“ Detained for 18 hours and pushed back via the Evros river: “I thought we were going to die because we were hungry and so thirsty””

  • Date and time: May 10, 2022 22:00
  • Location: Palea Sagini GR to Karakasim TR
  • Coordinates: 41.4760492, 26.5546194
  • Pushback from: Greece
  • Pushback to: Turkey
  • Demographics: 100 person(s), age: 15 - 60 , from: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Morocco, Algeria, Somalia
  • Minors involved? Yes
  • Violence used: beating (with batons/hands/other), kicking, sexual assault, threatening with guns, forcing to undress, theft of personal belongings
  • Police involved: 3 men wearing age green shirts and pants with Greek and English writing on it and a Greek flag on the sleeve; 2 men in bullet proof uniforms consisting of marine blue shirts and pants with “Police” writing; 2 men wearing bullet proof plain black uniforms; 2 men wearing black shirts, camouflage pants and balaclavas; men in marine blue uniforms with “police” writing on the chest and a Greek flag on the sleeve (identified as Greek Border Guard uniform); 8 men in civilian sport wear and camouflage short-sleeve jackets without any signs or insignias; 4 men wearing camouflage green uniforms with a Greek flag and wearing “military hats”; 2 men in civilian sport clothing; 1 white Skoda car with a blue stripe on its side, a red and blue siren on top and “police” writing on the side; 1 green unmarked landrover car; 1 black unmarked Ford pick-up car; 3 white Mercedes vans; 2 white Ford transit vans; inflatable, camouflage green rubber boat with a Greek flag and engine
  • Taken to a police station?: yes
  • Treatment at police station or other place of detention: detention, photos taken, no translator present, denial of food/water
  • Was the intention to ask for asylum expressed?: No
  • Reported by: josoor

Original Report

On May 10th, 2022 around 10 pm the respondent and 100 other people on the move (POM) were pushed back from Greece to Turkey. The respondent is a 29-year-old male Moroccan and this is the third pushback he experienced.

He started his journey to cross the border in a transit group consisting of 4 male Moroccan POM. Their ages ranged from 25 to 44 years. On May 9, 2022 the transit group left Edirne at 8 pm and walked for around 2 hours to the area of Bosna and hid close to the border fence at the Greek-Turkish border. They arrived to an area with corn fields and stayed in hiding for approximately 1 hour while every approximately 15 minutes cars passed by which the respondent assumed to be patrolling the border. Because it was dark he couldn’t identify the cars but recognized red and blue coloured siren lights and flashlights. Within the time of waiting 5 cars passed by.

At around 11 pm the POM crossed the border, reportedly consisting of one old and one new fence, by climbing over the first one and then using a rope ladder to cross the latter. The first, old fence had barbed wire on the top. After crossing the border the group ran through an agricultural field until they arrived at a dry river bed after 100 meters. They continued their journey by walking through Greek territory, mainly farmlands and agricultural fields for four hours.

At around 3 am on May 10, 2022 the POM were caught by uniformed men while they were walking through fields. Suddenly, they were blinded by flashlights and three cars in total surrounded them. Two members of the transit group ran away towards a farm field while the respondent and one other Moroccan man stayed – “we couldn’t [run], we just froze. We didn’t move and they came out from the cars and aimed their guns at us”.

The vehicles are described as (1) a white Skoda car with a blue stripe on its side, a red and blue siren on top and “police” writing on the side (recognized as similar to image 1), (2) a green landrover with big tires but without any writing and a black Ford pick-up car, similar to image 2.

Image 1: Skoda Octavia Greek Police Car

Image 2: Unmarked Black Ford Pick-Up

The cars were staffed with 7 men, 3 of them wearing sage green shirts and pants with Greek and English writing on it and a Greek flag on the sleeve, identified as similar to the uniforms in image 3.

 

Two men wore bulletproof uniforms consisting of marine blue shirts and pants with “Police” written on them, similar to image 4 and two other men wore bullet proof plain black uniforms (similar to image 5).  All of the uniformed men carried black plastic batons.

