“They didn't give us medicine, the beat us to see us broken from everywhere. Do you think they would afford that for people who they are considering as animals?”

Injuries sustained by a member of the pushback group, inflicted on him by border authorities
  • Date and time: November 18, 2021 00:00
  • Location: Ivaylovgrad (BG) - Doxa (GR) and then Soufli (GR), Umurca (TR)
  • Coordinates: 41.1943451, 26.2992566
  • Pushback from: Bulgaria, Greece
  • Pushback to: Greece, Turkey
  • Demographics: 200 person(s), age: 3 - 60 years , from: Afghanistan, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Morocco, Algeria, Egypt
  • Minors involved? Yes
  • Violence used: beating (with batons/hands/other), kicking, pushing people to the ground, exposure to air condition and extreme temperature during car ride, insulting, sexual assault, dog attacks, forcing to undress, theft of personal belongings, reckless driving
  • Police involved: 2 x officers dressed in a bullet proof sacramento green jacket and pants; 2x officers in a black uniform jacket with “border police” written in english on their backs, talking only english, 2x bulgarian border police officers, all armed with guns + 2 dogs; 1x black land rover, 1x black jeep; 2 x policeman dressed in deep blue shirts and pants, talking in english, “police” written in english and greek letters on their backs; 1 x white and blue Nissan; 1x red Mercedes van; 7 x officers dressed in olive green shirts and pants with yellow “police” letters in english on their back; 2x officers in black jacket and olive green pants and Balaclavas; 15 x officers some in sage green jackets + pants with greek flag insignia on arm sleeves, some in civilian clothing, others in blue uniform, armed with branches, wearing Balaclavas; 2 x vans; 13 officers in blue uniform pants and jackets, olive green jackets + pants + some in civilian clothes; wearing olive green balaclavas; greek flag stitched to their arm sleeves; speaking english, turkish, arabic, greek
  • Taken to a police station?: yes
  • Treatment at police station or other place of detention: detention, fingerprints taken, no translator present, denial of access to toilets, denial of food/water, personal belongings taken
  • Was the intention to ask for asylum expressed?: Yes
  • Reported by: josoor

Original Report

The respondent is a 23-year-old Morrocan man who experienced a violent chain pushback from Bulgaria to Greece, and then Greece to Turkey on the 18th of November, 2021. 

The respondent started walking at 6 pm for about 3 hours from near Bosna on the 14th of November 2021. At around 9 pm he and a group of 6 Moroccan men, aged between 23 – 36, arrived close to the Turkish – Greek border with a rope ladder to climb and jump from the fence. In Greece, the group walked for 2 days for 90 km, resting during the day in order not to be seen. They hid in a small forest and avoided the cities. After two days and one night, on the 17th of November at around 5 am, they arrived at the Bulgarian-Greek border. The group crossed the border between Zoni, Greece and Drabishna, Bulgaria. Once in Bulgarian territory, they continued walking for 20 km. That night (17th of November), they stopped to rest for some moments in a forest near Pokrovan in Bulgaria. Suddenly, around 10 pm, the respondent explains that they heard a dog barking and were woken up by dogs attacking them. The dogs continued to attack and bite the transit group for 20 minutes. While being attacked, the respondent shouted “peace, please sir camp.” Six officers were standing aside, kept laughing and watching the respondent and the other men scream from pain. Only after 20 minutes did they stop their dogs from attacking the men. Two officers were dressed in a bulletproof Sacramento green jacket and pants, and two in a black uniform jacket with “border police” written in English on their backs. They were also armed with guns and had two dogs. The following pictures show the weapons and uniforms, according to the respondent’s description. 

image 1: Border police jackets
Image 2: Uniform identified as being worn by officers during pushback. It said “border police” on the backs of the jackets, similar to how “POLIZEI” is written here. But, there was no blue armband worn by officers (they were not Frontex)
image 3: Beretta M9

The dog looked like the picture below. 

image 4: Dog identified as being used by Bulgarian officers during the pushback

According to the respondent, once the officers stopped their dogs attacking the group, they started beating the men by using a plastic baton. After that, they started searching them one by one, asking first for their phones and then gathered all their stuff in one place. Everybody had to get completely undressed so the officers could search the pockets. They waited naked for 30 minutes. The officers took their phones, power banks, clothes, and shoes. Only t-shirts and pants were later returned to the transit group.

