The respondent, a 20-year-old Syrian man, was travelling with 10 other Syrian people, including four women and two minors, ages ranging from 12 to 31 years. On May 20th, they all crossed the Bulgarian–Turkish border by jumping over the fence at around 4 PM, in the area of Hamzabeyli.
Once in Bulgaria, the group walked for about three to five kilometres in the forest. The respondent described how, before sunset that evening, they heard a shotgun in the air and saw a German shepherd coming on them. They were surrounded by five officers all wearing sage green uniforms (some with a dark blue jacket over their green shirt). The respondent recalled that some of the officers had the Bulgarian flag and a logo with a lion on their arm – which matches with the Bulgarian border police uniform – and some, maybe two or three, had a logo with the European flag on their arm. There was also a green Jeep which was parked in the forest.
The respondent stated that the officers apprehended the group and started beating them. “They hit us on our head with plastic sticks, they also kicked us. And the dog bit us, the officers made them attack us”. Then the officers forced the group to undress, searched them, and took their phones, money (about 200 from each of them), supplies, clothes, and bags. “The officers didn’t search the women but took their phones. And they even hit the minors”, recounted the respondent.
The respondent stated that the group said that they wanted to go to Sofia camp with the intention of asking for asylum, but that the officers only replied to them by saying: “Bulgaria no, Sofia no”. When they addressed the group, the officers talked in English but the respondent could not identify the language they used to talk to each other.
After beating and searching the men for more than one hour, the officers left them in their underwear, with no shoes, and called other officers.
“They made us eat the grass from the ground while we were waiting. They punched us and kicked us to force us to eat it.”
Three Bulgarian officers wearing green uniforms with the Bulgarian flag on them came in two black Mitsubishi pick-ups. Then the officers ordered the whole group to walk on an unpaved road through the woods for about 2 kilometres. One car was in the front, and two were following. According to the respondent, the officers hit the people on their heads to force them to look towards the ground.
“They were too violent. We could understand from the way they talk, with their anger, that they were saying bad words to us. And they kept saying ‘fuck you’ in English”
Once they reached a road, there was another green Jeep car with two officers wearing sage green uniforms with the Bulgarian flag on them. “Before the officers loaded us, the women kept crying but they kept beating us”, said the respondent. First, the whole group was taken in the trunk of one of the black pick-ups, which was about 2×1 metres. “The back seats were empty but they loaded all of us in the trunk”. Before they left, one of the women got sick in the trunk and the officers saw that she could not breathe, so they took her and her husband in one of the green Jeeps. Three of the officers got in the car of the respondent, and two got in the Jeep. The other officers left.
The group, split in the two cars, was driven for about 45 minutes fast and recklessly on unpaved roads, going in the same direction. “We were so crowded; we barely could breathe. We kept standing all the way”, said the respondent. When they had reached the fence in a place located in the area of Golyam, the officers took the people out of the trunk one by one. “They beat us on our back one by one”, recounted the respondent. Then the officers opened a small unofficial door in the fence and ordered the people to crawl under it while hitting them with plastic sticks to make them run to Turkey.
After the pushback, which happened around 8 PM, the group got lost in the forest for about three hours, walking in circles before finding a path leading to the village of Küçünlü. They still had to walk a couple of hours – the men being in their underwear and barefoot – to get to this village, where they found someone to call a taxi to drive them to Edirne.