“31 year old Congolese man illegally removed from Thessaloniki after being in Greece for 6 years”

  • Date and time: November 9, 2021 04:30
  • Location: Close to Lavara/Alibey
  • Coordinates: 41.2699615, 26.38509
  • Pushback from: Greece
  • Pushback to: Turkey
  • Demographics: 51 person(s), age: 12-50 years old , from: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Morocco, Congo, India
  • Minors involved? Yes
  • Violence used: beating (with batons/hands/other), pushing people to the ground, forcing to undress, theft of personal belongings, reckless driving, threatening with dogs
  • Police involved: 2x civilian-clothed officers; 2x white van; 2x civillian-clothed officers (1x man, 1x woman); 1x white van; 4x officers in police uniforms; 1x big bus fit for 40 ppl; 3x officers in police uniforms; 10x officers in police uniforms; police cars (unknown number); police motorcycles (unknown number); unknown number of officers - lots wearing balaclavas, 2x officers wearing police uniforms and in balaclavas; 4x civilian clothed officers; 6x officers - 4x in masks, greek police uniforms, 2x pakistani/afghan officers, no balaclavas, civilian clothes; 1x small rubber boat.
  • Taken to a police station?: yes
  • Treatment at police station or other place of detention: detention, denial of access to toilets, denial of food/water, personal belongings taken, denial of medical assistance
  • Was the intention to ask for asylum expressed?: No
  • Reported by: josoor

Original Report

This pushback testimony recounts the removal of a 31 year old Congolese man who was illegally removed from near to Thessaloniki, and pushed back along the Greek-Turkish land border in the Evros/Meriç region, after being in Greece for 6 years. This was the first time he had been pushed back. 

For context, 6 years ago, in November 2015 the respondent arrived in Greece, Samos. The respondent applied for asylum in Agios Loukas, Greece in August/September 2016. He was rejected eventually in 2018, which was his first rejection. Then he applied again, and was rejected again in February 2019. He opened a new case. He was initially issued what the respondent identified as a “blue” card (in 2016) – which allows him to travel around  – but in 2019 he got rejected again so he lost the blue/white card. End of 2019 he opened his third case, the only document he had at that moment was a document proving he is in a legal asylum process, but he doesn’t have access to the blue/white card. This document (showing he is an asylum seeker) only lost 6 months. After 6 months he was ordered to wait longer, so they gave him an extra two months on the document. He kept being told to wait by the office, he kept calling the office and they kept telling him to wait. He was still using this document even though it had expired. And then Covid happened in March 2020.

During covid there was no way to get any meeting, the asylum office was closed. Everything was on pause. At some point, because he had his twins and his wife, he had to work. Because he did not have any valid documents, he lost his job. We went to work in an orange farm during this time. 

Throughout 2020 he kept calling the asylum office and they responded with the same thing, just to wait. He has a daughter who was born with a problem in her mouth, so he stayed to work there.

Since Covid-19 has calmed down, he didn’t open a new case because he needed a lawyer to open a new case, and he didn’t have enough money to do so. In September 2021, he sent money to a lawyer and then the lawyer was to send a document saying that he was able to travel around. It was not the same document as a “blue” card, but it was a different one.

On the 6th of November, the respondent was caught by the police. He had taken a bus from Thessaloniki to Athens at 2.30 pm, and approximately 10 minutes after leaving Thessaloniki, the bus stopped (approximately at 2.40-2.45pm). Police got on the bus, two officers. Neither were wearing police uniforms and while the respondent could not remember exactly what they were wearing it was clear that they did not look like police. The officers took all the people off the bus who did not have valid documents – which were two people, the respondent himself and an Indian man.

The Congolese respondent showed the documents that he had in his possession. The officers said that it was not valid, so he had to get off the bus. In fact the document that the respondent had in his possession was not valid as he was using a document which had expired as he was still waiting for the other document he was meant to pick up in Athens. The respondent showed his FMI and AMKA to the officers, but it was no use. He tried to explain that he was going to Athens in order to get his new document and that he lived in Athens (his family is based there). The officers took them off the bus, and then the bus left.

