At midday on the 9th of May a 29-year-old Iraqi male was pushed back over the border from Lalkovo, Bulgaria to Uzunbayır, Turkey by nine men dressed in Bulgarian border guard uniforms. This was the respondent’s fifth pushback. Pushed back alongside him were 12 Iraqi people on the move (POM) and one Tunisian smuggler. All 14 individuals pushed back were men ranging from 18 to 42 years old. Each individual was subjected to beatings by the men in uniform.
On the 26th of April the group of 13 POM traveled to Edirne, Turkey, waiting to make their way towards the Turkish border. On the evening of the 7th, all 13 men along with the smuggler reached 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.
At approximately 9:00 AM, the group arrived at the town of Lalkovo. Hiding between two hills in a nearby forest, the 14 men decided to rest. As the sun hit high noon, they were shaken by the voices of seven men in Bulgarian border police uniforms 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 (see Image 1). Of the seven uniformed men, three reportedly carried Russian pistols (see Image 2). Parked around 700 meters down the road, the respondent saw two black landrovers (see Image 3).
Approaching the group of 14 from the top of the hill, the uniformed men waved their guns while yelling at the POM (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 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 lasted around 10 minutes. The 14 men were then forced to strip down to their underwear and were searched. Nearly naked, exhausted, and wounded, the POM and smuggler endured this humiliation along with further kicks, punches, and beatings with plastic batons for 30 minutes. 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 approximately 1:00 PM.
Focus shifted with the arrival of a large, olive-green truck near the other two black land rovers. The POM and smuggler 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 (see Image 4). In the front of the truck were two additional men dressed in sage green uniforms (see Image 1).
Image 4: 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 of potholes and hurried driving. When the truck stopped, the POM and smuggler were 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 (see Image 3). All nine men in uniform were present.
The group of 14 were then told to remove their jackets and shoes and toss everything into a pile. The uniformed men then 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 POM was helpless. Offering no input or response, the man in uniform slapped and kicked the respondent’s friend for around two minutes straight. 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.”
The group of 14 walked for nearly three hours until arriving at Uzunbayır. There, 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.