The respondent and his three friends crossed from Edirne city on 17th November 2021 at approximately 9pm, by jumping from a high fence using a rope. All of these men were from Algeria, aged between 20 and 35 years of age. They walked through Greece to Orestiada, hiding between trees on the way to try to avoid being seen by police or local citizens on their way. It took them about 5 hours, walking approximately 20km.
When they arrived, they hid near Orestiada. They checked on a map where the bus station was and they changed their clothes and went into the city to get a ticket for a bus at about 8 am on the morning of 18th November 2021. They left their bags at the place they rested at.
They were able to get a ticket, but the respondent remarked that the cashier (from whom they bought tickets) knew they were refugees so she gave us a seat to wait for the bus. Then the bus came and they got on, but it did not move. Then, a police officer came on the bus and started calling out our seat numbers and then asked them (the four men) to get off the bus. This officer was wearing a green olive coloured uniform, with “police” written on his shirt, along with green pants and was wearing glasses. The respondent subsequently identified the uniform as shown in Image 1.
This police officer asked the group of four for papers and their passports. They responded saying they did not have either, to which the police officer asked them where they were from. They explained they were all Algerian. The officer then made the four men walk far from the people off the bus (as people were called to get off the bus by seat number). They were made to stand near a wall. This officer spoke to them in English, but broken English.
The officer asked them “Why did you come here? Where do you want to go?”. They said “Germany”, and he said “oh, Germany is nice”. Then the officer took a picture of them individually with his phone. This process took about 15 minutes, and they were not searched at this time.
After 15 minutes, a Black Ford van came which had no signs that it was an official police car (pictured below, Image 2). This vehicle had a number plate on it but the respondent explained that he could not remember it. They were standing nearby and then were loaded in. With this van came two new officers – wearing sage green shirts and trousers, and they were not wearing balaclavas (pictured below, Image 3).
People were able to see them being loaded into the van, as well as when the officer was speaking to them when they were lined up against a wall. It was just them in the van, the four men. They were driven for 5 minutes along a paved road. The officer who took them off the bus did not come with them. They were not able to see anything on the way as you could not see out of the van. The respondent remarked the driving was fast.
They arrived at the detention site at around 9 am. The van dropped them in front of the door of the detention site. When they got out of the van they saw they were in a small yard, which surrounded the building. Around the yard there was a 2 metre barbed wire fence. This building was next to a paved road, as well as houses, and the respondent noticed “two caravans” as well. On the building too, there was a Greek flag. The respondent was shown an internal document of official detention sites in Greece, but he did not recognise any of the detention centres.
After they were unloaded, they were ordered to stop near a wall. Two officers, wearing gloves, started to search us. The men were ordered to undress completely. Their phones were taken from them, as well as the rest of the respondents’ money, and their clothes were searched while they were left standing completely naked. This ordeal lasted 20 minutes.
After this, the respondent had his trousers and shirt returned to him, which is the same as the other 3 men. There were 7 officers (including the two mentioned above) around the detention site, with one of them being female. These officers were wearing the same uniforms as pictured in Image 3. An officer in an olive green shirt and trousers officer took them to the cell, about 5m x 5m in size. When they reached the cell, it was just them who were placed inside it and found no one else in the cell. The cell was dirty on the ground, the smell of the toilet was horrible. There was a small window at the top of the cell, which they could only see broken cars and trees out of. There were four bunk beds inside the cell, but with no mattresses on the beds themselves. They stayed there and tried to rest, but one officer came in and started speaking to them in English to his friend. His friend translated to the rest of the group explaining that the officer had asked if they wanted to work for the Greek police. Nothing more was explained, just telling them that they wanted them to work for the police. The group refused the offer.
This officer kept talking to the friend about working for the police. Then after two minutes at most the officer screamed at one of the group members to sit, because this friend did not answer the officer. This officer was dressed the same as Image 3.
They were detained in that cell “all day and all night” for approximately 20 hours. Every hour the police kept bringing more and more people. By the end of the 20 hours, the cell was detained with more than 80 people. The nationalities of the group was Palestinian, Moroccan, Algerian and Yemeni, aged between 9 to 60 years old. There were between 12-13 minors, aged as young as 9 – either unaccompanied, or with families – and there were 5 women. The respondent explained that female officers had searched the women, but they were not forced to undress. The reason the respondent knew was that he overheard one of the women saying to someone else, “She even took my ring” (talking about being searched).
