This report involves people from the same initial transit group mentioned in the testimony “A blue police bus with bars transported the group from the first to the second detention site, escorted by two police cars who turned on the sirens when traffic was too busy.” The original transit group was separated both during apprehension as well as after the pushback from Greece to Turkey when parts of the group were forced back onto Greek territory by Turkish officers.
This testimony describes the event from the perspective of the group that was not forced back to Greece.
On April 25, a group of seven crossed to Greece on the Greek-Turkish land border, crossing the Evros/Meric river close to Soufli. The group was composed of two Iraqis and five Syrians, four of which are related to each other. Two of the Syrians are minors, 12 and 14 years old, who were traveling without their parents but with extended family members.
Once in Greece, they continued their way on foot. They were hiding in the woods, walking at night, resting in hiding by day. They rationed their food and planned to walk for 20 days to reach Thessaloniki. They walked slower than expected and ran out of food which is why they took the decision to risk buying groceries in a supermarket in Arriana. They were surprised to see that the man working at the supermarket treated them nicely and did not call the police.
The 14-year-old Syrian boy has an uncle living in Athens as a recognized refugee. Since the boy has severe scoliosis and 14 metal screws in his body, the uncle was eager to pick him up to prevent too much strain on his health as well as prevent a pushback. He reached out to a lawyer who then alerted several journalists and reached out to several NGOs in the area with the hopes of preventing a pushback.
The UNHCR hotline, MSF, GCR, ARSIS, and several smaller NGOs were alerted.
On May 6th, the uncle and lawyer picked up the 14-year-old nephew near the village Gratini while the rest of the group continued walking towards Thessaloniki.
On May 9th early morning, the uncle, who had returned back to Athens, lost contact with the rest of the group. Their last location was between Xanthi and Komotini, close to the village of Amaxades.
The lawyer and journalists involved started calling local police precincts in Orestiada, Kavala, Xanthi, Komotini, but no information was provided.
According to the respondent, the group was apprehended on Sunday 9th at 1.30 am. They were walking towards Xanthi and had planned to spend the day resting near Xanthi. While walking approximately 20km east of Xanthi, near the village of Amaxades, the group suddenly was blinded by flashlights and found themselves surrounded by police officers. There were several police officers present but the exact number is unclear as it was dark and the respondent was at first blinded by the flashlight and then ordered to keep his head down and look on the ground. The officers that the respondent could see were wearing blue police uniforms.
The respondent, his nephew (the second minor), and one of the two Iraqis of the transit group members started running away when they saw the flashlight. The respondent and his nephew ran away together and while running, they threw away their phones. When asked for the reason, the respondent explains that they were afraid that the police could access their phones and geolocate them and thus catch them as well. While running away, the respondent and his nephew also lost the Iraqi so from this point on, it was just the two of them.
After running for a few minutes, the two escapees rested for about 10min while hiding. When they were assured that nobody was near, they continued walking but were unsure of the right direction since they did not have their phones to navigate.
They walked for a few hours, by now it was daylight. The respondent estimates that they had walked for around 20km. The boy was exhausted and hungry so the respondent decided to try and buy some food in a village. He left his nephew in hiding and entered a small village but saw a police car drive by and got scared so he decided to return to his nephew and keep walking to find another village. In that second village, he again left his nephew in hiding and went into the village to find a supermarket. While searching for a supermarket, a man who was driving by on a motorbike stopped next to him and without warning started to beat him with a stick. This man was wearing civilian clothes and driving a civilian, old motorbike. The respondent tried to run away from him and hide in the church of the village, but the man followed him and called the police. The respondent estimates that it was around 11 am at this point.
After a few minutes, a white unmarked van arrived with two men in black uniforms with something written on them. The respondent could not read what was written but says that these two men looked like police officers. They were not wearing balaclavas.
The officers asked the respondent about his nephew. He was confused about how they knew but understood when they opened the door of the van and the third escapee from the original transit group, the Iraqi man, was inside. He had been caught shortly before and had told the officers that two other people had run away. The officers ordered the Iraqi man to exit the car and proceeded to search both the respondent and him. They took the Iraqi’s phone and all the money he had left which was 65€. The respondent, later on, saw how they handed this money and the phone over to officers at the first detention site. The respondent himself had no money left and had discarded his phone earlier so the officers could not take any valuables from him. These two officers did not beat or hurt the respondent and the other man. The officers put zip ties on the respondent, the Iraqi man already had his hands tied with zip ties. They then asked the respondent where his nephew was hiding and went to pick him up. After they had picked the nephew up as well, the officers removed the zip ties and instead put handcuffed the respondent and the Iraqi with metal handcuffs but not the nephew. All three were then ordered to get into the van.
After a drive of about 15min, they arrived at a detention site. It was a two floor building with a wall and barbed wire around it. Inside, it had yellow walls and one big cell into which they were taken. Inside that cell were already many other people, including the other members of the original transit group. In total about 40 people were gathered in this cell now, including the respondent and the others. Except for the two Iraqis, the whole group consisted of men from Syria and Afghanistan, including several minors. The other members of the original transit group had been detained there for several hours already when the respondent arrived.
