On May 12h, 2022 around 11:15 am the respondent and 3 other people on the move (POM) were pushed back from Bulgaria to Turkey. The respondent is a 23-year-old male Moroccan and this is the second pushback from Bulgaria he experienced.
He started his journey to cross the border in a transit group consisting of 4 male Moroccan POM. Their ages ranged from 23 to 36 years.
On May 8th, 2022 they took a bus from Edirne to Lalapaşa at around 8 am. The bus ride took approximately 45 minutes. The group left Lalapaşa at around 9:30 am and walked for approx. 5 hours towards the border, resting only from time to time for cigarette breaks. They walked through diverse territory – next to big, paved roads and on unpaved roads until they arrived at a village. The respondent could not remember the name of any of the Turkish villages they passed but was able to indicate Doğanköy on a map. From there, the transit group walked mainly through an area dominated by forests with some hills and eventually found an unpaved road which led them to the border which the respondent assumed to be used by the Turkish army to control the border. They arrived at the Turkish-Bulgarian border fence at around 2:30 pm.
The surrounding landscape was described as consisting of forests on the Turkish side and of unpaved roads, followed by forests as well on the Bulgraian side. The border fence was a 5 meters high fence with barbed wire from the bottom to the top: “It was barbed with wire that cuts your clothes and injures your skin if you thought of climbing the fence without leather gloves to protect your hands”.
Before crossing the border, the group waited another 10 minutes trying to prepare themselves by rolling clothes around their hands in order to not be injured – which did not help eventually, as reported by the respondent. They crossed the fence by climbing it.
All four men made it across the fence and continued their journey by foot, walking for four days. Their goal was to get to the city Sofia to continue their journey from there. Reportedly they walked by night and rested during the days although when they were in forests they also walked days and nights continuously and rested only after long distances. They marched through mountains “full of forests and high cliffs” and had to cross difficult territories. The respondent recounts: “At some point, while we were walking in the dark, I stumbled and flipped and I was about to fall many times”.
After four days of walking, on May 12th 2022 at around 7 am, the POM were caught close to the town Yambol. They had been walking through agricultural fields before, avoiding paved roads but eventually had to cross a bigger road. When they tried to cross the road running they were noticed and caught by 3 male and 1 female uniformed persons, wearing marine blue short-sleeved shirts, pants and black boots. The uniform carried a logo of a lion on the left sleeve and had “police” written in white letters on the back and on the left side of the chest, identified as being similar to image 1. They carried plastic batons in their holster and aimed their guns at the POM.
The uniformed people were sitting in two vehicles when the POM tried to cross the road. One of them was a white car with a blue stripe and Bulgarian writing on the side and English “police” in blue letters on the front. The respondent stated that the brand might have been Dacia and similar to the car in image 2, although he was not sure about it.
The second vehicle was described as a white and blue coloured Kia with a blue stripe on the side, “police” written on the front in blue letters and lion logo on the side, identifies as being the same vehicle as depicted in image 3.
Image 3: Bulgarian Kia Police Car
When the POM crossed the road and were noticed by the uniformed persons, they started using the car horn, turned on the cars and started driving towards the group and followed them to the agricultural field. Because they knew they would be caught eventually, the POM stopped running after a couple of meters and surrendered. The uniformed persons screamed at the POM in Bulgarian, which they did not understand. They indicated the group to sit down with sign language while the three males in uniform threatened the Moroccan men with their guns.
The men were searched by the only uniformed female who took their phones and handcuffed them as well. She was also the only one speaking English and asked about the nationalities of the POM and where they were planning to go.
“We said: we are Moroccan and we want to go to the camp. We said: asylum!”
The woman looked at the others in uniform, said something in Bulgarian, and they started laughing. At this point, no documents were checked.
They stayed at the apprehension site for less than half an hour while still being handcuffed and sitting on the ground. Then, another vehicle arrived and the POM were loaded into its trunk. The car was described as a black car with white “border police” written on the hood and carrying a logo on the side, identified as being the same as image 4.
