“we were afraid that he [the man with the gun] shoot us”

  • Date and time: March 20, 2022 00:00
  • Location: Malko Tarnovo (BG) to Sukrupasa (TR)
  • Coordinates: 41.9797938, 27.5250475
  • Pushback from: Bulgaria
  • Pushback to: Turkey
  • Demographics: 8 person(s), age: 11-45 years old , from: Syria
  • Minors involved? Yes
  • Violence used: beating (with batons/hands/other), kicking, insulting, threatening with guns, forcing to undress, theft of personal belongings
  • Police involved: 5x men in sacramento jackets w/ “border police” on back, sage green trousers, holding Russian pistols; 1x discovery landrover; 1x green Bulgarian border police jeep; 1x man in Bulgarian camoflauge military uniform; 1x zil 131 green locked truck
  • Taken to a police station?: no
  • Treatment at police station or other place of detention:
  • Was the intention to ask for asylum expressed?: Yes
  • Reported by: josoor

Original Report

This testimony recounts a violent pushback from Bulgaria, close to Malko Tarnovo, to Turkey, near Şükrüpaşa, taken from a 44 year old Syrian man who was part of the pushback group. This was his 9th pushback he had suffered – 3 being from Greece to Turkey and 6 from Bulgaria to Turkey. This pushback was the second of this month (March).

On 19th March, using a smuggler, he started his journey to the border between Bulgaria and Turkey at 4pm, leaving from Edirne city. They arrived at 5pm, close to Hamzabeyli village. From here, he walked for about 30 minutes and then arrived at the border at approximately 5.30pm. They were met by a fence, and saw cameras placed on this fence, spaced about every 5 metres. The fence was 5-6m high. 

He was part of a group of 8 people – all Syrian, aged between 11-45 years old, including one woman, who was his wife and his 11-year old child.

They cut the fence and after 10 minutes the whole group passed through. They were left by the smuggler and continued into Bulgaria. They ran for about “three seconds” as soon as they crossed to avoid being seen by any car controlling the area by the border. They ran across an unpaved road to get into a forest.

After this, the group walked for 6 hours continuously, taking only a few short rests – totaling about 15 minutes. “The road was exhausting and I had to carry my kid and my wife. And the men were walking fast” explained the respondent.

After approximately 6 hours, at about 2 am (estimated) on 20/03/2022, the group arrived next to what was referred to as a “dam”, and they hid in a forest to wait for the guide of their group to call the smuggler. They were expecting a car to come and pick them up, and the driver would have taken them to Sofia. The respondent did not have a phone so did not check a map. He does not remember seeing any buildings nearby.

They waited in this location for approximately 3 hours. After this time, the whole group was apprehended. 5 men appeared, surrounding them. They were wearing sacramento green jackets (with border police written on the back) and sage green trousers. There was a logo on the arm of the jackets, but the respondent could not see exactly what it was. None of them were wearing balaclavas. There were no flags identified on the uniforms. The respondent confirmed the uniforms of these 5 men to be the same as Image 1.

Image 1: Bulgarian border police jackets

The men were all armed with a gun identified as an “old Russian gun”, and later said it was similar as what is pictured in Image 2 below. The respondent explained that three of these men held these guns up to their faces to stop them from moving or running at the time of apprehension.

Image 2: Makarov 9×18 mmGun / Soviet semi-automatic pistol: Markarov pistol– often referred to as “Russian pistol”

The respondent recounted what happened during the apprehension, explaining that it was dark and they could not see any light coming or anything. They were just sitting in this forest on one side of this dam, and then suddenly these 5 men appeared shining a hand torch in their faces. These men immediately started screaming in Bulgarian, raising guns in their faces, and forced them to raise the group’s hands in the air.

The group did not understand anything that was being said to them as these men spoke in Bulgarian to the group. 

The respondent explained that one of these men kicked him in the chest, in front of his child, as well as kicking all other members of the group. Only his wife and child were not kicked.

Then, one of these men started speaking English and Turkish to the group – asking them where they are from. The group did not speak in response. “We were so afraid to talk… We could barely breathe”.

At this point, none of their documents were asked for or checked. The group was however searched. The group was forced to take off their jackets, and some of them searched them and looked in pockets. The men asked if we had money or phones. Then one of the men brought a bag and told them to put the phone and the money the group had in this bag. While this was happening, the other officers continued to search for them. 

The group was not undressed completely. Only their jackets were confiscated. The wife was not searched – but they took her phone, jacket, and shoes. The respondent had the same taken from him, but not the phone as he did not have one. They did not return any of the belongings taken from group members to anyone in the group.

These men did not have their vehicles close by, and the group was forced to walk to where they had parked their vehicles – approximately 5 minutes. “I had to carry my son because they took his shoes but the men wearing sacramento green hit me on my back with a plastic baton and told me let him [my son] walk”, explained the respondent. 

The vehicles they came in were parked on an unpaved road, far from where they were hiding. After 5 minutes, they arrived where these cars were parked. There were two cars – one was black, written on the front in big capital letters, in white, “border police” with a white logo on the side (respondent identified it as same as Image 3); and the other was a green jeep with black windows, and it had something written in Bulgarian on the side (respondent identified it as same as Image 4). The respondent did not identify the license plates as he was not able to get a clear view of them. 

Image 3: Bulgarian Border Police – Discovery Landrovers
Image 4: Bulgarian Police Jeep

When they arrived at these vehicles they were forced to sit down. And here is where they were asked questions – again asking where we are from, and then how we came, where we are going. They were spoken to in English and Turkish.

The respondent explained that they answered truthfully – he was able to communicate and speak a bit of English and Turkish well. They explained that the group wanted to go to a camp, and they wanted to claim asylum. One of the men said “Europe”, and then kicked him on the shoulder. The group was made to sit and wait for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, a military truck appeared, which took them back to the border. The respondent explained it was a “zil 131 green locked truck” – you could not see out of it, and he was not able to see if there was anything written on it or not. The respondent identified this vehicle to be similar as the one depicted in Image 5.

Image 5: ZIL-131 military truck

Driving this vehicle was a man wearing camouflage green and had a Bulgarian flag on the arm of his sleeve. This uniform was identified to be the same as Image 6.

Image 6: Bulgarian Green camouflage uniforms 

There was no one else in this truck when they were loaded into the back – it was only the group. The trunk measured about 3 by 2 metres inside. The driving was identified as relatively normal, making the group think that they were really being taken to a camp – “we kept that hope always”

The group was driven for about 40 minutes but was not able to see what they were passing by because they were in the trunk.

They stopped at about 7 am in the morning on 20/03/2022. They arrived at the Bulgarian-Turkish border, near the fence. This was next to a big gate in the fence, which would be opened and lead to Turkish territory. The respondent identified the area they were in to be a forest, there was a fence, an unpaved road, and then this gate. He also noticed there was some part of the fence which had been cut too.

It was just their group at the pushback spot. As they were unloaded from the truck, the driver opened the back doors and was holding a big gun, pointing at them, and he told them to get out and “go go go!” in Turkish. This gun was identified as a black AK-47 – same type of gun as in Image 7 below.

Image 7: AK-47

The driver held the gun at them and said “go back to Turkey”. They were not searched again at this location. All the males in the group, and the wife, were wearing pants and shirts. The group was not physically hurt at the pushback site but “we were afraid that he [the man with the gun] shot us with the gun when we were out of the trunk” explained the respondent.

The whole group was forced through this “gate” in the fence. Once they reached Turkish territory, they kept walking until they got further away from the border. They walked for almost 5 hours until they arrived at Karadere, where they rested. In Karadere, they found a public faucet to drink and rested there