Image 3: Green-uniformed Greek border guards

 

Image 4: Short sleeved Greek Police uniform 

Image 5: Men in black bullet proof uniforms – the respondent clarified that the men apprehending him did not wear balaclavas or big submachine guns

After the 2 men got caught by the uniformed men, they were addressed by a man in black uniform in English. They asked them about the other two POM who had run away and started hitting them with plastic batons on their heads and kicking them randomly all over their bodies. This assault lasted for approximately 10 minutes. They had to hand over their phones immediately and did not get them back.

The respondent noted:

“They only asked us where the other 2 persons were – they knew exactly how many we were. [They asked] from where we were but we couldn’t speak because if you speak when they didn’t allow you to speak you will get beaten more”.

After around 20 minutes at the apprehension site, an old white Ford transit van arrived and the POM were loaded in its 3 x 2 meter-sized trunk, described as “rusty”. Inside the trunk were no seats but some old tires. The respondent stated that the van did not have any license plates and recognized the car as similar to image 8.

With the van two more men, wearing black shirts, camouflage pants and balaclavas arrived. They did not address the POM but spoke to the other uniformed men.

Image 8: White Ford Van

They drove for around 25 minutes until they arrived at a detention site. The driving was described as fast and as dust entered the trunk the POM had a hard time breathing. The detention side was described as a one-floor building with a flat roof and old blue-painted windows. Due to flashlights coming from the yard of the facility, the respondent was blinded and therefore could not see too many details. He described the property as being surrounded by a 2 – 3 meter high fence with barbed wire on top. The fence contained a  “big gate” with a Greek flag and two garbage containers next to it. The respondent noted the existence of metal “cages” on the property, described as squares surrounded by a metal braces from all sides. Inside the yard of the building also two vehicles and a boat with a trailer were parked. The cars were described as a white Mercedes van, similar to image 9, which did not have a license plate, and a black jeep, similar to image 10. None of the cars carried any writing or logo.

Image 9: White unmarked van 
Image 10: Unmarked black Jeep

In front of the site there was a paved road, on the other side of it another house. The landscape was described as dominated by forests and some unpaved roads close by.

Inside the detention site 13 – 15 men in uniforms, including the two people bringing the POM to the location, were present. About 4 or 5 of them wore plain black uniforms carrying plastic batons and small guns in the holster, and the remaining wearing marine blue uniforms with “police” writing on the chest and a Greek flag on the sleeve, similar to image 11.

 

Image 11: Long sleeve Greek Border Guard uniform

Inside the building, the respondent’s friend had to gather their personal belongings and put them into the garbage, while he was being beaten with a metal baton by the uniformed men. After that both POM had to stand against a wall and two men in marine blue uniforms (image 11) started punching and kicking them all over their bodies, asked them to empty their pockets and forced them to strip to their underwear. They gave orders in English and used some words in Greek like “malaka” to address the POM. The beating continued for about 5 minutes, then the men were searched while being in underwear for approximately 10 more minutes. They were continuously slapped and punched while they were undressed and their bodies searched. The respondent recounts: “They kept moving their hands everywhere and even touched the sensitive places of my body”.

 

They took the respondent’s jacket and backpack but returned the 30 € he carried. After the search, the POM were put into a 5 x 6-meter sized cell with an iron (bar) door, described as having “dirty grounds, 4 bunkbeds, small windows on the side”. There was a toilet inside the cell but the respondent stated “we couldn’t [use it]. There was shit all over the ground and it was not even a toilet, it’s a hole in the ground”.

 

There were two cameras in the hallway leading to the cell which were directed into the cell. When the two POM arrived to the cell at around 3 am, 4 other Syrian POM between 25 and 45 years were inside the cell.

