The respondent is a 21-year-old Algerian man. He was pushed back from Greece to Turkey on approximately the 21th of May 2020. According to the respondent, the pushback happened here.
The respondent was apprehended during the day on the 7th of May in the centre of Thessaloniki, above the Rotunda, by eight police officers on four motorcycles. He could not recall the exact time.
After the officers checked his papers, they called for reinforcements. Additional officers arrived in a “blue and white” police car a couple of minutes later. The respondent was loaded into the vehicle and then brought to the Aristotelous police station. He stayed here for approximately three hours in a small cell with other people-on-the-move (POM) who had been detained prior to him.
During this time the respondent received neither food nor water and had to ask for the usage of lavatories.
From here, the respondent was loaded into a blue and white police car and transported to another police station, which he claims to be the Ampelokipi Police Department. It was not explained to the respondent where he was being taken or why.
“They never reply to you or speak with you.”
At this police station, the respondent shared a small cell with other POM who were apprehended earlier. He described the climate in those two first stations as “very bad” and recalled incidents where police officers provoked, insulted and beat him and other POM.
“Without reason, they insult you. And if you want to ask them why you are insulting me, they can beat you. Easy.”
The respondent described one particularly concerning practise where officers would tie the hands of POM to the bars of the cell and place a motorcycle helmet on their head before assaulting them.
“Because they don’t want to leave injuries or wounds in your face. So they can beat you wherever they want. They just cover your head. The other parts they left of your body don’t matter to them.”
During his detention, police officers took the respondent’s photo and fingerprints.
On the 9th of May, the respondent was transferred to Metagogon pre-detention center in Thessaloniki with two Algerian men aged 24 and 25. He stayed there for nine days. Inside the detention center, the respondent had to share a room with approximately 30 other people. It was described as “too small.”
“We were too close to each other and all of the mattresses were down on the floor.”
The respondent recalled authorities at Metagogon detention center using the same practice of binding the hands of POMs and making them wear helmets before assaulting them with kicks, fists, and batons.
Over the course of the nine days, the respondent talked to minors in other cells. He could not see them, but they were within earshot. The respondent reported that these were as young as 13 years old. If true, this would constitute a violation of Article 22 and 37 of the convention of the rights of the child, which Greece ratified.
The respondent recalled that he and other POM were collected by a “big blue bus” with a police sign on it. He claims that there were 15 to 20 people per bus and three to four busses in total. They were driven for what felt like two hours.” During the journey, the respondent met other POM who had been taken from different police stations across Greece. One of them told him that he had been in solitary confinement for the last 40 days.
The respondent arrived in Drama Paranesti Pre-removal Detention Centre on the 18th of May between 12 and 1 pm. He was detained there for approximately three days. He remembered living in a caravan with 12 other men. At every location where he was held, the respondent noted that he was compelled to sign papers. None of them were explained nor translated and he did not understand their content. The respondent did not ask for asylum.
In Drama, the respondent’s personal belongings – including his phone and clothes -were confiscated and put into plastic bags. He was left just with the clothes on his back. Authorities of the centre informed the respondent and a group of approximately 25 other POM that they would be taken to “a better place”, where they would reacquire their belongings. The respondent recalled:
“We knew they were lying but we can’t do something.”
He claimed that Drama is infamous for its pushbacks.
Contrary to the authorities’ remarks, the group was taken to Soufli in north-eastern Greece by a police bus, in the afternoon of May 21st. The respondent described the bus “as big and blue” but different internally to the one that brought him to Drama. This bus had two chairs per cell compartment while the first one had four.
Following a “two hour ride”, they arrived in front of the Soufli police station. The respondent recalled seeing police cars and an official police station sign. There the group was stripped of their vests and jackets, which left them just wearing t-shirts.
The group was not taken inside the police station but led off the bus and corralled into a freezer truck, parked in front of the police station. The officers closed the doors and locked the group inside. The respondent described the truck as white, old, and approximately 5 x 2 metres in size. The respondent recalled being confined inside this truck with more than 30 POM. Some of them had been apprehended shortly before, as they were trying to cross the border from Turkey to Greece.
The group, consisting of men from Algeria, Libya, Pakistan, Egypt, Morocco were locked inside the truck for what “felt like two hours.” The respondent recollected “we were breathing hard” and “it was really hot”. There were elderly men among them.
Two hours later it was dark. An undefined number of officers, wearing blue uniforms and balaclavas, released the group out of the freezer truck and immediately put them in Toyota vans. There were three vans in total; one of which was used to transport the dinghy. According to the respondent, they drove for 10-15 minutes on a dirt road through the forest until they reached the Maritsa River.
The respondent described the scene that followed:
“When we arrived at the river, they opened the door of the van, they just took one by one and beat them.”
The officers used batons to beat the POM, especially on their legs and arms.
After this episode, they were loaded on the dinghy. The respondent described it as the “biggest one he has ever seen.” It was orange and approximately 15 people were taken across the river each voyage. The group, now only wearing t-shirts, was freezing.
“It was so cold”, the respondent remembered.
The respondent recalls each dinghy being driven by two people he claims to have been Pakistani or Afghan. This corresponds to numerous other testimonies collected by the BVMN. It is alleged that the Greek authorities offer these individuals documentation in exchange for their work.
He was then pushed back to Turkey. The respondent waited for the rest of the group before they walked for approximately one hour until reaching the town of Meriç. There the group was apprehended by Turkish police officers and brought to Erdine. They had to quarantine for 17 days.