This testimony covers a group of eight men apprehended in Bulgaria that were separated and pushed back to Turkey in two different locations. The first group of five were pushed back near Vaysal, and the remaining three men were brought further along the border and pushed back near Küçüköğünlü.
The respondent is a 21 year-old man from Syria. He was pushed back from Bulgaria to Turkey on the 6th of May. The respondent was travelling with seven men from Syria, including his father. The ages of the men ranged from 21 to 49 years old.
The group left Edirne in the early afternoon on May 5th and travelled by taxi to Hamzabeyli. Once they crossed the Bularia-Turkey border, they walked for about 14 kilometers before deciding to rest in a forest near the village of Ustrem as the sun began to set.
While they were sleeping, they were woken up and apprehended by what the respondent described as a Bulgarian officer wearing a sage green uniform and black boots. The respondent further described a single star and a logo of a lion located on the shoulder of the officer, a description that matches the Bulgarian Border Police uniform.
“He was wearing glasses; he was around 55 years old. He told us that he was looking for us for four hours. He showed us our foot traces on the ground, that’s how he followed us. He even said that he got injured on his arms by going through the trees when he was looking for us. We saw that he was a bit tired, so we gave him milk and water. He told us that he comes from Georgia. He had an accent which sounded Russian”.
The respondent explained how the officer mainly spoke English to the transit group, and sometimes spoke in Bulgarian when using his phone to translate what he was saying.
The officer then forced the group to walk for about 30 minutes, reported the respondent. While walking, this officer was talking into a talkie walkie which had “the EU flag on the back”. When the group arrived onto a road, there were reportedly two more officers wearing green shirts with two stars on their shoulders, sage green pants, and black boots. They had a blue Nissan pick-up. There was also another patrol car waiting on the road, a blue Nissan car. The officer that first discovered the transit group got into the blue Nissan car and drove away, recalled the respondent.
The respondent then went on to explain how the other two officers loaded the eight men into their blue pick-up and drove “fast and recklessly” for about 30 minutes on unpaved windy roads. “There was no seat. We were crowded on the trunk, which was one metre by one,” said the respondent.
When they arrived at the border, the officers took five people out of the pick-up, including the respondent’s father, while the respondent was left in the vehicle with two other men.
The officers forced the five men to undress and then took all their belongings (phones, power banks, money) and beat them with a tree branch and a plastic stick, recounted the respondent. The officers left the five men in only their underwear and pushed them back to over Turkey. To cross the border, the respondent described, the five men had to crawl under a small unofficial door in the fence that the officers had pulled from the bottom up.
Once in Turkey, the group walked about five kilometres before getting to a village which was later identified as Vaysal. From there, the group called a taxi to go back to Edirne. They drove for about 50 kilometres on a highway before reaching Edirne.
The three remaining men from the group were then driven for another 30 minutes on the same unpaved road they took first, to get to another location along the border, reported the respondent. There were already three other officers there, identified by the respondent as Bulgarian. Two of the officers were wearing black uniforms with “Police” written on them, and one was wearing a camouflage uniform. They reportedly had a blue Nissan car and only spoke Bulgarian. “They were there to open the door in the fence,” explained the respondent.
The respondent recalled how he and the remaining two men were forced to take off their clothes and were left standing in only their underwear as all of their belongings were taken by the officers. They were then pushed back to Turkey through an unofficial door in the fence that the officers had to pull up from the bottom to open, reported the respondent. They were beat as they were forced through the door.
“The officers beat us on our back. One of the officers wearing black uniform beat me with a tree branch, and the other with a black plastic stick.”
Once in Turkey, they walked through agricultural lands next to a forest. On their way, they met some people cutting wood, identified by the respondent as Bulgarian, of whom they asked to call a taxi for them. The group had to walk another three kilometres before reaching the road where the taxi picked them up. It was around four in the afternoon, recalled the respondent. After two kilometres, the respondent said they drove by a village, which was identified as Küçüköğünlü. It was about a 30 minute drive back to Edirne from the location where the taxi collected them, recalled the respondent.
It is not stated whether those who got separated at the point of apprehension managed to reunite after the pushback occurred.