Then, the two officers called other police officers to come and spoke in Greek. The respondent speaks a bit of Greek so was able to understand a bit. These two officers had arrived in a white van (pictured below, Image 1).

Image 1: White van

After about 5 minutes, one female and one male officer turned up. They were both wearing civilian clothes. These officers presented some form of ID cards to prove that they were in fact police. These officers handcuffed the respondent and the Indian man in metal handcuffs, then were loaded into the vehicle that the new officers arrived in – another white van, like pictured in Image 1. Inside the van were just the two of them, and there were seats inside the van. They left, and left the other officers behind.

The drive was about 10-15 minutes long. The drivers were driving fast and recklessly. They arrived at a “police station” at around 3pm. He didn’t know the location of this place, but he explained it was a police station due to the signs that he saw on the outside of the building. The same two officers took them inside the station.

Inside the station, there were four other officers wearing uniforms, as identified as the same uniforms in Image 2 (pictured below). The respondent  reports that these officers body searched the two men, checking if they had anything. They conducted the body search and took his coins, but not his notes of money. In total the respondent was carrying 3004 Euros, so the officers only took the 4 euros. They also took his phone, his documents he was carrying, took his belt and also took his laces out of his shoes. This whole ordeal lasted about 2-3 minutes.

Image 2: Police uniforms worn by the four officers inside of the station

Then they were taken into another room where other people were also found there too. In fact there were two rooms – according to the respondent, one was big (3x7m) and another small (3x3m). The respondent was placed in a big room. It was only the respondent and the Indian man in the big room until about 10pm at night. At this time a new man arrived, about 30 years old and was from Pakistan. 

Both of these cells had a small toilet, and there was a TV in the hallway. They stayed two nights – an afternoon and night of the first day, and then the second day the whole entire day and then the night, taking them into the day of 8th November. Throughout this time, no one came, no food was given, no water was given. However, he did buy a sandwich with some of the money he had. He asked the police officers to take some money and go and grab him a sandwich – about 3 euros – and they did.

It was about midday on the second day in detention that their handcuffs were removed, but they do not remember exactly when they were taken off, but it was around midday.

By the end of their time in detention, there were 6 in the respondents cell and 7 in the other cell, and in another room there were two Syrian women. There were two children, both Syrian, one was 15 years old and another 12 years old. 

Then on the last day of detention (8th), they were taken to another place at approximately midday. They were taken out of the room and put back in handcuffs. They were put on a big bus, fit for about 40 people. There were no chairs on this bus. Approximately 15 people in total boarded the bus (all that were in detention). Everyone was handcuffed.

They left for another police station, and arrived just after sunset. It was a long drive, approximately 6 hours. He could not see anything because the windows were blacked out. The driving was fast and side-to-side. 

They arrived at another “police station” and the respondent explained that he could see signs of police station outside, as well as police inside. There were many police inside, but he was not sure of how many as they never went in. However, they were body searched outside by three officers (new officers, same uniforms as Image 2). While being searched they had their handcuffs removed. 

Everyone was made to sit down in the entrance, but not in the actual police station. When they were checking the other people from the group said to each other that they will probably drive us to Turkey. The respondent got worried and started speaking to the officers in Greek. He said “don’t take me to Turkey. I live in Athens, please take us there”. The officer replied in Greek saying “don’t worry we will not take you to Turkey, we will take you to another camp where you will wait for more instructions”. “Once you are in the new camp you can explain yourself and make your case”, continued the officer. 

The respondent believed the police officer. Eventually, they took all the people inside the police station. The respondent reports that nationalities included Moroccan (as some guys were speaking French), and others were Somalian. There were women included in the group, quite a lot. Some were mothers, some were young mothers but the respondent explained he was too stressed to know how many women there were. There were also children in this group, aged 13-15 years old. The oldest person in the group was about 50 years old.

So on top of the respondent’s group of 11, there were another 40 people, totaling about 51 people in the station together. They were all held in the police station for 30 minutes.

They were all taken in a bus that looked a bit like Image 1, but much bigger. They were not handcuffed this time. Inside this bus there were no chairs, and there was no one else, just the group of 51.

