The respondent affected by this pushback was living in Diavata camp, close to Thessaloniki. He had a constant presence at the food distribution place in Thessaloniki where assistance was provided to transit groups on the street. Often, he would interpret for his fellow Urdu speakers because his language skills were good and he would facilitate the flow of information between the English-speaking volunteers and the Urdu-speaking people in need of medical help or practical aid.
The respondent had a khartia – the police note issued to people who had entered irregularly until they can access the Asylum Service – valid until March 20, 2020. The Greek Asylum Service shut down all activities on 13th March 2020, and before that, the Government had announced that starting March 2020 all arrivals are prevented from submitting an asylum application. The measure was eventually lifted at the beginning of April.
When the lockdown measures were implemented, the respondent was living in the overspill area surrounding Diavata camp. He kept in contact with volunteers requesting information about the suspension of the asylum procedure, regarding the renewal of his khartia, and general information regarding the restrictive measures during the Corona outbreak. At the end of March, cold rains hit Thessaloniki and he sent around a video of the state of Diavata camp, of persons having to live in tents where they are neither warm, nor protected.
He describes the conditions while he is filming, shivering and laughing ironically, and he adds:
“Many people think that we are in Europe living the luxury… enjoying the luxury life of Europe, but the situation is different, totally different.”
On 26th April 2020, the respondent got in contact again and reported that every one or two days, “the police come to the camp, pick up people and deport them”. He added that the police were beating the persons as well. He asked for clarifications about the situation as well as for help from the NGOs to prevent these seemingly unlawful arrests. He wanted to help out himself by providing information that 29 people had been “deported” in the last 6 days, at the time, and he forwarded the social medial profiles of persons he alleged had been “deported”. He could not forward their phone numbers because everyone had their phone taken during the operation by the perpetrating officers.
On 28th April 2020, the respondent reached out again and he explained that the police had raided the surrounding area of Diavata camp and taken many people in vans. He explained that everyone would certainly be sent back to Turkey. In the days following the raids, the respondent and many others did not return to their tents out of fear that they would be taken. None of the persons previously taken had returned.
Despite his precautions to sleep in the fields farther from the camp, on May 5th, at 15:30, he tried to reach out and sent a short message saying:
“police caught us i don’t know what going do with us/ please on your data”
Two days later, he messaged again: he was in Istanbul. The respondent would describe at a later date, when it became possible to interview him, that he was stopped outside the camp by the police while trying to reach the bus station to take a bus into Thessaloniki. The police asked for his documents and he showed his expired khartia. The respondent explained that indeed his police note is expired but that the Asylum Office has been closed because of the quarantine. He describes that then they put him in the same white van former respondents described and that he was taken to a police station where he spent the night. The following day, he was driven to the border and pushed back to Turkey.
The respondent tells how he was moved from police station to police station and subsequently loaded into a bus, 32 people in total. Asked as to how he is so sure of the number of people, he explains that the bus is separated into 8 contained spaces with 4 people capacity for each, and that makes 32 in total. He said that among the persons there were Afghans, Pakistanis and Arabs, including four underage minors from Afghanistan. He cannot be more precise with the information because the “situation was stressful”, in his own words. The bus brought them close to the border, to a detention place where they spent an additional 4 or 5 hours, and where a larger number of people were waiting. Among the group, more nationalities were represented including two Syrian women.
When the night fell, everyone was loaded into two big metal vans, 35 people in one and 35 in the other. They were driven for a half an hour to arrive at the river bank where the boats were waiting for them. They were loaded in the boat in numbers of 9 or 10 while 2 armed men were driving the boat on the other side. He explains that they were police officers who looked like border police, but that he could not observe more details because it was night time and because he kept his head down in order not to be hit by the Greek authorities. Also, the perpetrators involved in the pushbacks were all wearing a mask, a balaclava.
On 12th May 2020, the respondent was eventually available to be interviewed. He cannot be reached easily because his phone was taken and he has to use his friend’s phone. He describes the experience with a sense of irony. He states he will try to cross back into Greece at a certain point. He adds that he did try to go to the Asylum Office in Thessaloniki one day before the quarantine and they turned him away telling him that the Office will be closed starting the following day. His will to apply for asylum was never recorded.