

The officers took the groups phones, supplies and all of their money. They took the €150, phone, power bank and three other phones from the respondent that he was hiding in this underwear. “They opened our bags to search them and they took the water bottle. They drank half of it and then hit us with the bottle, like we are garbage”.

They were walked down an unpaved road by the officers who regularly ordered their dogs to attack them, to find three cars. The respondent identified them as a Nissan Jeep and two other pickup trucks, which were all green. “A bald headed officer” came from the Nissan Jeep to investigate the respondent, because they thought he was a smuggler because he had a phone with directions on maps. But the respondent told them that he was not.

The respondent was able to identify details of the number plate of the cars, as well as the actual number plate of the car that he was forced into:

“I focused on the number plates and tried to remember. All the car’s plates numbers start with BG and the logo of the EU next to it. I remembered the number plates of the car I got into because they put us behind the cars for a while. I remember it was “AC8337MK””. 

One of the officers in the car was wearing civilian clothes and there were two other officers. One was holding a dog. The group was split into two groups of 8 and loaded into the two pick-up trucks. It was very crowded, and not enough room for 8 people in each car. One of the officers wearing black clothes got into the Nissan Jeep. There were two officers in each car. 

“In our car, we found two other officers wearing green uniforms. One of them was tall with a bald head and wearing medical glasses” identified the respondent.

The officers locked the cars door. It was incredibly hot and the detainees could barely breathe. “We knocked on the car window to let us breathe. They keep telling us to shut up”. The driving was “horrible and fast. We collided with each other”. It was described as reckless, particularly as they were driven along an unpaved road.

About 20 minutes into the journey, on the way to the border, on the highway, there was a black jeep with police inside it. The pick up truck stopped to talk to them, but the respondent explained that he could not understand what was being said as they did not know the language. Then the car continued. The car turned right, and then they kept driving until they got to an unpaved part in the road. They arrived where there was “an old rusty fence. There was a door in it from where the car entered”. The whole journey took about an hour or so. “It was very hard to breathe inside the car” explained the respondent.

Two officers, dressed in green military clothing with the Bulgarian flag on it, opened the door to the truck and started hitting the respondent and his companions. They proceeded to take them out one by one and hit everyone as they got out of the car with a baton. At the border fence, they could see what was described as a “power generator” on the Turkish side. The officers took them through a door in the fence and walked with them for about 5 metres into the Turkish side and kept hitting him. “I was telling him ‘please I am sick. My heart is weak and I have illness in my heart’. He punched me four times on my leg, shoulder and my head” explained the respondent.

“Even though I told him I have a heart disease, he kept punching me. I tried to run after they opened the door, but he ran behind me for 10 to 15 metres. He kept hitting me till I managed to run away”.

They were left with nothing. The officers had taken their bags that had food inside and two water bottles. They had also never had their shoes returned that they were forced to take off.

The respondent explained that the other 8 people had been taken to another place. But the little boys who were 15 and 17 years old were with him.

One of the guys in the group managed to hide his phone so the officers could not find it. After they were pushed back through the fence, they checked on google maps how far away they were from the next city. They were 73km away from Edirne, close from Yukarıkanara.

Ripped trousers due to police dog attacks
Ripper jacket due to police dog attacks

Testimony 3:

The respondent, a 16 year old male from Syria, recounts his experience of a violent pushback from Bulgaria to Turkey. The respondent was part of a group of 16 people (all Syrian) and walking in Bulgaria when they were apprehended at about 11am. Four in the group were 16 year old minors, and the respondent estimated that the oldest were about 45. They had walked for about 30km through Bulgaria from crossing the river at the border before they were caught.

The respondent could not recall where exactly they were apprehended, but he remembers that they stopped to rest at a dried up river in a forest and then the officers suddenly appeared. The respondent identified that there were 7-8 officers walking with dogs. They immediately let the dogs on them to bite them and stop them from running away. The officers holding dogs were wearing black clothes and balaclavas and the others were wearing green military uniforms. They were identified as Bulgarian as the respondent identified the colour of the Bulgarian flag, and it was later confirmed by images shown to the respondent.

“They let the dogs onto us and the officers kept kicking and beating us” explained the respondent. “It was random, they didn’t care where they hit you, on your head or the rest of your body. They took a branch from a tree and started hitting us with it and they took what we have from canned food and they threw it on us”. 

Everyone in the group was subjected to a body search and the officers took all their phones and their money. They were then put into a line and forced into cars. The respondent explained the car he was put in was a Jeep, but inside it there was a kind of box where they were forced into. The officers put 8 people in each car (so two cars were used). The box that they were put in was too small for 8 people, it could have accommodated about 4 people. “We couldn’t breathe properly in it” the respondent exclaimed.

These officers spoke to each other and on the phone. Four officers drove the cars, one drove and the other sat next to him, and they took the group directly to the border. The cars separated after they had left, both heading in the same direction but the car the respondent was in stopped and the other one continued driving. In the middle of the road, the officers just stopped the car and started hitting everyone with a baton. The respondent suspected this was because the officers were trying to figure out who among them was hiding a phone, and successfully found it.

They drove for about an hour in total until they arrived at the border. The driving was reckless and everyone in the box kept colliding with each other. When they arrived at the border, there were 4-5 more officers there, wearing the same uniforms as the previous officers. The respondent explained that he did not understand the language they were speaking in, but that the officers communicated between themselves in the same language.

At the border, they had all of their supplies and belongings taken from them. They were ordered by the officers to take off their shoes and pushed and hit through the fence to go back to Turkey. They were hit with branches, kicked, and punched by the officers. The group was not completely naked, but they only wore trousers and were barefoot. 

The place where they were pushed back through the fence was not an ‘official’ door, it was rather a hole in the fence and the officers just raised up the iron wire of the fence. The group was made to crawl back into Turkey.

When they got to Turkey, they did not immediately come across a city. They walked on a highway for 30 minutes and found chopped-up timber from trees. There were people there and some tents. The people had cars there and they took the group to Edirne, the journey took about 45 minutes in the car.

Group members pushed back to Turkey without shoes
Group members without shoes