The respondent, a 33-year-old Tunisian man, crossed into Greece from Bosna and walked for 16 days with three other Tunisian men until they were apprehended by police near Orestiada. They were spending the night in an abandoned house when two Greek officers entered at around 2 am, threatened them with guns, told them to keep their heads down, and confiscated their phones. The officers were wearing blue uniforms, balaclavas, had “police” written on their backs, and were driving a Nissan Navara 4×4.
The officers waited with the group until an unmarked 2010 Ford Transit arrived with four more officers, who were wearing balaclavas, jackets, cargo pants, and black boots. The group was put in the car and were driven about 30 minutes on the highway to a detention site surrounded by a tall fence. Based on the description, this detention is believed to be located in Didymoteicho. Nearby, the respondent recalled seeing women and children at a house with caravans and clothes hanging outside.
When they arrived at the place of detention, there were three officers, one of whom was a lieutenant wearing glasses with three stars on his shoulders, one of whom was tall, and one who was standing in front of the door and ordered them to take off their clothes. The respondent recalled:
“we took our clothes off then they ordered us to take off our boxers. He looked at me and asked me, ‘are you Muslim?’ I said yes, and suddenly he tried to hit me in my sensitive place and slap my face and he started asking me, ‘where did you cross from?’ and ‘how and what time did you cross?’ I told him from the fence and I told him at 2 o’clock. When they asked about our nationalities, we lied and we said we were from Palestine. They took us to a separate cell and there were some Afghans and Pakistanis in the other cell. They started yelling and told them, ‘they’re lying, they’re lying, they are Moroccan’ and then they took us to another cell, where we found about 20 other people from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Then they brought a man with his wife and he had a newborn and then they brought another Syrian man and girls.”
In the end, about 36 people between the ages of 14 and 43 and of varying nationalities including Afghan, Pakistani, Moroccan, Syrian, Tunisian, and Iraqi were put into their holding cell. The cell was approximately five by four meters and had a metal bed without a mattress and some blankets with UNHCR written on them. There was no toilet and they were not given any food or water or any access to medical attention, despite some people in the cell being injured. The respondent explained:
“we kept telling them our friend was diabetic and they didn’t care until later they took him out. They didn’t give him medicine, they just gave him water and they opened the faucet for one minute.” The officers told him to “hurry up and drink, if you don’t get to drink then it’s not my problem.”
The group was held for 24 hours and were not given access to a translator or allowed to ask for asylum, in fact, the respondent said that in response to one detainee’s request for asylum, the officers “took him outside, slapped his face and hit him.” As a result, “the rest became afraid and couldn’t talk even to ask for water.”
Finally, around 7 pm, the group was taken outside to the yard, where there were four officers wearing balaclavas and green uniforms with “border guard” written on their shoulders. Two of the officers had batons and hit each person twice as they got into an old Mercedes military truck in order to make them move faster.
The group was driven about 40 minutes to the Evros River. Along the way, the respondent saw woods and a few houses; he also heard gunshots which he guessed were from hunters. The driver drove fast along the paved roads but slowed down on the unpaved roads. Inside, the respondent said it was difficult to breathe because the truck was so full of people.
When they arrived, the respondent saw a Ford car and two officers not wearing balaclavas, one of which had blue eyes, who were speaking Arabic and smoking. The officers in the truck went to smoke with them and were laughing and drinking as they inflated a small boat. The boat was orange with a black stripe and around 2.6 or 2.8 meters long. Eight Syrian women were taken from the truck and brought to the other side of the river, while the rest of the group waited for about 30 minutes. Then, the officers put the boat in the car and drove the group another 15 to 20 minutes to another spot along the river. At the next spot, there were three more officers wearing balaclavas, civilian clothes, and boots and speaking Arabic. The respondent said that “when they were checking us, he asked me where I was from. I told him I am Palestinian and he told me ‘I am Palestinian and I will not check you’ and he didn’t.”
Eight people at a time were loaded into the boat and brought to the middle of the river, where they were told to jump in. The respondent said the water level was high that day due to melting snow and they had to swim for three to four meters before reaching a small island. On the island, they saw traces of other people who had passed by the same place. They were stuck there with about 28 people for two days until someone worked up the courage to cross the river to Turkey and the others followed. Once they reached the other side, they passed a Turkish military checkpoint after about four or five kilometres, near Serem, and then walked all the way back to Edirne, around 50 or 60 kilometres.