“I knew he would catch me…”

  • Date and time: October 6, 2021 09:00
  • Location: Mandra, Greece to Alibey, Turkey
  • Coordinates: 41.2425468, 26.354462
  • Pushback from: Greece
  • Pushback to: Turkey
  • Demographics: 200 person(s), age: 12-55 years old , from: Afghanistan, Syria, Morocco
  • Minors involved? Yes
  • Violence used: beating (with batons/hands/other), kicking, forcing to undress, theft of personal belongings, reckless driving
  • Police involved: GREECE - 17x officers; Uniform: 10 moss green, 1 dark blue, 1 Frontext, 2 black, 3 in civilian clothing; Balaclavas: 7 officers; Languages: Greek, English, (Syrian) Arabic | TURKEY - 12x military personnel; Uniform: 12 green camouflage; Languages: Turkish and (Syrian) Arabic
  • 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?: No
  • Reported by: josoor

Original Report

At 9:00 on the 6th of October 200 people from Morocco, Syria, and Afghanistan – including two women and four children, were pushed back from Mandra, Greece to Alibey, Turkey. One Frontex officer was present at the pushback site. 

One day prior, the respondent was driven by a smuggler at 12:00 from Istanbul to a small town near Edirne. Along with a group of 25 other men from Morocco ranging from 18 – 26 years in age, the group would pass over the border at around 19:00. Splitting the travelers into four smaller groups prior to crossing, the respondent and 10 other men were given a 2m x 2m black plastic boat to cross the river. The smuggler did not cross. While in the boat, the respondent noticed a drone above them presumably controlling the border. All of the 11 travelers made it across to Greece. 

Once on Greek soil, the men split into smaller groups – the respondent now traveling only with four other men. The group of five walked around 10KMs until reaching Orestiada highway. Only 1KM down the road, the men attempted to hide in the nearby forest but were startled by an unexpected light. Screaming at the group to stop walking, the respondent ran away from the approaching officers but soon fell. He didn’t move, accepting the fact that he would undoubtedly be caught. “I knew he would catch me…[so] I started repeating ‘sorry’  but once he arrived he kicked me [in] my chest, my back, and my face.” The time was 21:00. 

With all five travelers caught, the officers gathered the men into one location. In total, three officers were present. All wore green sage uniforms (see Image 1). Each of the three officers carried guns (see Image 2). When addressing the group, the officers spoke in English and with each other in Greek. When gathered, the five men were told to sit, not move, and to hand over their phones. They were then told to lay on their stomachs. None of the phones were returned. After one hour of lying face-down on the ground, a white van driven by two police officers arrived at the site (see Image 3). One policeman reportedly wore a blue uniform while the other dressed in civilian clothing (see Image 4). All five men were loaded into the trunk of the van. There were no other passengers in the vehicle. 

Image 1: Greek uniforms worn by three officers who apprehended the respondent and four travel companions
Image 2: Guns carried by three officers.
Image 3: Vehicle used to transport the respondent and four other men to the first detention site.
Image 4: Uniform worn by one of the two police officers who transported the five men to the first detention centre.

The men were then transported to an unknown location along an unpaved road for approximately 30 minutes. Crammed in the back trunk, the respondent couldn’t see anything around him. The two officers reportedly drove recklessly. When they arrived, the respondent got out and immediately saw a building with a two-meter fence guarding a weathered building in the middle of a forest. There was reportedly a small yard in the front of the building and no other structures in the surrounding area. In the yard, the respondent was met by five other guards – three of whom wore the same moss green uniforms as the first officers (see Image 1). The remaining two only wore civilian clothing. All five were then forced to strip naked and were searched. The three officers wearing green slapped the men while searching them. Their clothing, bags, jackets, and all remaining supplies were taken by the officers. Only their shirts and trousers were returned. 

The group was then taken into a cell where they found already 16 other people detained, all of whom were reportedly Afghan. Inside, the respondent reported that the cell was no longer than 7 by 4 meters with an old toilet inside. The ages of the fellow detainees were between 17 to 35 years old. Two women were present. On the wall, the respondent found messages from previous detainees. The respondent remained here for nearly 10 hours. During the time of forced detainment, more people arrived – totaling around 130 people in one cell. The group was now made up of children and adults, with ages ranging from 12 – 55 years old. Four minors between 12 – 17 years old were present. Nationalities of the cell’s occupants were reportedly Afghan, Syrian, and Moroccan. Neither food nor water was provided throughout the entire period of detainment. No translators were present nor photos were taken. 

At nearly 7:00 the next morning, all 130 people were removed from the cell and loaded into a white van (previously used to transport the respondent) along with a military truck (see Image 2 and Image 5). All officers present were the same as the prior day. The respondent and 30 others were loaded into the white van, while the remaining 100 were packed into another military transport. When all travelers were loaded into the two vehicles, they were driven for around 45 minutes to another detention site where more people were then loaded into another military truck. After around 15 minutes, the three vehicles started up again, driving for around 30 minutes until reaching their end destination: Evros/Meriç River. 

Image 5: Vehicle used to transport 100 of the 130 detainees to the pushback point.

When unloaded from the van, seven new officers were awaiting them. Of the seven, four were wearing the same moss green uniform as the previous officers (see Image 1). One was reportedly dressed in dark blue and two in black uniforms (see Image 6 and Image 7). All were carrying balaclavas. The travelers were addressed in English by all but one officer – dressed in moss green uniform, who reportedly spoke to them in Syrian Arabic. Catching a glimpse of the surrounding area before being ordered to look at the ground, the respondent saw few signs of life. The only distinct characteristic was the sound of someone cutting wood in the forest near to them. Gathered near the river, the group had reportedly grown to around 200 people including the 130 with whom the respondent was initially detained. The demographics were the same: Moroccan, Afghan, and Syrian. 

Image 6: Uniforms worn by two officers at the pushback point.
Image 7: Uniform worn by one officer at the pushback point.

At the edge of the river, the group was told not to move. The respondent noted that “if you make any move [the police] beat you.” Physical beatings were mainly with branches, metal batons, or plastic rods which lasted around two to three seconds. A plastic boat measuring 1 by 3 meters sat near the group. Before forcibly loading part of the group into the boat, the officers searched the respondent again – taking 180 euros he had hidden from the other officers. The money was never given back. 

Around 180 of the 200 travelers – including the four minors, were loaded into the small, plastic boat and pushed back over the river. The respondent and 20 others were told by the officer to instead walk across the river. With two officers paddling in the boat and 21 men wading through the river, the group arrived at around 11:00 AM to Turkey. On the other side waiting for them was a group of seven Turkish military personnel in camouflage. Of the seven men, one reportedly spoke fluent Arabic in a Syrian dialect. The 200 people were then loaded into two military trucks and transported to a Turkish detention center around 25 minutes from the pushback point in Alibey. The detention site was reportedly a white building with “red bricks on the top of the wall and a big door for the truck”. Once unloaded from the vehicles, the group was met by another set of five officers – all of whom were also in green camouflage uniforms. Inside the detention center, the respondent was reportedly given food, water and was overall treated well. Ten hours later, the respondent was released. The time was 23:00 on 16/10/2021.