On the 29th May 2020, at approximately 23:00 the respondent began walking with a group of eight other people through the forest in northern Greece to Albania. The respondent was from Morocco, one man was from Egypt and the others from Algeria. The youngest in the group was aged 17 years old.
The group crossed the border on foot. After 5/6 km walking in the Albanian side the group reached a village (Trestenik). Suddenly a group of police officers appeared and shone torches on them:
“we were normally walking and when we look to our back I see someone walk to us and take lamps and I understand was NATO and at the end they caught us”
The respondent recalled seeing three officers. According to the respondent the police officers wore dark blue uniforms (“nuit bleue”) and wore a light blue band on the upper arm (visually identified as a Frontex accessory). Frontex officers are often described by the transit community as “NATO” because of the matching sky blue uniforms worn by the respective agencies. The respondent stated that one of the officers was a Slovenian official, and that another was from Albania.
According to the respondent the police shouted to them:
“no problem come here no problem, come come”
The group stopped and the officers addressed them with a threat:
“They said to us ‘next time if you run we can shoot on you, if we said ‘stop’, you stop’. This maybe to be us scared”
The group were held at the point of apprehension, having been caught at around 23:30. The Frontex officials asked them why they had entered from Greece and told them that because of the COVID-19 pandemic it was not possible. The officers also took pictures of the groups faces.
“They make us photos ‘come with us we take pictures, don’t worry; why you came here? you know Albania is close now problem with corona’”
At midnight, another police car came and the officer took the group of nine to the police station in the Bilisht (Albania). They described the second car as a 4×4 vehicle.
According to the respondent the police asked a lot of questions about their origins and route, using a friendly conversational tone. The respondent said that the authorities were not writing down the “interview” in a formal transcription. The authorities in the police station took pictures again of all nine people using two mobile phones. The officers did not fingerprint the group, or issue any information on the procedure that was occurring.
After being questioned, the transit group were taken to detention cells in the basement of the station, (“we go downstairs”). They were given food and water by the authorities. The group were detained here for around 13-14 hours.
At around 14:00/15:00 on 30th May 2020 the group was brought back to the border with Greece by car (4×4). Two officers drove, with the detaine group sat in the rear. The police officers left the group near the Greek border in a forested area close to Trestenik. While still inside Albanian territory the officers ordered them back into Greece, stating:
“we cannot help you we are doing our job”
The group then returned to an improvised shelter they had used the night before and rested. The following day they attempted a second crossing and were pushed back again (as reported in this testimony).