The respondent, a 27-year-old from Jordan who experienced 2 pushbacks from Bulgaria to Turkey, was most recently pushed back on the 25th of March 2022.
Two days earlier he and his 25 year old male friend from Morocco went to the bazaar to prepare for the border crossing where they bought backpacks, food and water. At 11 am they took the mini bus to Lelapaşa for 30 minutes, then continued walking for five hours to the Bulgarian border in the direction of Uzunbayir. The aim was to reach Yambol. The respondent and his friend arrived at the border at 4 in the afternoon. According to the respondent, the place was surrounded by trees and an unpaved road on the Bulgarian side. On the Turkish side, the respondent could see a lot of reeds. They waited half an hour before climbing the fence in order to cross to Bulgaria. The fence itself was completely barbed from the Turkish side and approximately 5 meters from the ground to the top.
Once on Bulgarian territory they started running for 30 minutes to get as far away as possible from the border. Because of the rugged mountainous area it was hard to run quickly. By using a map, the respondent and his friend started to walk towards Yambol for three days. They used to walk at night, rest a few hours in the day when they passed by a village or a city. On the 28th of March they got apprehended at around 10 am on the side of the main road (road 53) which was taking them to Yambol. The respondent and his friend had been hiding in farmlands behind trees. They decided to enter the city and look for a bus station, so they took a secondary road to enter the city. As they were already walking on a paved road heading to Yambol, they just decided to take that road instead and follow it. A car was driving behind them, with two men sitting inside. These men stopped the respondent and his friend, talked to them in Bulgarian which they did not understand and further asked them in English about their papers.
The vehicle was a white blue-striped car of the brand “Kia” with Bulgarian writing on the left side of it, as well as a logo with a lion inside of it. “Police” was written in English in a large blue font. The license plate was a Bulgarian one. The respondent identified the car as similar to Image 1, resembling Bulgarian Police Kia.
Image 1: Bulgarian Police Kia
The two men were dressed in blue shirts with an insignia with a lion on their left arm, as well as ranks on the shoulder with two lines and Bulgarian writing below it, probably Полиция, which is the Bulgarian word for Police. The respondent recognized the insignia to look as Image 2 and Image 3.
Image 2: Bulgarian National Police Insignia
The respondent and his friend told them in English that they do not have any papers and that they are refugees. The uniformed men asked them for any proof of their legal presence in Bulgaria, to which the respondent and his friend stated that there wasn’t any.
The two men in uniform got out of the car and asked them to stand next to the car in order to be searched. Furthermore, one of the men in uniform made a phone call with his phone, but as he was talking Bulgarian, the respondent could not understand anything he said. The respondent tried to talk to him to tell him that they wanted to go to the camp, but the men in uniform just slapped him hard in the face, screaming at him to remain silent and not move. Some civilian cars were passing by in the meantime. The uniformed men asked the two POM about their nationalities and how they got to that place. 30 minutes later, two other cars and with them 5 men arrived. One car was a black discovery land rover with “border police ” written in English on the front and a logo on the side (Image 4). The other car was a green old Jeep with Bulgarian writing on the side, both cars had “BG ” in there license plate (Image 5). The respondent recognized the vehicles to look similar to the ones in the image below:
Image 5: Bulgarian Police Jeep
3 men were present in the black discovery land rover and 2 men in the green Jeep. 4 among them wore sacramento green jackets and pants with “Police ” written on their backs in white color (Image 6). One man was wearing a shirt, which had the Bulgarian flag stitched on the right arm sleeve. One man was wearing a long-sleeved forest green shirt and pants (Image 7). The respondent recognised the uniforms from the images below.
Image 7: Shoulder of uniform with flag – the respondent referred to this shirt but with long sleeves
The uniformed men didn’t talk to the respondent and his friend but loaded them into the trunk of their jeep to take them to the pushback point at the border. The driving was fast, first on a paved road and later in the mountains fast and reckless. It lasted for 1,5 hours. The trunk itself was 2 by 1 meters in size, with nowhere to sit. The respondent could see the outside passing by, especially many villages. After 40 minutes they were driving in the mountains and forest before arriving at the border.
They arrived near the border fence at a place that was surrounded by a forest from both sides. There was a door in the fence, with cameras planted everywhere on the fence. The 2 uniformed men who were sitting in the jeep and the respondent and his friend were the only ones at the site. The uniformed men took them out of the trunk and started slapping and punching them for about 3 minutes. Then the respondent and his friend were asked to remove their jackets, and give their phones and money. The respondent could identify the languages English (to them) and Bulgarian (among each other) spoken by the uniformed men.
The phones, money, jackets, shoes, and backpacks were not returned. The men in uniform were armed with baton and screamed at the respondent and his friend to give everything they had. “We were afraid so I gave everything I had but my Moroccan friend was hiding 20 Euros in his underwear. We didn’t give it, they are bandits, they can’t be officers”.
During the pushback (at about 2 pm), one of the uniformed men pulled his gun from the holster, faced it to the respondent and said “run” while starting counting and aiming the gun at them. The respondent recognized the gun to be similar to the one in the image below:
After the uniformed men beat them up with the baton and kicked them, they opened the door in the fence and pushed them back. The baton was a black plastic baton. The door was 2 by half meters in size and didn’t look like an official door as it was just in the middle of the forest.
Once back in Turkey, they started walking barefoot. “We were so exhausted and thirsty, we walked in the forest for 4 hours until we arrived at a highway”. Another 2 hours passed by walking on the side of the road until they reached Dereköy where some people gave them food and water. One person gave them a ride for 20 Euros to Kirklareli.