There were six officers present at that detention site, with mixed uniforms including black uniforms like the ones of the officers that had caught the respondent as well as camouflage uniforms, all wearing balaclavas. There was also one female officer among the six, she was wearing a plain sage green uniform and no balaclava.
Soon after the respondent and the two other escapees arrived at that detention site, the whole group of 40 people was ordered to leave the building and get on a blue police bus with metal bars, the same type as this one:
The bus was driven by an officer in the blue Greek police uniform, and it was escorted by two police cars driving in front and behind the bus. At one point there was a lot of traffic and the police cars turned on their sirens to pass.
After driving for about one hour, they arrived at a second detention site. This building was a one-floor building that looked quite old and run down. Around it, the respondent is sure there is a wall with barbed wire on top. The entrance door was described as an average-sized grey metal door. Inside the building, the walls were painted in a light yellow.
Inside that detention site, the respondent encountered approximately 20 officers. Most of them were wearing camouflage uniforms, some plain green uniforms and some camouflage pants but civilian jackets as well as four people dressed in black uniforms. Almost all of them were wearing balaclavas. The respondent says that nobody ever talked to them at this detention site, and they were not able to apply for asylum. They were however given some water and were allowed to use the toilet, but had to hurry.
After around three hours, some of the officers came into the cell and ordered the whole group to exit the building. The respondent believes that it was around 3 pm at this point.
The group of 35-40 was again taken on the same type of blue police bus as before, but this time without a police escort. This drive lasted approximately 3 hours and they arrived at another detention site at around 6 pm. Again they were ordered to undress and were being beaten with batons while undressing. This time, the officers did not return their clothes but only gave them boxer shorts to wear.
At around 8 pm, after two hours, several officers in plain green uniforms and wearing balaclavas entered the room and ordered the group to follow them. A vehicle was waiting outside the front door. The respondent describes it as a “military transfer vehicle” with metal instead of tarp casing which had a window in the ceiling. All 35-40 people were ordered to get in. The drive lasted for a short time, the respondent estimates 15min. When they arrived, the respondent immediately recognized that they were back at the Evros/Meric river.
About 15 officers, most in camouflage uniforms, some in blue uniforms, all wearing balaclavas, most of them carrying batons or metal pipes as well as guns, were present at the pushback site, as well as at least two men in civilian clothes who were speaking to the group in Arabic with a Syrian accent.
When they had left the car, still only wearing boxer shorts, the group was ordered to undress completely. All of them were beaten with batons while undressing, but some group members who did not comply with this order quickly enough were beaten “too much”. Totally naked, they were frisked again, and then the officers ordered them to embark on three blue and grey dinghies that were already inflated when the group had arrived. The respondent’s dinghy was driven by one of the Syrian men while the other kept the group in check. The respondent’s cousin talked to this Syrian during the drive across the river, asking him why he was working with the Greek police. The man explained that they receive a “Khartia”, a temporary residence permit, after working for the police for three months and that would allow them to travel through Greece without being pushed back and attempt to cross to Albania.
When the group arrived on the Turkish shore, it was around 9 pm, estimates the respondent – on Sunday, May 9. Still completely naked, the group walked to the nearest village they could find, around 30min. According to the description, this village might have been Saricaali but the respondent is not certain. They met two men who were wearing civilian clothes but carried walkie-talkies. They told the group to go to the Mosque and wait for them there. After a few minutes, the men brought food and clothes. The group got dressed and ate some food but soon, a military truck arrived and they were all ordered to get in. Two Jandarma (police) officers and a driver were accompanying the group (one officer next to the driver, one in the back with the group). A second car had arrived, carrying two inflatable boats. They were driven for around 10min and arrived at the river again.
There, several more officers were present. The respondent explains that he is not sure how many exactly as it was dark, but he is certain there were more than 10. They explained to the group that they all had to cross back to Greek territory. They ordered the respondents’ cousin and eight other people to embark on one of the two boats they had with them and tied a rope to it which was attached to a tree. The nine people who were ordered to embark on the dinghy were begging the officers not to be sent back to Greece, but the officers only responded by kicking them. They were given paddles and had to paddle to the Greek shore themselves. Since it was dark and the current took the dinghy far away from the rest of the group and the officers, they could soon not see the boat anymore. After a short while, the officers started pulling the dinghy back to the Turkish shore with the rope they had tied to it before. When the dinghy came closer, the officers got very angry and the respondent soon realised that it was deflated. He does not speak much Turkish but understood that the Jandarma (police) officers believed that the Greek officers had found the boat and punctured a hole in it in order to prevent the “pushback” of more people to Greece. The respondent describes how the officers got very angry and started beating the rest of the group with their fists and also kicking them. They had a second boat with them but did not want to use it as they expected it to be destroyed as well. The officers proceeded to take the respondent and the others into the same truck as before and dropped them off between some fields after a 30min drive. The group continued walking for approximately 10km and then found some taxis that were waiting for pushback survivors to take them to Istanbul. The respondent and the rest of his original transit group (except his cousin who had been forced back to Greece) took one taxi and returned to Istanbul where the other people they were staying with paid 1500 TRY to the driver.
When asked if the respondent wanted to add anything, he says:
“We just want someone to tell our story. We want the international community to know what they are doing to us and we hope that we can go somewhere else. Anywhere where it’s peaceful. If it’s Somalia, I don’t care. We just want peace.”