The officers asked them to walk for 15 minutes to get into the cars which were parked on an unpaved road down the hill. They drove a black land rover and a black jeep, the respondent confirmed the car to look like the vehicles below. 

Image 5: Black unmarked 4×4
image 6: Bulgarian Border Police – Discovery Landrovers 

The officers kept hitting the respondent and the other men to push them faster in the trunk of the Jeep, which was 2 by 1 meters in size. All of the 6 men were loaded in the trunk. The trunk was too small and all of them were stuck together. As it was dark, the respondent couldn’t see anything from the outside. The drive to the border, which took about 15 minutes in total (5 minutes on paved roads, 10 minutes on unpaved roads), was reckless and fast. The pushback location was near Ivaylovgrad in Bulgaria, based on the distance to Doxa in Greece.

Only one car left the previous site and arrived near the border, 2 officers who were dressed in black drove the Jeep. These two officers, who were talking only in English throughout the whole time,  asked the respondent to get out of the trunk and said “This way Europe”. That was around midnight, at about 1 am, on the 18th of November 2021. The surrounding area was a small forest that the group passed through within 5 minutes. Once in Greece, they found an agricultural field and started walking randomly as they didn’t know where they were.  

In Greek territory, they walked for 4 hours walking without shoes, trying to find out where they were. They reached a paved road and found a sign for Doxa written in English and Greek letters. The group rested next to a road near the village for 2 hours until the sun began to rise (around 7 am). Cars and people were crossing by and parked next to them. Some gave water and biscuits or stuff they had in the car. One car driver spoke Greek and called the police, who arrived one hour later. 2 policemen arrived, dressed in deep blue shirts and pants, and started asking in English about the respondent’s papers, where he is from, and where about to go. “Police” was written in English and Greek letters on the uniform. The respondent recognized the uniform from the following picture: 

image 7: Short-sleeved uniform

The car was a white and blue Nissan, which looked like the following. 

image 8: Nissan Qashqai (New as of March 2020)

These two officers spoke English with the respondent and the other men and greek among each other. They waited for 30 minutes until a red van with an old door came and the officers forced the transit group to enter the van. The 2 men driving the red Mercedes van were wearing civilian clothing, pants, and shirts. The interior of the van was dirty and they found Turkish Lira on the floor, probably from other people who had been held or loaded in the trunk before. 

Image 9: Mercedes Benz Sprinter

Nothing about the van indicated it to be a police car. The van took the group to a detention site. The drive took about 1-hour along paved roads driving quite fast. As the trunk was locked from all sides, they couldn’t see where exactly they were being taken. The trunk was 3 by 2 meters in size.

At 11 am they arrived at the detention site which was surrounded by a forest.  7 officers, all dressed in olive green shirts and pants, with yellow “police” letters in English on their back, were at the site. 

image 10: ΑΣΤΥΝΟΜΙΑ police

2 fully filled garbage boxes were in front of the house, full of bags of people on the move and shoes. Inside there was a big dirty room and a small room in order to search for women. The big room was apparently used to search the men and make them undress. 

The officers searched the 6 men in the big room, made them get fully undressed, and looked for money. The men stayed completely naked for 30 minutes. 

The officers slapped the respondent and others from the transit group to force them to get into the cell. Inside the cell, a Syrian family consisting of a mother and her daughters were already held inside. The cell itself was 5 by 8 meters in size, the ground dirty and the walls very old. The toilet was too dirty to be used. 

