On the 15th of November, a 36-year-old Moroccan woman and her three children (two, six and ten years old) were pushed back from Orestiada, Greece to Karakasım, Turkey along with 49 other people on the move (POM). Of the 53 people pushed back, five were minors aged between two and 17 years old.
On the previous day, the respondent and her children travelled from Istanbul to Edirne. The journey was organised and led by smugglers. At around 15:00 she and her children were driven for approximately five hours to the Turkish-Greek border. In the vehicle, there were six other travellers — one of whom was a 17-year-old Syrian minor travelling with his friend. Of the remaining five adults, three were from Morocco and two from Syria aged between 18 to 40 years old. The respondent was the only woman.
The vehicle stopped around 3KMs from the border in what the respondent reported to be a large, agricultural field. At this point, a colleague of the smuggler joined the group. This man would then lead them to the river and across into Turkey. On the riverbank, the respondent found a small, plastic boat. The ten POM and the second smuggler used the boat to cross over the Evros/Meriç River into Greece. All eleven people made it across. The time was 22:00.
When they reached land, the group of eleven began walking along an unpaved road and through a forest before reaching an open field. With little natural coverage, the men began to run, yet the respondent — still carrying her two-year-old, wasn’t able to keep pace. Falling behind, the family of four kept to a fast walk for almost 5KMs until reaching an orchard. Moments after, the respondent heard vehicles approaching, soon followed by the beam of a car light. She tried to hide herself and her children, but the cars caught up to them. Of the ten POM who made it across, eight were apprehended. The smuggler and the two Moroccan men avoided capture.
The eight POM stood in front of the two vehicles. The respondent confirmed that six officers were present, five of whom wore green uniforms while one was dressed in civilian clothing (see Image 1). All six officers carried guns that were likely a Heckler & Koch MP5 (see Imagine 2). The respondent confirmed that one vehicle was a Greek police car and the other an unmarked, black pick-up truck with a large searchlight on top (see Image 3 and Image 4).
With guns pointed at the group, the officers began beating and kicking two of the four men who had tried to run away. One of them — the 17-year-old, was reported violently beaten and kicked by one of the officers. The respondent noted that “[the minor] screamed from pain, then the officer kicked him in his shoulder with his boot and started punching him in his face.” The abuse lasted for around five minutes. The respondent then reportedly pleaded to the officer to give her family asylum, pointing to her children and screaming, “camp, camp!”, but they only screamed back and told her to shut up.
When addressing the POM, the officers spoke in English. Among each other, they reportedly spoke Greek. The officers demanded that all phones be handed over. Each person was then searched one-by-one. A full strip search of the four men followed — even with the respondent and her children in close proximity. The entire group was held outside for over an hour. “It was so cold…and they were talking and laughing while they [looked] at us.” When the search was over, they returned only their clothing. The time was around 2:00.
A large, unmarked red van reached the group soon after the search was finished (see Image 5). Inside the car were two officers in the front and five other POM in the trunk. One officer reportedly wore a black uniform that also clearly displayed his ranking (see Image 6 and Imagine 7). The other officer wore only a jacket, jeans, and sneakers while carrying a balaclava in hand. In the trunk, the respondent found four adults and one 12-year-old minor. The youngest was accompanied by her father. One man traveled with his friend while the fifth man traveled alone. Both pairs were Syrian; the last was Palestinian. All were males except for the 12-year-old.
With all 15 people loaded in the trunk of the van, the engine started. For 15 minutes they drove — reportedly with minimal consideration of the people in the back. Driving recklessly along unpaved roads, the children could barely keep balance. When the car finally stopped and the 15 were unloaded, they found another group of around 40 POM had already arrived. Of the possessions they still had, the officers ordered that they leave them in the van before joining the larger group. The respondent noted that — from the dialects she could hear, the majority of Arabic speakers likely came from Morocco or Syria. Of those remaining, she speculated that they came from Nigeria or Mali. The group of 40 reportedly ranged between 20 – 35 years old and included three women.
Accompanying them were six additional officers, all of whom were dressed in sportswear. No one wore a formal uniform, yet each had balaclavas along with batons. Near the river, the respondent spotted two plastic boats. With batons in hand, the officers searched the POM again one-by-one. When they reached the respondent, one male officer reportedly physically checked for anything hidden. During the body search, the respondent continuously tried to push his hands away when touching her in sensitive areas, but he only responded by pushing her hands away. “I was trying to stop him…but he always [pulled] my hand down [and said] give me money for the safety of your kids!” When the respondent noted that she had no money to give, the officer then began searching her children. “He asked me and my kids to take off our shoes and he searched my younger kids and then he searched my baby.” The officer undressed the infant, searching anything hidden in the infant’s clothing. When finished, he yelled at them to join the others. None of their family members’ shoes were returned. Barefoot and stripped of all remaining belongings, they headed into the boats.
When loading people into the boat, the policemens’ main threat was the blow of a branch. All of the six officers in sportswear near the boats reportedly spoke Arabic with a Syrian dialect. When the officers reportedly asked one man to walk forward towards the boat, he was apparently confused – not understanding what they were saying, yet neither translation nor patience were offered. Instead, one officer beat him with a baton and kicked him for no other reason than his inability to understand the language. The respondent, her children and around eight others then climbed into one of the small, plastic boats. The Arabic-speaking officer paddled the boat back across the river, until ordering the group to jump overboard. Barely able to walk herself, the children could have drowned if forced to try and navigate the waters on their own. Other travel companions took the kids and helped them across. The time was around 3:30.
Across the river, the mother and her three children walked for two hours before reaching a small town. Once there, one man offered to cover the costs to Edirne. After a taxi was called for them by a local resident, the family and a few other POM began on their way back to where they began a day prior. They reached Edirne around 9:00 the next morning. No food, water, or medical support was given at any point during their captivity. No fingerprints or pictures were taken, and no translator was ever offered.