The respondent, a 31 year old Pakistani man, recounts a violent pushback from Greece to Turkey. The respondent himself had experienced four pushbacks prior to this, but “this was the most violent” he explained.
The respondent crossed into Greece, accompanied by 50 people, who were Kurdish, Syrian or Pakistani. Within these 50 people, there was a Syrian family and children as young as 8-10 years old, as well as some babies. However, he was only in a group of 15 when they were caught as the group split up when they crossed and some managed to run away. The respondent explained that he experienced more violence at the hands of the Greek authorities because he ran away.
The location of apprehension was near to Alexandroupouli, near to a highway in front of a church at around 8pm. It was very dark, but the respondent was about to identify 4 to 5 police cars. He believes these cars were army cars and black private cars, but was not able to see more as the police who apprehended them shone a light into his eyes, so he could not see and he was forced to the ground. He was sure there may have been more cars but everytime “I looked up, I was hit”. He explained that the officers must have been using night vision goggles to find them, as he saw some of them standing holding them. In total there was a minimum of 15-20 officers. He was not able to identify whether they were wearing balaclavas as it was too dark to see their faces, but he confirmed they were wearing camouflage army uniforms. There were about four officers who beat the group, and the rest of the officers were either sitting in or standing by the vehicles, and other officers were looking and watching through binoculars/ night vision goggles. The respondent also explained that there were officers standing near what looked like a “trip wire”.
These officers spoke in either Greek or Turkish, speaking only in curse words.
“I screamed. I was scared I was going to die. I was close to passing out. They were hitting with sticks [police batons]” explained the respondent. He went on to explain he had blood in his urine because of the vicious beating. He was hit in his abdomen many times. These police batons were described as “really fat”, and were “3 or 4 feet long” in length.
“Everyone was hit” recounted the respondent. In the 15 that were apprehended by officers, there were five women and two children. “They hit the children bad. It was like what happened when George Floyd was killed, the officers put their knees on the children’s necks. There were lots of noises and screams” continued the respondent.
There was a line of vehicles – the army and black private cars – with their lights on, shining light at the 15 people who were all forced to the ground by the officers. “They were hitting women and children the same [as the men]”.
When the women asked for food for the children, the officers said no. The officers took shoes from the babies and children in the group. “We did not know what to say to them [the officers]”, explained the respondent, “it does not matter what we said, they kept hitting us”. The group endured beatings for 40-50 minutes. There was no logic with where the group was beaten, they were “hit everywhere”. The group were forced to lie face down on the ground as the other officers looked for the rest of the group that were not apprehended for approximately one and a half hours.
Then, after this ordeal, they were loaded into a white van at the place of apprehension. All 15 people were loaded into the same one. “It was a tight space, we could not breathe”. It was the 15 people from the group who were in the van. They were driven for about 30 minutes, fast, along bumpy roads. They were not able to see out of the van as it was closed at the sides.
They arrived at a detention site between 9.30-10pm, on 25th May. The respondent was not able to describe the building from the outside, nor anything outside the building, as they were driven up to a door where they entered into a building. Someone in the back of the van said something in Greek but the officers did not hear him, so the officers pulled this man out of the van and beat him and then threw him back into the van. The officers drove them to the detention centre and then left.
When they entered the building it was just them (the 15 people). The respondent was able to identify that there were long halls inside this building that ran next to each other. There were four officers – all wearing army uniforms and wearing Covid-19 protection masks. The group were asked to stand in a line and ordered to remove all of their clothes while they were strip-searched. They were left completely naked. They did not return socks or bags back to them, but “they returned two items of clothes – either pants and shirt, or underwear and shirt”. The officers tore their clothes, and took all of their money. They were there for about 10-15 minutes. There was a different section for women and children, where the women police officers took them. The women and children left, so it was just about 9-10 men left. The respondent explained that he did not try to look to see if there were any other officers, so was unable to confirm if there were any others.
The men were then moved into cells inside this detention site. These cells were about 15ft-20ft big. When the men were put in their cell, the women and children from their group were also put there. There was no toilet in their cell. It was just their group in that cell initially, but eventually there were about 50 people in it as more people were brought in by the officers. The respondent explained that he could not walk because of the injuries he sustained from the officers, so he was essentially thrown into the cell where he fell. He called out for help to anyone who would help him, and in this cell is where two young – 25 and 28 years old – Pakistani men who helped him.
When they were being taken to their cell, the respondent recalled he passed cells that were full. He noticed the nationalities of Syrian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Afghan and Iraqi. He couldn’t see that well inside the cells, so he was not sure if there were women and children in the cells.
“People were going crazy in the cell”, explained the respondent. The interview asked whether he knew if the women had been beaten, but he explained he felt too shy to ask the women what had happened to them. But a woman from the group explained that the women were beaten, and when the women asked for water and food for their children, the officers denied them.
The whole group was denied food throughout the time they were there – which was a total of 24 hours. If anyone said anything in the cells they were hit. “I could hear the baton [hitting people] and the screams of people” explained the respondent, “the more you speak or scream, they hit you”.
In the cells there was a CCTV camera that moved to watch them. “When someone moved [in the cell], they [the officers] come and have a photo of them” explained the respondent.