For 10 hours the respondent had to wait with the others in that cell. Every 30 minutes the officers brought between 3 to 5 people, so that in total about 200 people were held in a cell of 5 by 8 meters in size. Most of them were Afghan, while some were Syrian and Iraqi, Algeria, Moroccan, Palestinian and Egypt. The age range was between 3 – 60 years, about 20 minors were among the group and 6 women. Some of the minors were with their parents, some were alone. 

Around 10 pm, the respondent explains that they were taken out of the cell by two officers who opened the door of the cell holding a baton and started hitting everyone to get them out of the cell. They also hit minors with the branch. The uniform of the officers was a black jacket and olive green pants. Most of them were wearing Balaclavas. 

About 15 officers were waiting outside, some in sage green jackets and pants, some in civilian clothing, and others again in blue uniform. Only the green uniform had a greek flag stitched on their arm sleeves. The officers were armed with branches and most of them were wearing Balaclavas. The respondent recognized the following uniform: 

Image 11: Green-uniformed border guards

The following picture shows a uniform worn at the detention site but without the helmet and armband but Balaclavas. 

image 12: Greek Frontex officers – same uniforms, just without helmets and blue armbands, but instead they wore balaclavas (not Frontex involvement)

3 vans were parked outside, including the one which brought the respondent to the detention site. The other 2 were in white colour. 

70 people were loaded in one trunk–too many people for those inside to be able to breathe properly. The drive took about 20 minutes on an unpaved road and took the people next to a river. There was a forest that hid the group from the Turkish side. Then the officers started splitting the group into smaller groups, each of them being told to give the officers all that they had left (phone or hidden money). 

All of the 200 were brought to the same point, so all the vans took the same route. 13 other officers were waiting at the riverside. They were dressed in blue uniform pants and jackets, also olive green jackets and pants and civilian clothes. Only some officers were wearing olive green balaclavas. Some had the greek flag stitched to their arms.

image 13: Greek border guard uniform

According to the respondent, these officers started hitting everyone with a baton and told them to stay quiet, including the children. Everybody was hit with a branch for several seconds. They started searching for the group again. One 17-year-old Syrian boy was asked where he was from. When he responded that he was from Syria, he was beaten for 10 minutes until he couldn’t move. “Just because he is from Syria”. Women and minors were also searched by male officers. Besides English and Greek the respondent could identify the languages Turkish and Arabic being spoken by the officers. The ones who spoke Turkish and Arabic were dressed in civilian clothes and balaclavas. 

1 hour passed between arriving at the riverside and getting on the boats, it was the 18th of November, 2022 around midnight. 3 small plastic boats of 2 by 2 meters size were prepared, clear grey from the inside and deep grey from the outside. 8 – 9 people were loaded on one boat, accompanied by 2 drivers per boat wearing civilian clothes and speaking Arabic. 

The boat was unstable, and the respondent recalls being afraid of water entering the vessel. One of the drivers hit people on the boat on the head and ordered them not to move. In the middle of the river there was a small sandy island which they were brought to. The boats went back and forth every time to get all the 200 people. 

The respondent was in the last group, most of the people who were pushed back had been held at the detention site before but not all of them. Women and children were also left on the island in the middle of the river.

From the island, it was difficult to cross to the Turkish side of the river as the water levels were quite high and the children could not cross. Parts of the group started carrying the kids and women so they could cross the river. 

From the riverside, they walked to Umurca, Turkey, and entered a village to ask for help but everything was closed. They continued walking to Meric, and from there continued, still shoeless and without warm clothes, towards Edirne. “It was so cold”. They kept walking for 8 hours and slept somewhere in Yeniköy in an abandoned house. 

That was the 19th of November at around 11 am, the group spent a day resting in the abandoned house before they continued walking for another 3 hours. Then they got on a taxi which took them to Edirne, where they arrived at 1 pm on the 20th of November. 

The respondent and members of the group asked for asylum in Greece. No food or water nor medical assistance was provided. “They didn’t give us medicine, they beat us to see us broken from everywhere. Do you think they can afford that for people who they consider animals?”