“He hit me on my face. Because nobody spoke English but me, so he hit me on my face.”

  • Date and time: May 1, 2021 00:00
  • Location: Soufli
  • Coordinates: 41.1943451, 26.2992566
  • Pushback from: Greece
  • Pushback to: Turkey
  • Demographics: 107 person(s), age: 17, 28 , from: Syria, Morocco
  • Minors involved? Unknown
  • Violence used: kicking, pushing people to the ground, insulting, theft of personal belongings
  • Police involved: 5 officers in dark-blue uniforms in a grey 4x4, 5 officers in olive-coloured camouflage uniforms at police station, 20 men wearing olive camouflage uniforms at the river.
  • Taken to a police station?: yes
  • Treatment at police station or other place of detention: denial of food/water
  • Was the intention to ask for asylum expressed?: Yes
  • Reported by: Anonymous Partner

Original Report

The respondent is a 28-year-old man from Syria who has been pushed back three times from Greece to Turkey. This report details his first pushback experience after he was apprehended in a village a 30-minute drive west of the Evros border region in May 2021 and subsequently pushed back over the Evros River.  

He recounted that there were approximately 70 people in the transit group, some described as being from Syria and some from countries in Africa. The transit group crossed the Evros river in a dinghy.  The respondent said that when they reached Greek territory, the transit group split up, and he remained part of a group of 15 people; 11 men, and four women. He added that there were two minors in the group, one of whom was a 17-year-old girl. He recalled that after walking for five days, the transit group separated again into two smaller groups, of seven and eight people respectively. The respondent was in a group of seven and walked for an additional 2 days, meaning he had been walking with his transit group for a total of seven days. At this point, he had been walking for 3 days without food or water and stated that he had become “very skinny” and could go no further. 

The respondent explained that the transit group passed by mountains and through a village with a farm full of cows. He described how he screamed “hello, help anyone” but there was no response. After seven days of walking, the 17-year-old girl in his transit group was struggling to continue and needed hospital assistance. He explained that he called emergency services on 112, but was told that there was nothing they could do for them. Instead, the emergency services advised the transit group to go to a police station where they would then be able to assist the girl. 

The respondent said that he didn’t call the police but that he saw two cars and signaled them to stop. There were two men in each of the cars, all reportedly from Turkey who gave the group bread, cheese and tomatoes. The respondent believed that the men worked in the mountains in Greece cutting wood. A fellow member of the transit group spoke Turkish and asked the men if they could take the group to a village so that they could go to the police station. According to the respondent, one of the Turkish men said “stay here and I will send the police for you.”

15 minutes later, at approximately 5 PM, five officers reportedly arrived in a grey 4×4 car, which the respondent believed to be a Nissan or Ford. Three of the officers were described as wearing dark blue uniforms, which is consistent with the Greek police, and two others were dressed in civilian clothes. The officers reportedly ordered the group to stay down and screamed “put your phone down”. One of the uniformed officers reportedly hit the respondent as he was the only one who could speak English. The respondent explained that he was scared to look at the officer and so could not see their uniforms properly, but mentioned that they were speaking Greek to each other. According to the respondent, one of the officers opened the boot of the police car where two men, reportedly from Syria and Pakistan, were hidden. The officers reportedly started to hit and kick the two men. The respondent maintained that these two men from Syria and Pakistan worked for the Greek authorities, driving the boats used to push people back over the Greek/Turkish Evros border. The respondent stated that they sat on the ground and the Pakistani man’s nose was bleeding.

One of the officers, described by the respondent as being bald, slim and tall, took the respondent aside and asked if he worked with ‘Riberi’ in Turkish. Riberi is understood to reference the guides in Greece who cooperate with smugglers, leading transit groups to their destination.  He demanded to know who the leader of the transit group was and what location they were going to. The respondent said he told the officer that there was no leader here but the officer “pushed me again, and hit me again” in the respondent’s face with his hands. He reported that he was hit several times when the officers asked him questions that he did not know the answers to. The respondent described how he was in a state of mental and physical exhaustion after walking for seven days, three of those days without food or water, and had difficulties understanding what was happening and kept forgetting his English. He described how another uniformed officer, about “40 or 41 years old” asked the officer who was beating the respondent to stop. A blonde officer with blue eyes,  also reportedly came over to them. 

