“ Our friends were beaten so hard that they couldn’t walk. One of them could barely stand on his feet.”

  • Date and time: May 12, 2021 15:00
  • Location: Malko Tarnovo/İncesırt
  • Coordinates: 41.9797938, 27.5250475
  • Pushback from: Bulgaria
  • Pushback to: Turkey
  • Demographics: 2 person(s), age: 25-41 years old , from: Tunisia
  • Minors involved? No
  • Violence used: beating (with batons/hands/other), kicking, insulting, threatening with guns, theft of personal belongings, reckless driving
  • Police involved: 3 officers in sage green shirts, pants & caps; 1 green Ford car with “Police” written on it, in English & Bulgarian; 1 officer in light green pants & a grey shirt with flag & stars on arm (resembling Bulgarian logo), 3 German speaking officers in civilian clothes, 1 officer in a black uniform; 2 officers in sage green uniforms with the Bulgarian flag sewed on the arms; 1 green 4WD (Ford); 3 officers in sage green uniform; 1 black Hilux Toyota with “border police” written on it; 2 officers in civilian clothes; 1 navy/blue Renault Clio car
  • Taken to a police station?: yes
  • Treatment at police station or other place of detention: theft of personal belongings, interrogation
  • Was the intention to ask for asylum expressed?: No
  • Reported by: josoor

Original Report

This report contains two testimonies of people from the same transit group, pushed back at slightly different points on the same day.

The respondent is a 41-year-old man from Tunisia who traveled with four other Tunisian men, aged between 23 and 41. On the 4th of May, they took a taxi from Edirne to Kırklareli and walked about 45 kilometres. The day after, in the afternoon, they crossed the Bulgarian – Turkish border.

Once in Bulgaria, the respondent recalled walking around 150 kilometres over the course of seven days, through mountains, forests, and agricultural fields. When they eventually ended up at the entrance to the city of Burgas, it was around seven o’clock in the morning, and they split into 2 groups, described the respondent. The plan was for the respondent and one of the men to go to the bus station and buy five bus tickets to Sofia, while the other three men would stay at the entrance of the city and join them one hour later, recounted the respondent.

However, before they got to the bus station, the respondent and his friend were approached by three men in uniform, wearing sage green shirts, pants, and caps. When asked to further describe the officers’ appearance, the respondent said, “They had stars on their shoulders, and the Bulgarian flag on their arms. They had guns and talkie walkie.”

He also mentioned that they drove a green Ford car with “Police” written on it in English and Bulgarian.

According to the respondent, the officers told them in English to show them their passports and asked them where they were going.

We told them that we left our passport in Sofia and that we are just here as tourists and we only want to go back to Sofia. They let us go to the station but they were following us”.

The respondent then continued to the bus station and bought tickets for a bus going to Sofia, scheduled for 10 AM. They then waited at the bus station.

According to the respondent, after 30 minutes, the same three officers apprehended them and took them from the bus station in the car to a building, referred to by the respondent as a police station, which was around five kilometres away from the bus station, a little distance from downtown.  

The respondent recalled being kept for about 30 minutes outside the entrance of the station. The station was described by the respondent as a “proper police station” with more than 20 officers present, some wearing civilian clothes, others in green or black uniforms.

When he entered the station, the respondent recalled six more German-speaking officers (two women and four men) in the yard of the station. They were all dressed in civilian clothes – jeans and pullovers – and had a badge with pictures of their face and the EU flag, explained the respondent; some of them were “holding a book and a pen, and watching about 15 Bulgarian officers training in the yard”.

An officer, described by the respondent as Bulgarian, wearing light green pants and a grey shirt with the Bulgarian flag on the arm and “a lot of stars on his shoulders”, took the respondent and his friend to an office room that was approximately three by four meters and had some windows. The respondent recalled that there was a table, a computer, and some chairs.

“He took everything out from our pocket (money, phone), our belts and our shoes; then gave us everything back and asked us to sit on a chair”. 

A female French translator wearing civilian clothes then entered the room, along with three officers, one woman and two men, who spoke German (described by the respondent as German officers); and one reportedly Bulgarian officer wearing a black uniform who was tasked with taking notes of the conversation.

First, one of the German officers asked some questions in German to the respondent’s friend because he said that he could understand a bit of German. However, since the conversation was not fluent, the French translator took over. “One of the German officers talked to the French translator in German and she was translating the questions to us”, explained the respondent. 

The respondent was asked to give his full personal details (name, date of birth, exact address in Tunisia, family status, etc.). “I showed my address to her on the map of her phone,” specified the respondent.

