The respondent, a 29-year-old male from Morocco, was pushed back from Greece to Turkey. He has experienced seven pushbacks in total, including this most recent one – three from Bulgaria and four from Greece.
He started his journey on foot at about eight in the evening on 19/3/2022 from Edirne to Bosna. He was alone and had one backpack with some supplies for the road. He walked about two hours for the road to Thessaloniki and waited another 30-45 minutes before crossing the border, recalled the respondent.
After crossing the border, the respondent walked for about four kilometers through agricultural fields and unpaved roads. He recalled not turning on his phone to use a map as he did not want to risk having the phone light draw any attention to him. After about two hours, he arrived on the main road to Orestiada. He then turned on his phone to use the map and continued walking for two nights over unpaved roads, travelling only at night time to avoid being seen, covering about 60 kilometers.
On the 21st of March he was in the forest near to the village of Mikro Derieo. The respondent described that was out of food and water and couldn’t sleep from hunger and exhaustion, so he decided to clean his clothes and walk into the village to get food and water, with the plan to go back to the forest immediately.
He stated that he was crossing a bridge alone to Mikro Derieo at around 9 a.m. when he saw a parked white Skoda, identified by the respondent as similar to Image 4, with a blue stripe on the side and ‘police’ written along it and a logo. Next to the car were two men wearing a blue uniforms that the respondent recognised as ‘similar to the Greek police uniform’ which he then identified in Image 1 and Image 2. He described how they called him over and asked him in English for his papers. He said that he explained he did not have any papers, and the officers subsequently searched him.
According to the respondent, during the search, they continued to speak to him in English and to each other in Greek. They asked him where he was from, why he wanted to go to Europe, how long he had been walking for and if there was anyone else with him. Then they asked him for papers again to which he explained again that he did not have any to show. The respondent recalled that he answered all of their questions fully and requested to be taken to a camp. He expressed that he wanted to claim asylum.
While he was being searched, the respondent believed they were just searching him to check for any weapons – “just normal search” – and that they did not take anything from him at this point. He said the officers told him that someone would come and pick him up to take him to the camp, and that he shouldn’t worry. They instructed him to sit next to the car.
The respondent stated that he did not see the men with any weapons. He further described their uniforms as consisting of a deep blue jacket and pants and black boots. The uniforms both had ‘police’ written on the back in large white capital letters and a logo on the arm. One man also had a rank on his shoulder which the respondent identified in Image 3.
Image 1 – Back of Greek Police uniform
Image 2 – Logo on arm of Greek Police uniform
Image 3 – Insignia of Senior Constable (non-Investigative Duty)
The respondent stated that he sat by the car for about 20 minutes while the men talked to him until another car came. He said that he recognised the vehicle that arrived as a grey Landrover Discovery, with a blue stripe all around it, and a big logo on the hood and on the side.
According to the respondent, there were two men in the grey car wearing black jackets and black pants without any insignia or logos or armbands, and they had holsters around their waists with firearms in them.
The respondent stated that after five minutes, another vehicle arrived, a large white Ford van. He only saw the driver of this van, who remained in the vehicle, so the respondent could not see his uniform. He said that he saw the license plates on both vehicles but did not focus on them.
The men from the grey Land Rover reportedly spoke to each other in Greek and to the respondent in English. They asked for his phone, which he handed over, but was not returned to him. They then loaded him into the back of the white van.
The respondent stated that there was no one else in the back of the van. He said that there were no seats and he had to sit on the floor. They waited there for about one hour and then the van started to move. He said that the driving was “normal in the beginning but then it got fast.” It lasted for approximately one hour. The van was reportedly locked and there was no way to see outside.
The respondent said that they eventually stopped outside of a building, which he saw from the outside. He described it as a white-walled building with the “first floor surrounded by metal cages and both… the building and the cages surrounded by a fence, three meter barbed from the top.”
The respondent stated that there were no other vehicles parked in front of the building. He said that there were two yellow caravans and a paved road in front of it and a house surrounded by a forest.
When asked if there were any official signs indicating that it was an army or police building, the respondent stated that there was one Greek flag by the building’s entrance.
