The respondent is a 40-year-old man from Iraq. This was the second pushback he experienced from Greece.
On March 18th, 2022 he started his journey at around 2 pm from Istanbul to the town Uzunköprü in a small bus organised by his smuggler. In this bus, he met his initial transit group, consisting of 9 POM from Iraq, Palestina, Syria, and Algeria. Their ages ranged from 20 – 40 and one woman was present. The drive to Uzunköprü took approximately 3 hours. There, the POM met the smuggler in a coffee shop. In advance, they had made a deal with him according to which the transit group was supposed to get to Praggion, Greece with the help of a path guide. From there they were supposed to take a bus to Alexandroupoli and eventually to Thessaloniki, all of it facilitated by the smuggler. The respondent paid 800 € for this.
After waiting for 20 minutes in the coffee shop in Uzunköprü, the POM were picked up by a minivan and were driven for around 30 minutes to the river border between Greece and Turkey. It was located in a forest, close to an agricultural field and two islets, a small one and a big one, close in the river. At this point, the smuggler told the POM that the “path guide” will take care of them and that the group is supposed to follow his orders. After that he left.
The transit group set up the rubber boat they brought along with them in the van. The boat measured 3 x 2 meters, was of blue color, and had two paddles. With this boat, they crossed the Evros river at around 8 pm of March 18, 2022 and arrived to Greek territory. The whole group, including the guide, started running immediately for about 30 minutes until they arrived at a railway track where they hid between some trees. There, the group waited for further instructions which they obtained at around 9 pm after the path guide contacted the smuggler who told them to keep moving and walk towards another town before the sunrise the next morning.
They walked continuously until 6 am of the next morning, taking only 5-minute-long breaks when they felt they were in a place where they wouldn’t be seen, until the guide asked the group to pause and hide in a forest while he contacted the smuggler again. The respondent was unable to identify the area they were hiding but believes the group had traveled towards the north after the border crossing.
Following the instructions of the smuggler, the group stayed in hiding for the whole day of March 19, 2022 to rest and sleep a little bit. At 8 pm, when the sun had set, they continued walking for another 5 hours.
He recounted: “The woman that was with us couldn’t walk anymore and the guide didn’t know where to go and he didn’t even know how to use the maps. We were lost and he started thinking about getting to any village and get on a bus to Alexandroupolis from it.”
They paused again in another forest and the guide tried to reach the smuggler who did not pick up the phone. The group, therefore, decided to continue walking until reaching any village to take a bus from there. When they approached a village, they started to look out for a bus station in the surrounding area.
The group hid in a forest and waited for instructions by the smuggler as they were unsure what to do. They still could not reach him and their phones were about to run out of battery.
At some point they saw a shepherd crossing an unpaved road close to them. Around 30 minutes later at around 2 pm on March 20, 2022 the transit group was apprehended by 8 uniformed men surrounding them from all sides and two of them threatening them with guns and telling them to not move.
Five out of the eight uniformed men wore sage green uniforms with logos on the sleeve, identified as Greek Border Guard uniforms through Image 1, holding what the respondent referred to as “SMG guns” and identified as resembling Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun through Image 1.1.
Three other men wore deep blue uniforms with “big white police” writing on their chest and a small logo on the sleeve, identified as Greek police uniform through Image 2, carrying “small guns”, recognized resembling as Beretta M9 hand guns (Image 2.2).
The men in official uniforms arrived in three vehicles of which two were described as “white jeep[s] with a blue stripe and police written on it” and carrying a logo on its side, which the respondent identified as Greek Police Jeeps (Image 3). The third car was a white Skoda, also carrying a blue stripe and “police” writing on its side (Image 4).
The respondent recounts that when the uniformed men realised the transit group consisted of POM, they continued threatening them with guns and made them gather their belongings and made them stand up and walk to the parked cars. There, the men in uniform held plastic batons which they used to hit the POM from time to time – “just for no reason”, states the respondent.
In this instance, the group was not searched but was asked to hand over their phones which were never given back. The uniformed men asked questions in English about the travel route of the POM and about who is a smuggler in the group. After approximately 20 minutes a white van with “old tires” and further described as “ancient” arrived at the apprehension site. It was unmarked and had a Greek license plate. The respondent stated that it resembled the vehicle in Image 5.
Image 5: White unmarked van
At least one man wearing civilian clothing arrived with this vehicle. He loaded the POM in the 3 x 2 metre sized trunk of the car and they were then driven for around 30 minutes until arriving at a detention site at around 3 – 3:30 pm on March 20, 2022.
The POM were unable to have a detailed look at the detention site from outside as the van parked right in front of a hallway which they were taken to by two men wearing uniforms similar to the ones identified as Greek Border Guard uniform through Image 1.
“The woman was afraid. He [one of the uniformed men] pushed her from behind while she was walking until she fell.”
The respondent couldn’t see any signs indicating the building they were taken to was an official building by the police, the army or any other authority. In total, he saw five men wearing the same green uniform as described above (Image 1).