The respondent also had to explain how they traveled from Tunisia to Bulgaria and if they had crossed from Turkey. The respondent outlined how they crossed the sea from Tunisia to Italy, then made their way to France, before getting to Romania, and following the Danube to reach Bulgaria.

“The translator asked us why we came to Sofia. I said that we came to find a job and to do some tourism. She told us that we could go, that we just had to sign a paper and go back to Sofia. They say they will change the time on the bus ticket to 12 o’clock because it was already late for our bus.”

Two other officers wearing sage green uniforms with the Bulgarian flag on their arm then entered the room. These officers were the ones who apprehended the respondent’s three other friends  (whose testimony can be found on the BVMN database, titled: “They beat me on my head, my back and my shoulder with the metal stick”).

“One of the officers said that my friend and I were lying, that we came with three other men, that he found pictures of our group in the phone of our friends. He showed the pictures. The French translator and the German officers got angry, they took the paper from the officer who was taking note and tore it”, recounted the respondent.

Then, all the officers and the translator, except for the two officers in the sage green uniforms who brought the phone, reportedly left the room. The respondent and his friend were reportedly searched again. They took all their belongings which they never got back.

The respondent and his friend were then reportedly loaded into the trunk of a green Ford four-wheel drive with no seats, and about one by one metre in length.

After approximately 30 kilometres of driving, the car stopped and parked somewhere on the side of a road, close to Malko Tarnovo. There was a black Hilux Toyota with “Border police” written on it waiting. In the car, there were three officers in sage green uniforms and the other three friends of the respondent. There was also a Renault car with two more officers in civilian clothing.

The respondent and his friend were reportedly taken in the black Hilux Toyota and driven for another 50 kilometres on an unpaved road until they got to a fence along the border.

According to the respondent, the car drove through a door in the fence and continued on for about 3 kilometres in Turkish territory before stopping. “I was about to get out first but the officers didn’t let me go out”.

The respondent described how the officers took the three friends who were not apprehended at the same time as the respondent from the car and began to beat them with a metal stick and a black plastic batons to force them to run fast. “They kept saying ‘no Bulgaria’”, said the respondent.

Then the officers drove back through the gate they had just come from, with the respondent and his friend still in the car. According to the respondent, they were driven for about 10 to 15 kilometres along the fence before stopping and being taken from the car.

One officer held a firearm and the other one had a metal baton, described the respondent.

“They beat us for 10 minutes, randomly and everywhere. I said that it hurts but they kept beating and saying bad words in Bulgarian. I could only understand ‘fuck you.’ The officer with the gun threatened me. He pointed the gun at me.”

The respondent and his friend were then reportedly loaded into the car again, and driven for another 10 kilometres along the fence. The officers opened a gate in the fence and drove for another three kilometres. “They took us out of the trunk, and beat us with the metal stick to make us run fast”.

The pushback happened on the 12th of May, around three in the afternoon. 

After they were pushed back, the respondent and his friend walked for two hours through the mountains before finding a road and a small village which was identified by the respondent as İncesırt. Near the village, they found an old man who agreed to drive them to Edirne in exchange for money. On their way back they met the three other friends who also got in the car, and they arrived in Edirne that evening, recounted the respondent.

Testimony 2:

The respondent is a 23-year-old man from Tunisia who was traveling with four other Tunisian men, aged between 23 and 41. On the 4th of May, they took a taxi from Edirne to Kırklareli, and walked from there for about 45 kilometres. The day after, in the afternoon, they reached the Bulgarian–Turkish border.

Once in Bulgaria, the respondent recalled walking for about seven days in the direction of Burgas. When they reached the outskirts of the city, the men split into two groups. According to the respondent, two of them walked to the bus station to get five bus tickets to Sofia, while the respondent and two of his friends waited one hour before walking to the bus station.

While walking to the bus station, the respondent and his two friends were apprehended by four officers wearing grey pants and light green shirts with the Bulgarian and EU flag sewn on their arms, and “Police” written in English on their chest, described the respondent. They were reportedly driving a black Passat.

The respondent recalled trying to delete some pictures of the transit group on his phone, but was intercepted by an officer. He recounted:

one of the officers kicked the phone with his foot, so it fell on the ground. He took my phone and looked at it. Then he asked in English ‘how many people are you?’ I kept saying that we were three and they started hitting and kicking us. We were on the side of the road, near some trees. They were people driving their car who saw us but they didn’t do anything”.

The respondent described how the group was beaten for what felt like five minutes, and had their money (about 100 Turkish lira and 50 euros), phones, chargers, and power banks taken by the officers, who then forced the people to kneel on the side of the road for approximately 30 minutes.

