A 30-year-old Tunisian man was pushed back from Serbia to North Macedonia and then from North Macedonia to Greece.
The respondent stayed in Tutin camp in southwestern Serbia. This report corresponds with an earlier report from April 2020, in which 17 people were pushed back from Tutin camp to North Macedonian and four days later to Greece.
On the morning of the 22nd of October 2020, the respondent was sleeping when 10 Serbian police officers in black uniforms and balaclavas entered the container where he was living. They gained access by breaking the door.
“The police came, open our doors, break our doors.”
The respondent shared the container with another 19 men from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.
The police lined up all the people inside and started to beat them one by one. The respondent stated that his hands were repeatedly beaten with a baton. This left him with extensive bruising, which was still visible weeks after the assault. He explained the motive for the beatings as the following:
“They are beating us just because they think we are hiding our money and we don’t wanna give them our money. That is the first reason.”
The respondent did not remember how many police officers entered the Tutin camp in total, but asserted seeing six police cars and one blue police bus around the camp. The police unit included police dogs.
Mainly families and minors live in the camp. The respondent believes that the men were targeted due to their national origin. No one else was taken by the police, he noted.
“They collect everyone that look Arab and they send them back to here (Greece). The majority is the North Africans – Moroccans, Algerians and Tunisians.”
Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia are deemed “safe” countries by a number of European states. This allows the countries to deny individual claims of asylum.
The respondent along with the people from his container were brought to a “blue police bus.” It had small cells inside. They were not informed by the police about where they were being taken.
Then, the convoy of vehicles (three police cars in front of and three behind the bus) drove for approximately 4 hours.
During the ride, one police officer collected each person’s backpack, money and phones, whilst another checked each of the bags in the back of the bus. These personal belongings were never returned.
They stopped in a wooded area close to Slanishte, a suburb of Tabanovtse in North Macedonia. There, the police followed the same procedure. The people were beaten with batons and their clothes were checked for money once more.
Then, at around 11pm the police officers ordered them to cross into North Macedonia. As they started to walk, the officers threatened to kill the people in case they would return. “If you come back we will kill you,” the respondent attested.
The approximate location is indicated below (42.233194, 21.694639).
Once in North Macedonia, the transit group split up. The respondent stayed in a group of around 12 people and made their way to the nearby village of Tabanovtse a few kilometres away from the border (see map above). The whereabouts of the other 8 people-on-the-move are unknown.
In the village, residents provided the respondent and his group with food and water.
The next morning, the group left the village around 8:45 am. They were walking for approximately 15 minutes away from the village when a contingent of six North Macedonian army and police officers approached them by foot. According to the respondent, the four male police officers were dressed in blue police uniforms and the two male army officers were dressed in green military uniforms. All of them were wearing balaclavas.
In July 2020, the North Macedonian government announced that it was strengthening security on its southern and northern borders. This entailed allowing the army to enhance its presence and assist the police in controlling people crossing the border.
They stopped the group and made a call. An hour later at 10 am, a “big blue bus” arrived with two police officers clothed in blue uniforms.
Once the group entered the bus, they found another two men from Afghanistan. The ride lasted for around 3 hours.
The bus stopped at the North Macedonian-Greek border barrier close to the Greek village Idomeni. There were around 20 police officers in blue uniforms and balaclavas waiting. The respondent described them as “huge people.”
At the border, the officers beat them again with batons.
“Everywhere, they didn’t care.”
Then, at around 1 pm they “opened the door” and pushed the group of 14 into Greek territory. This gateway has been used to carry out pushbacks to Greece repeatedly as earlier BVMN reports show. In late 2015, the border was sealed off with a two-row barbed wire fence and now presents a complete blockage of North Macedonian’s southern border.
On the Greek side, the respondent saw approximately 50 people-on-the-move from Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. He recalled that there were “men, women, small children and babies.”
The people were pushed back and collected their money for transport back to Thessaloniki. The respondent traveled to Thessaloniki himself
He did not ask for asylum.