Once inside the detention site, the POM were asked to gather all their belongings and bags in one place and to stand close to the wall of the room.
They were forced to undress while the woman was in the room. The male POM had to stay completely naked while the male uniformed personnel searched the woman. She was not undressed but searched by men “in a bad way. They kept touching her body and sensitive places, then they took her to the cell”.
After that, the male POM, still completely naked, were searched.
The respondent recounts: The uniformed men “[held] metal batons, then [they] started beating all of us with it. They asked us to stretch our hand [in front of us] and then they hit us with the baton on it. If you don’t [obey] they will beat you everywhere on your body.”
After the pushback the respondent’s arm was broken (see Image 10 and 11 below). Most probably this happened during this incident.
The beating lasted for almost 20 minutes. Then, the uniformed men took all of the POM’s personal belongings, including money, shoes, food, bags and everything carried within, and returned only pants and shirts.
Subsequently, the male POM were also taken to a cell measuring 5 x 6 metres, which was described as “dirty and the pee from the toilet was on the ground – it was dirty and not clean, the smell was so bad”. Inside the cell there were 2 metal bunk beds. The ceiling was made of red bricks.
Inside of the cell the respondent found around 40 other people on the first day of their involvement. They stemmed from Syria, Palestine, Afghanistan and Bangladesh and their ages ranged from 5 to 60 years. Among them, there were 15 women and several minors.
The group was detained for up to 12 hours and on the second day of detainment around 200 people were detained in the same cell.
The POM were not provided with any food or water: “We were begging for some water and some food for the women and the kid but they didn’t care”.
Also, they were not offered any medical help, neither was a translator present nor had they signed any papers nor were fingerprints or photos taken.
On March 21, 2022 at around 4 am (the respondent noted that it was 1-2 hours before the time for morning prayer) the POM were taken from the detention site.
Four vehicles waited outside: Two white, unmarked Mercedes vans (resembling Image 5) and one red Mercedes van (resembling Image 6). In addition there was an olive green Mercedes military truck which the respondent identified as similar to Image 7. The respondent was not able to identify any license plates.
Image 7: KrAZ-255B – Offroad truck. The respondent noted that the “military truck” he saw was from Mercedes and only similar to this image.
Alongside the vehicles, about 20 men waited outside the detention site. Some of them wore sage green uniforms with logos on the sleeve, identified as Greek Border Guard uniform through Image 8, while others wore green camouflage uniforms carrying the Greek flag on the sleeve, identified as Hellenic Army uniforms through Image 9. The remaining men wore “civilian clothes” (terms of jeans and sportswear).
The respondent and around 40 other POM were loaded in the trunk of one of the white Mercedes van inside which it was “very crowded” and “hard to breathe”. They drove for about 15 minutes in a fast and reckless way until they arrived at the pushback point, which was described as being located in a small forest with an unpaved road. The respondent assumed it to be used for patrolling of the border area. Only the white van the respondent was in arrived at this specific pushback point. The group consisted of 40 POM from Syria, Palestine, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, including two women and 5 to 6 minors. Their ages ranged between 15 and 45 years.
At the location 8 men in “civilian clothing”, wearing black jackets and sport wear and some of them wearing plain black uniforms without any writing or insignia were present. All of these men spoke Arabic in the Syrian dialect and/or Kurdish. They carried tree branches as weapons.
The POM were given the order to empty their pockets, not move without being told so and to stay silent. Everyone was searched again, including the two women, by the men in uniform.
While the respondent was searched and told to hold up his arms. As his arm was broken due to beating he previously experienced since the moment of apprehension and he couldn’t hold it up, he was beaten again by being hit with a tree branch and kicked for around 3 minutes.
After the search, all 40 people were pushed back via the river in a small paddle rubber boat, measuring 2 x 3 metres. 8 – 9 people plus 2 drivers were taken in the boat at once and brought to a small islet in the river from were they were forced to go through the water by themselves. The water level reached above the chest. The pushback happened at around 5 am of March 21, 2022.
After arriving back to Turkish territory, the respondent struggled to move due to the beating he experienced just before. He recounts: “My arm hurt a lot. And my leg – I couldn’t walk a lot.. One Algerian young man who was with us helped me to walk and get away from the border”.
They walked for almost 40 minutes until they arrived to the village of Eskiköy. When they arrived there, they heard the morning call for morning prayer of the mosque so they decided to go there and asked for help. After the service finished the POM were given around 140 Turkish liras which allowed them to take a bus to Edirne. This drive took around 1 hour.
The physical assaults the respondent experienced during the pushback resulted in a broken arm and several severe injuries (Image 10 and 11).
When being asked whether he expressed his intention to ask for asylum in the European Union the respondent answered:
“I couldn’t ask! I was really afraid to get beaten even more or even get killed.”
Image 10: Broken, injured arm of the respondent.
Image 11: The respondent with a plaster cast after receiving medical help in Edirne.