The officers reportedly spoke on a walkie-talkie and a white minibus arrived to come and collect the transit group. Inside were metal benches. There were 10 people in the mini-bus, seven people from the transit group who were from Syria, the respondent himself and the two men reportedly working with the police, from Syria and from Pakistan. According to the respondent,  he asked the driver of the mini-bus if they were going to prison, who reportedly replied that they will stay one or two nights in prison before being transported to the river. The driver of the mini-bus had apparently undertaken the same journey 10 years ago and advised the respondent to hide money in his shoes. 

The blonde-haired officer, referring to the respondent’s belongings, ordered him to “go and get your garbage”. The members of the transit group were body searched, their backpacks confiscated and put into what the respondent referred to as a police car. The respondent explained that the officer’s used a metal detector to search them, which sounded an alarm at the 17-year-old girl’s neck because she was wearing a necklace. As she was wearing a burqa, the necklace was not visible and she became distressed and started to cry. The respondent tried to comfort her, assuring her that they would not hit her but just search her. She had a phone, which she then put on the ground. The officer reportedly hit the respondent four times in the back of the head for comforting the girl and ordered him to get on the white mini-bus.

The respondent explained that they passed through many beautiful villages and arrived at what he described as a police station at approximately 7 pm. There was no signage indicating it was a police station or detention site but the respondent said there were five grey cars that he believed to be police cars and dogs there. There were also five men wearing what the respondent described as olive-coloured camouflage uniforms. The transit group was searched before they went inside and their money, phones, and clothing were confiscated. The respondent said he had 200 dollars in cash and euros but only euros were taken from him. 

A woman wearing a dark blue uniform, which is consistent with the Greek police and whom the respondent referred to as a policewoman, took the women in the transit group to search them. The respondent explained that the 17-year-old minor that he traveled with wanted to eat and so he lied to the officer saying the girl was pregnant in the hopes they would provide her with food. The officer reportedly replied that they had no food, only water. The respondent said he asked to claim asylum twice whilst at the station but was told he was not legal” and that if he wanted to come to Greece, he “would have to go to an embassy to get a visa”. He told them it was not possible to get a visa as he is Syrian, to which an officer replied “that’s not my problem”

The respondent stated that he had difficulties determining how many people were detained at the site at night but in the morning when it was light he was certain there were more than 100 people. He recalled a woman from Morocco and children being present in the group. He said there were also four people from Syria, Bangladesh and Nepal there who he believed to work with the authorities. They all had to sit on the floor and the respondent recalled it was cold. At the station, the respondent said he asked a fellow detainee how the drivers work with the authorities and was told that ‘if you want to stay in Greece, you have to tell to policeman ‘I want to work with you. After working for 6 months, he gives you like an ID to stay in Greece.” The ID mentioned is a police note, a document issued by the police to third-country nationals who have illegally entered Greece, after being arrested. The respondent stated however that he did not want to cooperate with the authorities. 

The group were taken from the station at approximately 8 am. They were loaded into a big white vehicle, around 20 feet long, which he described as being a food transportation vehicle. There were no seats in the back, and to transfer everyone detained, the vehicle had to make three trips. The respondent added it should have taken four or five trips to transport everyone from the group of 100, but that they were all crammed together and transported in three trips. As there were no windows in the vehicle, the respondent could not see the surroundings or where they were driving to.

The journey lasted approximately 15-20 mins, and the respondent noted that they drove on main roads, which were not bumpy or uneven. When they got to the river, the respondent said that there were more than 20 men wearing olive camouflage uniforms, reportedly wearing bulletproof vests and carrying machine guns. The respondent was part of the final group transported from the station to the river. He described how a man spoke to them in Turkish and ordered them to come down from the vehicle. Whenever someone got out of the vehicle, they were reportedly hit by a branch from the tree.

The 4 men from Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan drove a boat carrying a group of approximately 15 people across the river. Each person’s shoes and socks were taken before they got into the boat. He asked if the female minor could return and get her stuff but he was reportedly beaten for asking. The respondent stated that a Greek officer in camouflage crossed the river with them because he wanted to catch someone on the Turkish side of the border. The river crossing was approximately 50 metres and when the respondent reached Turkish land he said he walked for more than 30 minutes through farmland before reaching a village where there were lots of taxis.