At midday, on the 9th of May, a 29-year-old Iraqi man was pushed back over the border from Lalkovo, Bulgaria to Uzunbayır, Turkey. Pushed back alongside him were 12 Iraqi nationals and one Tunisian man, all male and ranging between 18 to 42 years old. This was the respondent’s fifth pushback.
On the evening of the 7th, the transit group crossed over onto Bulgarian soil. Compasses pointed west, the group traversed across the Bulgarian forests for two full days with no more than a few one-hour breaks, reported the respondent. At approximately 9:00 a.m. on the 9th of May, the group reportedly arrived at the town of Lalkovo. Hiding between two hills in a nearby forest, they decided to rest. As the sun hit high noon, recounted the respondent, they were shaken by the voices of seven men in uniforms resembling the Bulgarian border police at the top of the hill. The respondent described the men as “wearing sacramento green short sleeved shirts, sage green pants, and black boots.” Written on the backs of the uniforms was “Border Police” while on the right sleeve sat a Bulgarian flag, identified the respondent, and of the seven uniformed men, three reportedly carried firearms. Parked around 700 meters down the road from the point of apprehension, the respondent saw two black land rovers, displayed and verified by the respondent in Image 1.
Approaching the transit group from the top of the hill, the uniformed men waved their guns while yelling at the men (presumably in Bulgarian). The respondent then heard the men in uniform belt the word “stop” in English. Positioned in the front of the group, the respondent was then subjected to a series of beatings by the men in uniform, reporting how “with all his force [the man in uniform] kicked me in the back with his knee.…and then kicked everyone else.” These initial beatings reportedly lasted around 10 minutes.
According to the respondent, the 14 men were then forced to strip down to their underwear and were searched. Nearly naked, exhausted, and wounded, the group endured this humiliation along with further kicks, punches, and beatings with plastic batons for about 30 minutes, recounted the respondent. All backpacks and phones were confiscated and never returned.
When asked whether anything was communicated, the respondent explained that “we didn’t understand anything that they said, [but] we were begging them in English to stop beating us.” The time was at approximately 1:00 p.m.
According to the respondent, the focus shifted with the arrival of a large, olive-green truck near the other two black land rovers. The group were forced to quickly dress and load into the truck’s trunk. The respondent reportedly saw a Bulgarian flag on the side of the truck’s door. On the back was reportedly an iron door and a small window , identified as being similar to the vehicle in Image 2. In the front of the truck were two additional men dressed in sage green uniforms, recounted the respondent.
Image 2: Ural 375 6×6 Truck
Once loaded into the three-by-two meter trunk, the respondent was unable to see the outside. For around 45 minutes the group endured bumps and shakes from potholes and hurried driving. When the truck stopped, the group was unloaded. As the respondent described it, they were clearly transported back to the Turkish border. At the unloading spot, the respondent described the surroundings, noting that “there was forest…and a big five-meter-high barbed wire fence…and there was an unpaved road on the Bulgarian side and forest and wind turbines on the Turkish side.” Parked near the truck were the two black land rovers from the initial apprehension point. All nine men in uniform were present.
The group of 14 were then instructed to remove their jackets and shoes and toss everything into a pile, recalled the respondent, and the uniformed men set the mound on fire. One of the men dressed in sacramento green reportedly held the respondent’s friend by the shirt and pointed to the fence. Understanding nothing of what was being said, the individual was helpless. Offering no input or response, the man in uniform reportedly slapped and kicked the respondent’s friend for around two minutes straight. As described by the respondent, the beatings soon turned to the rest of the group. Left with nothing more than their shirts and trousers, the men were again beaten with plastic batons along with the swift landing of kicks and punches by the men in uniform. The beatings were reportedly random and lasted for around five minutes. When the men in sacramento green let up, they then reportedly opened a small three-by-two meter door in the fence and pushed all 14 men back to Turkey. Four uniformed men reportedly accompanied the men to the other side. Lined up around three meters on the other side of the fence, the respondent reported that “two of the men dressed in a Bulgarian border guard uniforms kicked and slapped us, followed by one word in English: Go.”
According to the respondent, the group of 14 walked for nearly three hours until arriving at Uzunbayır, where the respondent’s friend called someone who picked up the 14 men. By the time the group arrived back to Edirne, it had reached around 8:00 PM.
No food, water, or medical support was offered nor were translators provided during their pushback. No fingerprints were taken.