At about 2 am the following day (18th November), one new officer opened the cell door, and another new officer who accompanied him was holding a branch – one was wearing a blue shirt and trousers (Image 4) opened the door, and the other in green trousers, black jacket and balaclavas (Image 5) held the branch. These officers started to take the group out of the cell. They were ordered to walk out one-by-one in a line. “If you look anywhere they slap you” explained the respondent. The officer with the branch waited in the corner of the hallway to hit them. The respondent remarked the women and minors were also hit.
They found two vans outside in the yard. All 80 people were loaded into them. There were many officers – approx 17 – holding branches in the yard. These officers mostly wore civilian clothes and balaclavas (in total approx 6), but 2 wore green trousers, black bulletproof vest and balaclavas (See Image 5), and 4 others were wearing a olive green jacket and trousers, and 5 in camouflage green without balaclavas (See Image 6). There was a Greek flag on their arm, a logo on the camouflage uniform. Two of these vans stood at each van door and these officers hit them as they were being loaded into the vans, to make it “fast” explained the respondent. The respondent was behind his friend, and the balaclava wearing officer asked his friend where he was from. His friend remarked Palestinian, and then this officer started beating him with a branch. Then, he was kicked in his chest multiple times and they kept hitting him until he got in the van. This lasted 3 minutes in total.
The vans were old and white, and it was thought to be a ford. One was slightly bigger (Image 8) than the other (Image 7) The back was not big enough for 40 people and we were stuck in it together. “We couldn’t get our balance because your foot is stuck to another once the van start moving everyone start fall to each other”, explained the respondent. The ground was split 40/40 into each van – all 80 people were taken to the pushback point.
They were driven to their pushback point, which ended up being at the Evros/Meriç river. This drive took about 20 minutes until they arrived. The driving was fast and reckless, and it was along an unpaved road. “He didn’t reduce speed when he drift and there were women with us. There wasn’t a place were to sit and we just tried to keep them safe, to not get hurt” explained the respondent.
When they arrived at the pushback location, they parked the vans and everyone was taken out and gathered together – everyone was brought to the same point. There were 7 soldiers (camouflage jackets and trousers – see Image 6, holding weapons, see Image 9) and maybe 8 people wearing civilian clothes and balaclavas.
Then, the officers – 6 of them – wearing civilian clothes and balaclavas, speaking in Turkish and Arabic (in a Syrian accent) – started beating them with branches. The group of people had done nothing to provoke the beating, but they were just taken from the van and ordered to sit and then the beating started. Some of the women were beaten, and so were the children. The beating lasted 1-2 minutes in total.
This location was surrounded by trees – on both the Greek and the Turkish side. They were about 200 metres from the water’s edge. They could see the light of a mosque when they looked over to the Turkish side. One of the respondent’s friends explained that they were close to Kapikule (but on the Greek side they could see all of this). He said “Thank god we are not far from Edirne” – he knew this as his friend had been pushed back two times in the past month. After they were beaten, they were forced to stand in a line before they were forcibly searched. After searching people were walked to the river’s edge before being loaded into a boat.
Everyone was searched before they were loaded into a boat – including the women, who were searched by men as there were only male officers there. They took the respondents’ sneakers and left him barefoot. He had his shirt and trousers given back to him. Everyone was searched for one hour, and the same happened to them. The officers at the river’s edge were saying a few words in English like “go” and “line” but they did not talk much. “They did not even raise their voice” explained the respondent.
Then they were loaded into the boat, 9 at a time, which was already prepared at the water’s edge. It was plastic, maneuvered by paddles, about 2m x 1.5m in size. There were two officers in the boat wearing balaclavas, from the same officers mentioned before, who drove the boat. So in total there were 11 people in the boat. The respondent explained that he felt boat could “flip at any time” as it did not feel stable.
“They kept telling us to shut up, but in the boat the two officers driving the boat when he told us to jump into the water spoke in a proper Syrian accent [in Arabic].”
The respondent was in one of the last groups that crossed the river.
The water was running fast in the river, and the driver did not know where to drop the group, as per what the respondents said, so his group was asked to jump after about 4 metres of paddling, still far from the Turkish side. “He asked us to jump”, he explained, “when I jumped I lost my balance. I start thinking it is my last day I was so afraid to die and alone far from my family just cause I was looking for a fair life”. The water level was deep, too deep to walk properly but the water level was just below their chests. “I barely could make it to start jumping in the water to arrive to the other side”. He said that everyone made it across as the men in the group carried the children on their shoulders and the men held the women to help them cross the river.
After they crossed onto the Turkish side, it took them 6 hours (walking 25km – 30km) to get to Edirne city. His friend knew the road to Edirne as he had done that walk before.