The respondent assumes they were detained for at least 18 hours and by the time they were taken from the cell, at “the end of the day”, around 100 people were detained in the cell. Their nationalities were Syrian, Afghan, Pakistani, Somali, Moroccan, and Algerian and their ages ranged from 15 to 60 years. About 9 of them were minors and 5 were women of Syrian and Somali nationalities. During the time of detention, the POM were not offered any food or water and when one of the detainees asked for water, he was beaten by a man in marine blue uniform. During the time in the detention site, no translators were present, neither were any documents checked nor had they signed any papers or had any fingerprints been taken.  The uniformed men took photographs of the POM while they were searched and in their underwear.

Around 2 hours after the sunset, at approximately 8 – 9 pm (assumption by the respondent) of  10/05/2022 around 8 men wearing civilian sport wear and camouflage short-sleeve jackets without any signs or insignias and carrying metal batons, tree branches or plastic batons as weapons came to take the POM from the cell. They spoke English and Arabic to the POM, asking them to quickly get out of the cell. The dialect they spoke in was Lebanese or Syrian, according to the respondent. While the POM got out of the cell and were loaded into three vans parked outside the building, they were hit on their backs in order to make them move faster. Everyone, including minors and children, was beaten.

The vehicles were two Mercedes vans, similar to image 9, and one Ford transit van, similar to image 8. None of the cars carried any writing or logo and they did not have license plates. The loading of all approximately 100 POM took about 30 minutes and the respondent was among the last people to be loaded into a vehicle. In the same trunk as the respondent were about 35 other people with him, at least two women and several minors. Then they started driving for around 15 minutes in a manner described as “fast, so fast” over first paved roads for 5 minutes, then unpaved roads until they arrived to a river. The respondent could see some glimpses of hills and lights outside before entering into a forest as the vehicle was so old that there were little holes in the trunk. There were no windows. It was hard to breathe inside the trunk as it was very crowded by people.

All three vans arrived to a site in a small forest with a small yard next to an unpaved road leading to the Evros river. Six men in sportswear (as described above) and wearing balaclavas came from the detention site to the river site with the POM.

At the river site, five additional uniformed men were present. One of them wore a plain black uniform while 4 were in camouflage green uniforms with a Greek flag and wearing “military hats”. These men carried “big weapons like AK[-47]”. The respondent assumed they were soldiers and identified them as looking like the men in image 13.

Image 13: Hellenic Army Uniform

The POM were taken out of the trunks of the cars and the women were gathered in a separate group while the rest were beaten with tree branches, metal batons and punching and kicking for around 10 minutes. On this occasion, minors were also beaten. The orders were given by the men in sportswear who also did the beating.

All the POM, including the women, were searched again by male uniformed men. The respondent stated:

“He [the uniformed man] was nasty. He kept moving his hands all over her [the woman’s] body”.

From the respondent they took his shoes and the 30 € he had left. After this, he only wore shirts and pants. He stated that they were continuously beaten and that he felt like he could be dying at any moment.

There was an inflatable, camouflage green rubber boat with a Greek flag already in the river. It measures 4 x 2 meters and was powered by an engine. All the POM were pushed back via the river with this boat, taking 10 POM at a time plus two boat drivers. The boat drivers were distinct from the other men involved in the pushback and also wore civilian clothing without any camouflage elements and balaclavas. The POM were only taken a couple of meters across the river and then forced to jump into the river and swim the remaining distance to the Turkish side of the border river. The respondent noted that women and minors were subjected to the same treatment. The water measured between hip level to chest level. The pushback was carried out at approximately 10 – 11 pm.

Once on Turkish territory, the respondent looked for his friend with whom he started in the initial transit group and whom he had been separated from during the pushback. Once reunited they started to walk away from the border in their wet clothes and barefoot. After one hour they arrived at the village Karakasim. From there they followed the road leading to Edirne and walked for 7 hours taking short breaks every 30 minutes –  “We were walking barefoot and I thought we were going to die because we were hungry and so thirsty”.

When being asked whether he expressed his intention to claim asylum in Greece the respondent answered: “No I couldn’t. I couldn’t ask or they would have killed me by beating”.