With this vehicle, three more men in forest green uniforms with short-sleeved shirts and sacramento green pants arrived. The uniforms carried a Bulgarian flag on the sleeve and white “border police” writing, identified by image 5.
These men did not talk to the POM and only addressed the persons in uniform already present at the apprehension site in Bulgarian. The POM were loaded into the 1 x 2 meter sized trunk of the car which had windows. The respondent recounts: “We were collided and they told us to keep our heads down and to not look outside […] It was hot inside and we could barely breathe”.
They drove for around 1.5 hours but stopped in between before the drive continued. The driving was described as very fast, even while driving through hills and on unpaved roads.
The POM could see the landscape outside. They passed by many villages and paved and unpaved roads but due to the high velocity of driving the respondent was unable to read any signs.
They arrived at around 10 am to the border fence, located between forests and unpaved roads. There, the men in uniforms took off the handcuffs of the POM and made them kneel down on an unpaved road. In total, over 9 male men in the same green uniforms depicted in image 5 were present. The respondent noted that when they were unloaded from the trunk of the car all the uniformed men wore balaclavas.
At the pushback point in total two cars were present, the same black landrover they arrived in and as depicted in image 4.
While the POM kneeled, the men in uniform took a black German shepherd dog from one of the cars, similar to image 6.
Image 6: Black German Shepherd
The men in uniforms, speaking Bulgarian amongst themselves, did not give aný orders to the Moroccan men.
“We didn’t obey any order and we didn’t have any order and we didn’t have any seconds to think. They suddenly let the dog on us and started beaten us with the metal baton”
The dog was let on the kneeling POM and they were seriously attacked and injured. The respondent was the first to be attacked and recounts:
“The dog was biting us everywhere. It held my arm with his teeth and kept ripping on my hand with his teeth. I was begging them in English to stop. They didn’t care and beat my friend and me with a metal baton. […] The dog stayed on me because I pushed him away. He injured me a lot and they didn’t care about us suffering.”
This assault lasted for more than 30 minutes with dog attacks and beating alternating. The beating was random and on all parts of the body. The respondent reports that the uniformed men laughed at them while they were attacked. The serious injuries obtained through the assaults are depicted in images 7 and 8.
Image 7: Injuries obtained through dog attack
Image 8: Bruises obtained through beating with metal batons
Subsequently, the POM were asked to stand up. Because one of them was crying because he was afraid, one of the uniformed men punched him in the stomach and told him “Money!”.
They were forced to undress and had to stay completely naked for 10 minutes: “Even though we were injured they kept slapping us for 10 minutes”. Their money, backpacks, shoes and water were taken from them and never returned.
In total, the POM stayed at the pushback site for one hour and 15 minutes. When asked whether they were offered any water or food during the whole pushback procedure the respondent replied: “Nothing but beating and humiliation – that’s all what we got”.
Reportedly, all men in uniforms present at the site were involved in the violent assault and beating.
After that, an unofficial door in the fence, measuring about 2 x 1 meters, was opened and as the respondent was injured so seriously that he was unable to properly walk he was dragged by being pulled on his legs to the door and pushed through it. He was threatened with the metal baton again and hit twice in order to move faster. All four POM were pushed back at around 11:15 am of May 12, 2022..
Once on Turkish territory the seriously injured men started walking through the forest for about one kilometer until they arrived at the village Malkoclar where they asked for help and eventually found a villager who called a taxi for the group which took them back to Edirne. The drive lasted about 1 hour and 75 kilometers. As they had all their belongings and money stolen by the uniformed men during the pushback an organization in Edirne paid for the taxi ride.
The respondent finally remarks: “We barely could walk, we lost everything and we had nothing left. Me and my friend could barely walk and I was bleeding from my hand. I was in a lot of pain”.
The intention to claim asylum in Bulgaria was expressed during the apprehension but the only reaction of the persons in uniform was ignorance and laughter.