“I can’t swim, if I crossed the river I would die.”

  • Date and time: October 27, 2020 00:00
  • Location: Soufli/Meriç
  • Coordinates: 41.1943451, 26.2992566
  • Push-back from: Greece
  • Push-back to: Turkey
  • Demographics: 80 person(s), age: 1-70 , from: Syria, Morocco, Egypt
  • Minors involved? Yes
  • Violence used: beating (with batons/hands/other), kicking, pushing people to the ground, water immersion, theft of personal belongings, reckless driving
  • Police involved: 6 Greek policemen in blue uniforms, minimum four masked men wearing black, two vans, two German cars and two Romanian hatchback vehicles. 20 Turkish police officers.
  • Taken to a police station?: unknown
  • 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: Anonymous Partner

Original Report

This pushback included 80-90 people who were pushed back from Greece to Turkey. The group of people included families, women, babies, children and elderly people, with the ages ranging from babies/ toddlers (approx 1 years old to 3 years old) and up to elderly people (approx 60-70 years old).

The respondent was apprehended in Mandra. He had crossed with six people: two Moroccan women, three Moroccan men and one Algerian man. They were trying to follow GPS on the respondents phone, but it did not work. They all ended up splitting up and the respondent stayed with the Algerian man. The two of them ended up lost in a forest for five days and then went their separate ways.

The respondent went to a village near Mandra where someone helped him and gave him some food, but said “please do not stay here, because if the police come I will get in trouble”. He then went to another village where a woman helped him. She gave him some food, water and directed him to a bus stop. While he was waiting for the bus to arrive, there were some police cars nearby that he did not notice. When the bus arrived, he spoke to the driver and asked for a ticket to Thessaloniki, speaking in German and English to pretend that he was a tourist. The bus driver said the ticket will be 40 euros, so the respondent paid and while waiting for the change the police that had been watching him, apprehended him. Three policemen took him, all dressed in dark blue uniforms.

The police took him to a small detention site on the other side of the highway. It was just one room with no cells. There were 10 other people in there. The police changed shifts and three more came in, dressed in dark blue uniforms. The respondent met an Egyptian man who had been able to hide his phone in his jacket. The respondent took the phone and went into the toilets to take three short videos of one German car, Opel, and two Romanian hatchback vehicles. The respondent does not have the videos as he did not see the Egyptian man again who still has the phone. The police took the respondents jacket and threw it in the bin. He also told them he was Egyptian, because he believes that if he said he was Moroccan, they would have hit him.

He stayed for an hour before he was taken by a police car, which was a white Mercedes, to a police station. Then at night, men dressed in black and wearing balaclavas came and took him in a vehicle similar to the previous white van. There were 60 people inside the van. It was dark and the officers were driving fast and turning sharply which meant people in the van were hitting into each other and getting hurt. The respondent believes that this driving was deliberate. The policemen drove like this for an hour before they arrived at the Evros river. 

When they arrived, they were told not to talk. Another van arrived which carried about 30 people. Everyone was gathered on the river bank. Approximately 80-90 people were gathered – old women, kids, different nationalities, all together. The respondent specifically remembers a Syrian family. The policemen searched them again before they loaded them onto a boat. A Syrian man and an Afghan man were driving the boat to the other side.

The men were sending them in groups of 12 in a boat. But, when they were crossing the river, the Syrian and Afghan did not take them all the way to the other side. The boat stopped in the middle of the river and the drivers forced them out of the boat. The water level was up to a grown man’s chest. But the water was running fast and the current was strong so they all had to walk slowly because if they walked fast, the current would take them away. The children were carried across by the people who were able to stand. “All the people cried, the kids cried, the women cried, people were cold” he explained.

When they arrived on the other side in Turkey, there were lots of people. After walking for a while on the Turkish side, they were caught by 20 Turkish policemen. The policemen gave them water and bread and took the families, women and kids by car. The respondent was not sure where the families were going but it seemed that they were sent back to the city where they came from.

The Turkish police took 20 single men, including the respondent, and walked them to the shore of the river. The police said “you will go back to Greece”. The respondent and the others refused but the police demanded. The respondent has difficulty in breathing so he pretended that he couldn’t breathe. One policeman hit him with a gun on his chest. When he fell down, another came and kicked him in the head. He was hit on his back with a stick three times until the stick broke. He fell further and rolled but a tree stopped him. But he still continued to pretend to struggle to breathe. But then, a policeman said to another guy “take him and go to Istanbul”. He said thank you to the respondent, stating that “because of you I can go back to Istanbul. I can’t swim, if I crossed the river I would die”.