Following this, two officers arrived at the point of apprehension in a black Hilux pick-up, which had “Border police” written on it in English, recounted the respondent. The officers were reportedly wearing sage green shirts, pants, and caps, and had the Bulgarian flag on their arms, a description that matches the Bulgarian border police uniform.

When they arrived, they beat the three men and loaded them into the trunk of the black Hilux, which was one meter by one. “They loaded us like we were sheep,” recalled the respondent.  

After a 20-minute drive through the city, the three men were taken to a “big police station”, which the respondent recalled had a sign saying “police” on it. This station was later identified as the “Fifth police station” (Пето РПУ), located in the district of Lazur, in Burgas. However, it must be noted that this location has not been independently verified.

Inside, there were reportedly more than 20 officers wearing either civilian clothing, green shirts and grey pants, or sage green uniforms.

According to the respondent, two officers wearing sage green uniforms took the three men to a yard in the entrance of the building and searched them. “They didn’t find anything on us, but they took our shoestrings and our jackets.”

The respondent then explained that as they were loaded into a vehicle and about to leave the station, they saw a car coming with his two other friends sitting at the back of the car (those who went to the bus station to get the tickets to go to Sofia).

According to the respondent, he and his two friends were then driven very fast and recklessly for about 30 minutes on paved roads. At a certain point, the vehicle stopped on the side of a road where a black Hilux pick-up with “Border police” written on it was already parked, and two officers wearing sage green uniforms that said “Border police” and had the Bulgarian flag on them were already present.

They slapped and punched us, then they kicked us to load us in the car,” recalled the respondent.

After about an hour and a half of driving, the officers made a U-turn and drove back in the direction they came from. “I assume that the officers got a call,” explained the respondent. The car reportedly stopped again on the outskirts of the city at the side of an unpaved road.

According to the respondent, there were three officers wearing sage green uniforms, caps, black belts, black boots, and black scarves covering their face up to their noses. The respondent said that those officers looked like “soldiers”. They were driving a black Hilux car with “Border police” written on it. Another officer wearing civilian clothes and driving a Navy-blue Clio car, was also present, recalled the respondent.

The officer wearing civilian clothes then got an Arabic translator on the phone to talk with the respondent and this translator was later identified as speaking the Syrian-Arabic dialect.

“He asked me where I come from. I told him that I was Libyan. He asked me where I crossed the border and where we were going. I told him that we walked for several days, that we came from Edirne”. 

The respondent recalled that once the officer wearing civilian clothes and the two officers who drove them to this point had left, the three officers driving the Hilux car asked the respondent what nationality they were.

“We said we come from Libya and they started beating us. They kept laughing at us. They talked in Bulgarian and they kept saying “Malakas” [a Greek insult which means “wanker”].”

They hit them with a metal stick “randomly” for about 10 minutes, recalled the respondent.

The three officers loaded the three men in the trunk of the Hilux car and drove for about one hour on paved and unpaved roads “fast” and “recklessly”, described the respondent.

They stopped again somewhere on the side of an unpaved road near a forest where a green car was waiting. The respondent recalled that two officers wearing sage green uniforms with the Bulgarian flag on the arm were in the green car, along with the two friends of the respondent that had been apprehended at the bus station (testimony recounted above). The two other friends were then taken and loaded into the same car as the respondent, so that in total it was the original transit group of five men, and then also three officers.

According to the respondent, the group was driven for about 30 minutes, first on a paved road, then on a “mountain road” surrounded by forests. When they reached the fence at the border, in the area of Malko Tarnovo, the officers opened a big metal door which was about six meters high in the fence and drove through it with the car, explained the respondent. Once in Turkey, the officers kept driving for about 10 minutes.

They took the three of us who said that we were Libyan out of the car, they beat me on my head, my back, and my shoulder with the metal stick.” 

The officers then left the three men there and drove to another location with the other two other men.

The pushback happened on the 12th of May, around two in the afternoon.

After they had been pushed back, the respondent recalled walking with his two friends for about six kilometres before reaching the village of Armutveren. They couldn’t find any help in the village, so they kept walking and stopped a car, explained the respondent. It was an old man and his family. “He said that he will take his family home, come back and drive us to Edirne in exchange for money.” 

When the man came back half an hour later, the respondent’s other two friends were already in the car. The man had found and collected them on his way.

Our friends were beaten so hard that they couldn’t walk. One of them could barely stand on his feet,” said the respondent.

The group of five arrived in Edirne that evening.