This new bus had new policemen who were the ones to take them out of the police station. There were two – one in civilian clothes, one in the same uniform as identified in Image 2.

In Front of the police station, and behind the bus there were lots of different officers – wearing uniforms (same as before), approximately 10 officers.  There were also lots of police motorcycles and cars (see Image 3 and Image 4)

 

Image 3: Scoda Octavia Greek Police Car as identified by the respondent
Image 4: Honda Translap 650 – main motorcycle of the Greek Police – as identified by the respondent

They were then taken away in this bus. They drove for about 1 hour. Their driving was very fast. They arrived at a new place, which was a small house with no signs. There were lots of people inside (but unsure of the number). Outside there were no houses nearby, only trees, no lights and no fences. They were not taken inside, they were just held in the yard in front of the house.

There were people in this yard, officers to be precise. The respondent was not able to say how many because he was very stressed. Lots of these officers were wearing balaclavas. Two of these officers in the yard were wearing police uniforms, as pictured below in Image 5, wearing balaclavas.

Image 5: Greek police officers uniforms

The whole bus was emptied, all 51 people, and taken out into the yard. According to the respondent, the group was forced to undress. The women were not undressed, they were just checked, but the children were undressed. There was also violence from the officers in this yard against the group, but they did not beat the children. No one in the group said anything because when they were undressing people they were beating them on the faces with wooden sticks. The officers that beat the group with a stick were 4 in number and were not wearing uniforms (civilian clothed). Two of these officers were wearing balaclavas and thought to be Greek. The other two were not wearing balaclavas and were believed to be either Pakistani or Afghan, but definitely not Syrian. This whole ordeal lasted for 2 hours. Their clothes were not returned to them.

The respondent was not able to say how many people were inside the house but could see from the yard/ entrance where they were. It looked like inside the building there were separate rooms, like jail cells.

They were put back in the bus after 2 hours, all 51 people. They were driven for about 2 hours – very fast – until they reached the border.

When they arrived at the border there were 6 more officers – 4 wearing masks, wearing uniforms, as pictured in Image 6. The respondent described these officers as “very strong men”.

Image 6: Special Police Guards (Ειδικοί Φρουροί)

Then, the other two officers  – thought to be Pakistani/Afghan  – the ones at the previous detention site – who were without balaclavas and in civilian clothes. These two officers took them all out of the bus.

When they were unloaded, they could only see trees. There was a big dog attached to one of the trees that was very close to the group and scared people. People were ordered to sit on the ground for two hours. While they sat and waited, the two officers thought to be Pakistani/Afghan went to check the border to see if there were any Turkish authorities around. They eventually came back, and the group was made to start to walk at about 3 am in the morning on 9th November. The respondent was not able to identify the exact location of where the pushback occurred, but based on time and distance calculated of how long it took him to get back to Istanbul, it was most likely close to Lavara.

They walked for about 1.5 hours, and it took a long time as they had to keep sitting down many times (ordered to do so) to avoid being seen. When they arrived at the river, there was no one there. But on the other side of the river, they saw the Turkish authorities. The group had to wait 40 minutes to 1 hour until they had gone. 

Then, they were organised into groups of 10 people, and placed into a small rubber boat 5x2m which was on the edge of the river. This boat made its way across to the other side, ferrying people across in groups of 10 at a time. The two people driving the boat were the “Pakistani/Afghan” officers. There was an engine on the boat but they were not actually using it, instead they had tied a rope across the river to pull them across the river. The respondent was in the second trip of boats that crossed the river. The respondent was not able to identify the exact location of where the pushback occurred, but based on time and distance calculated of how long it took him to get back to Istanbul, it was most likely close to Alibey.

When the respondent made it across, with the rest of the group, he managed to find the Moroccan guys so he could speak to them. He said he wanted to go to Istanbul, and asked them if they wanted to come with him. He explained he knew people there. They walked until they found taxis – for approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour. They passed by many houses and lots sheep.

The taxi was driving past them and stopped to pick them up. The journey took about one hour until they stopped again. They stopped again because they were undressed and they didn’t want to get to Istanbul undressed. They found a bus – a small bus for 9 people – and took about 1.5 hours to get there, but could not be sure as he was very stressed.