“We had to crawl to the shore and then get in the boat”

  • Date and time: November 28, 2020 20:00
  • Location: Pythion/Kurttepe
  • Coordinates: 41.374961183092, 26.629203675269
  • Pushback from: Greece
  • Pushback to: Turkey
  • Demographics: unknown person(s), age: 2-60 , from: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Morocco, Algeria, Eritrea
  • Minors involved? Yes
  • Violence used: beating (with batons/hands/other), water immersion, threatening with guns, forcing to undress, destruction of personal belongings, theft of personal belongings
  • Police involved: More than 10 officers in Greek police uniform, seven "masked men"; one white van, several army lorries, one rubber boat; Turkish soldiers
  • Taken to a police station?: yes
  • Treatment at police station or other place of detention: detention, no translator present, denial of food/water
  • Was the intention to ask for asylum expressed?: Unknown
  • Reported by: josoor

Original Report

This testimony documents the pushback of very large group of people, which the respondent estimates to have been of several hundred people, including women and children. The respondent recalled there were a lot of toddler-aged children involved in this pushback. Multiple nationalities were included in the pushback, ranging from Syrian, Afghan, Pakistani, to Eritrean, Algerian and Moroccan. These people were pushed back to one of the islands in the middle of Evros/Meriç, between Greece and Turkey where they were stranded with both country’s authorities preventing them from crossing to their side. People were also subjected to beating, theft and destruction of personal belongings by Greek authorities.

The respondent is Algerian and 34 years old, his friends that crossed with him were all from Morocco and between the ages of 22-25. They crossed the river near Meric by boat. The group hid overnight on the Greek side to avoid being seen by the police in fear of a pushback, as they heard 2-3 police car sirens. Then they continued walking. They managed to buy some food in a village on the fourth day and continued until they reached Serres after 18 days.

When they neared Serres, they did not realise they were so close and decided to stop and sleep in a place close to Serres. While they were sleeping, a big tractor came and the Greek driver saw them. The driver questioned where they were from, the respondent explained they were all from Palestine. The respondent also begged for some water, and the driver agreed to bring them water, food and a doctor if they needed. He told them to wait for five minutes and he would bring everything to them.

However, the driver lied. After five mins, two Greek officers came – one who communicated to them in English, the other (the driver) spoke in Greek, but not directly to them. One was wearing a black T-shirt and military camo trousers, the driver was in a black uniform that had police written on the back. The car that they had arrived in was big and white, there were no seats in the back. 

The officer in camo trousers was wearing a small bag which he opened and took out a belt. He started to ask the respondent, “where are you from?”. The respondent replied “Good morning Sir. I am from Palestine”. The officer started asking questions in English but the respondent could not understand, so the officer made signs with his hands to get his questions across. He asked how many days it took them to walk to come here. The respondent spelled out ‘18’ in the air with his hands. 

The respondent told the man “please, give us water, we just want water”. The officer refused. He told the respondent and his friends to bring their backpacks and put them inside the car. They were then lined up and one by one told to hand over their mobile phones. The respondent explained he did not have a phone, and in response  was hit with a baton. Everyone was subsequently hit everywhere on their bodies – legs, back, arms, but the officers avoided the head and neck. The respondents friend next to him had a phone and handed it over; it was consequently smashed in the officer’s hand.

They were then put in the car and driven for around 3.5 hours to a detention site the respondent described as a checkpoint. When they arrived, there were six officers present who were wearing balaclavas. One of these masked men held a wooden stick and a belt. They told the respondent and his companions, one by one, to bring their backpacks and come inside. They were then told to take their clothes off, and were left wearing only T-shirts and boxer shorts. All other possessions were taken from them.

There were several other police officers present at the detention site, but there were only six wearing balaclavas. The respondent could not describe the outside of the detention site as they were told to look down at the ground. While they were inside, only one of the six masked men spoke to them, with the others watching. The respondent could not specify how many people were detained with him and his friends but he did explain it was many and that there were many people from Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. 

The respondent and his friends were made to sit on a long wooden bench against the wall inside the detention site. The officers explained that if they see someone looking up at the police, they will be beaten. The respondent proclaimed that he did not see anyone being hit but heard them, as he was not able to look up, as if he did, he would be hit as well.

This is how they spent almost the full day. Then, at sunset, a big green lorry arrived. The respondent and the other detainees were told to go one by one into the lorry, with the officers hitting them as they did. There were about 80-90 people in this lorry with the respondent and his friends. They could barely breathe. They drove for about an hour in the lorry to the Evros/Meriç river. The respondent could see through a very small window in the lorry what was happening when they arrived. The officers were using what the respondent described as a “telescope” to see if there was any Turkish military on the other side of the river.

The officers told everyone to get out of the lorry and sit on the ground next to it. Another vehicle turned up, slightly smaller than the lorry, carrying a boat that was unloaded and put in the water. The respondent explained that they were not sure if the police were Greek or not as they didn’t talk and the respondent and the others were exhausted. The respondent recalled that lots of additional lorries arrived with several hundreds of people but could not give a specific number because he avoided looking up. 

The officers made them all get into a line, crawling on their hands and knees, telling them if they look up they will be hit. 

“We had to crawl to the shore and then get in the boat. In the middle of the river, they dropped us and told us to walk the rest of the way to the other side”. 

The “other side” however was not the Turkish shore, but an island in the middle of the Evros/Meriç river between Greece and Turkey.

“It was very cold. I could not stop shaking. Everybody was shaking” the respondent proclaimed. The men were just wearing their T-shirts and boxer shorts, no shoes.

The respondent again explains that a very large number of people were there with them. He estimates the total to have been around 1000 people, many of them women and children. This number seem to be a quite high estimate, as pushbacks of this scale have not been documented, and there is reasonable doubt that the numbers are correct. The children were often toddler-aged, and mostly from Syria and Iraq. The officers had not taken the clothes off the women, they were allowed to keep them on.

When they got to the island, they could hear Turkish soldiers from the other side of the river shouting at them to go back to Greece. The respondent and others on the island pleaded with the Turkish military and explained “please, we don’t have clothes, food, bags, how can we go back”. They refused and kept telling them to go back to Greece. They couldn’t cross to Turkey because of that and therefore stayed the night.

“It was freezing. It was very cold. We were sticking to each other close. I felt like I will just die” explained the respondent. The next day, the respondent told his six friends “we have to do a trick to get across”. They walked round the island where there was no Turkish military on the other side. They made no noise, and when the coast was clear, slowly crossed to an area where there were no soldiers. They left the other people on the island and do not know what happened to them.

They walked through the hills to a village about 2km from the water. They found a house and pleaded with a man there, “please we don’t have clothes, food or anything”. The man gave them clothes as well as some food and water to have. A woman came, and showed them empathy, asking about their experience and what had happened. They explained they wanted to go to Istanbul. The Turkish couple called a taxi and paid for them to go to Istanbul.

When the respondent was asked if there is anything else he would like to say, he said “I want them [police] to treat us like we are humans”.