After the 24 hours of detention, they were taken out of the detention site the same way, the officers did not let them see anything outside – this was on 26th May at approximately 10/11pm. The respondent was unable to walk as he was so badly injured from the beatings so he was one of the last people out of the cell and the building at the detention site, helped by the two young Pakistani men.
When he was brought out by the two young Pakistani men, he could see there were three army trucks, two had guns fixed into their roofs and another without, and a white van. He said that they were full when they were brought out. This is why the respondent presumed those cells next to his were full, as these trucks were full. He was loaded into the same white van that brought them to the detention site.
Below are the two army trucks that were identified by the respondent as being used in the pushback:
The respondent explained that the officers won’t push people back in small groups, they will wait for more people to be caught and push them all back together. He estimated that there were about 150 people in total. “I saw someone pulled out of the truck and put in the white van [I was in]”.
There were about 18-20 people in his white van, and about 35-40 in each of the army trucks. This totals to about 123-140 people in total, according to his calculations.
The respondent identified that two officers, wearing army uniforms, drove the white van he was in, but he was unable to identify how many officers were driving the army trucks.
They were driven for about 30-35 mins fast and recklessly. The respondent remarked that the road was “really bumpy” and that they kept “hitting the walls of the van”.
When they reached the Evros/Meriç river, they were unloaded from the vehicles – all three army trucks and the white van ended up at the same place. The respondent recalled seeing there were about 4-5 police cars. These were the classic white and blue greek police cars. In each police car there were two officers in the front, who were tasked with searching the group again for money, and then two other officers in the backs of the car – totalling to 4 in each car. So in total 16-20 officers. These officers were wearing either blue greek uniforms, or black uniforms with either black balaclavas or black helmets – similar to the EKAM uniforms of the Greek police.
Below are the uniforms recognised by the respondent:
Some of the officers were also carrying large guns, identified as similar to AK47’s by the respondent, and some also had smaller hand guns [see below for weapons identified by the respondent]. The officers who had guns would show and threaten members of the groups with guns, but hit them with police batons and tree branches. But, the groups were ordered to look at the floor so they were unable to see too much.
Below are the weapons similar to what the officers were carrying, recognised as by the respondent:
All of the vehicles at the detention site were taken to same place, and the respondent was able to see all the people. Each vehicle was unloaded one by one, but there were at least 120-150 people there. “Some had legs that were so badly broken they had to be lifted up” explained the respondent, “the same thing must have happened to them [as it happened to me]”.
After they were unloaded by officers out of vehicles, which took about 20 minutes, they were all walked about 10-15 minutes to the water’s edge at the Evros/Meriç river by the officers. During this time, after about 5 minutes, the groups were stopped and searched again for money.
The respondent told the officers “you’ve broken my legs, I need money” when he was being searched again. “They [the officers] said “no money. They [the officers] would take shoes and socks from people if they had no money”. These officers did not speak to them, and if they did, they spoke in a few words in English. If people did not have money, they would take people’s shoes and socks or whatever small belongings they had left on them.
Some of the officers who were escorting them to the riverside used binoculars in order to check if no one had escaped from the middle of the group.
When they arrived at the river’s edge, there were about another 15-20 police officers. The respondent identified them as border police officers, wearing a mixture of border police uniforms – blue uniforms, full sage green uniforms, and also some wearing protective vests.
Below are the mixture of uniforms identified by the respondent:
There were two boats placed on the river’s edge, with quiet engines. On each boat there were two officers who steered the boats, who wore life jackets over their army uniforms. They had balaclavas covering their faces and they were also holding small pistols. In each boat there were 8-10 people.
People were hit and pushed into the boats by the officers on the riverside. None of the people from the 120-150 member group were given life jackets when they were put in the boats, including the children and women. These boats were then driven across the Evros/Meriç river, but it depended on the boat what would happen. Some of the boats did not go all the way across the river, and often the people on the boat were pushed off the boat into the water. The water level was up to their chin. Some boats did go all the way to the Turkish side, and if they did they were told to get off the boat really quickly. The officers did not care, sometimes they just pushed the people off the boat – on land and in the water. “Sometimes they feel bad for children, but still throw them in the water” remarked the respondent.
During this ordeal of crossing people across the river, the Greek officers used binoculars to look out to see if the Turkish authorities were on the other side, and if they saw them they would stop and get everyone to lie down.
After they got to the Turkish side, they came across a mountainous area that they crossed. The respondent and others walked for 5-6 hours – and they did not come across Turkish authorities during this time. After crossing through the mountains, they crossed small rivers, walked through forests, and fields and small villages during this time. He was able to cross this land with the help of the two young Pakistani men.
The respondent then after 5-6 hours managed to get a taxi, and hid in the boot for 2-2.5 hours until they arrived back in Edirne city.
After speaking with the respondent, he was able to identify the mountainous region as Gala Gölü Milli Parkı (Lake Gala National Park) due to the topography, and also the time it took him to get back to Edirne City. And the pushback point, before being met with mountains after they were pushed back to Turkey, was identified as just down from Feres and Poros, being along the river close to Perifereiaki Zoni Parkou.