He stated that there were five people present at the site – four men and one woman. The men were described as wearing sage green jackets and pants with ‘police’ written on them in white, and black boots. The woman was wearing a blue uniform jacket and pants, with ‘police’ written on the left chest of the jacket, which resembled the blue Greek border guard uniforms.
The respondent explained that once he was taken inside, a man wearing a sage green uniform told him to put his bag over to one side, “where there were hundred of other bags and water bottles and food.” He was told to step near to the wall and they asked him to take off his clothes. He removed his clothes down to his underwear.
After the man did not find anything among the respondent’s things, “he kicked me on my back and told me “pick your stuff.” I tried to pick my jacket. He kicked me and told me ‘no’.” The respondent explained that they took his jacket and left him with his shoes, shirt, pants and the pyjama bottoms he was wearing under his pants. They did not return his jacket.
He stated that he was then put into a cell of approximately four x five meters that already contained 35 other people. The respondent described that the ground was dirty, there was a nasty smell because of an unclean toilet in the cell and four metal bunkbeds with no mattresses.
He stated that the other people were from Syria, Afghanistan, and Algeria. There was a 2-year-old baby with his mother and the eldest person there was around 40. There was one other woman present and another three boys under the age of 18, recalled the respondent.
He explained that they were held for another hour, during which time he was not given any water or food. His documents were not checked and he was not made to sign anything or give his fingerprints, neither was he photographed. There was no translator present for any of this time.
He stated that the entire group was then taken out of the building by six men: “four men wearing blue uniform same as the female officer uniform” [see image 8] and “two wearing civilian clothes with camouflage jacket, nothing on their uniform written or any logo”. They were loaded into a big white unmarked Mercedes van, identified by the respondent as being the same as the van in Image 5. He did not see the license plate of the van.
Image 5 – White unmarked Mercedes van
The respondent explained that they were driven fast for about 15 minutes and were unable to see outside the entire time. They were taken to “a big yard surrounded by trees” with a “small unpaved road that take to the river.” They were searched and then made to walk 200 meters down this road to the riverside, where there was a black pickup truck, identified by the respondent as the same as displayed in Image 6, with a trailer holding a white rubber boat, “with grey stripes and there was the EU flag on the left side.” The pickup truck did not have any signs or other insignia, only a “big flashlight installed on the trunk roof.”
Image 6 – Pickup Truck
The respondent explained that the same men that had taken them from the previous vehicle were there at this location also, as well as “two other men wearing civilian clothes.” These men in civilian clothing were holding tree branches and “spoke Arabic fluently, in Syrian dialect.”
The group was ordered to remain silent and to give everything they had in their pockets “and anything we hided. They know every details where an immigrant hide the money.” Everyone from the group was reportedly searched again. Here, the respondent’s pants and trainers were taken from him.
When asked if he experienced any violence, the respondent explained that he was hit three times with a tree branch. When asked why, he said, “They do it for no reason, just to threat you to stop coming back.” He said that the women were not beaten.
When asked whether the women in the group were searched by men or women he explained that they were searched by men, “and he got his hand under her bra to look if she hide any money. And she was saying for god please stop. And he didn’t care and threatened to slap her.”
After the first searches had been completed, the boat was moved from the trailer to the river.
About 20 minutes had passed since they arrived with the white Mercedes van. The respondent was part of a group of 10 people that were taken on the boat, along with two drivers. The boat did not have an engine, and they used paddles, described the respondent. The boat took them halfway across the river and then they were told to get out, including the woman with her baby. The water was up to waist height.
The respondent stated that everyone from the entire detained group was pushed back at around 1 p.m.
After the respondent reached the Turkish side, he started running “to get far from the border to not get caught by the [Turkish] jandarma.” He explained that beyond a 100 meters from the border, there were many taxis around. On an unpaved road just beyond the river, he met an Algerian man who had also been pushed back and who had some money that he had managed to hide, which they used to pay for a taxi. The respondent spoke with the taxi driver as he can speak a little Turkish. The taxi drove them to Edirne, covering roughly twenty kilometers in about 30 minutes. It cost 400tl.