“We were [worried] that they would kill us and that no one would hear about [it]”

  • Date and time: October 9, 2021 13:00
  • Location: Belevren, Bulgaria to Topçular, Turkey
  • Coordinates: 42.0922652, 27.1768816
  • Pushback from: Bulgaria
  • Pushback to: Turkey
  • Demographics: 4 person(s), age: 22-23 years old , from: Morocco
  • Minors involved? No
  • Violence used: beating (with batons/hands/other), kicking, threatening with guns, forcing to undress, theft of personal belongings, reckless driving
  • Police involved: Total: 6x officers; Uniform: green sage; Vehicles: 2 Green-and-white jeeps; Languages spoken: Bulgarian.
  • Taken to a police station?: no
  • Treatment at police station or other place of detention:
  • Was the intention to ask for asylum expressed?: No
  • Reported by: josoor

Original Report

On the 9th of October a 25-year-old Moroccan was pushed back by Bulgarian authorities from Belevren, Bulgaria to Topçular, Turkey.

At around 10:00 on October the 6th the respondent and three other Moroccan men – aged 22 to 32 years, jumped over the Turkish border into Bulgaria. Two days prior, the group left their previous residence by foot until they reached a town near the border. They travelled for a total of approximately two days before crossing into Bulgaria. Once over the border, the four men walked for nearly three days straight, resting for only six hours during the daytime and walking by night. 

Stopping again for a short pause late morning of the 9th, the four men hid in a small forest near the town ​​of Bogdanovo. Overhearing whispers of something approaching, they were soon blind-sided by a group of three officers dressed in Bulgarian Border Guard uniforms (see Image 1). The time was 11AM. With guns raised at the travellers, the police began screaming in Bulgarian – telling them to sit, empty out their pockets, and hand over all possessions. The officers reportedly carried three hand-held weapons when they approached the group (see Image 2). Of the phones, power banks, money and bags given to the guards under duress, nothing was given back to the four men. The border guards were reportedly driving a green-and-white Jeep with Border Police written on the side (see Image 3).

Image 1: Uniform worn by the three Bulgarian border police officers who apprehended the group and an additional three who transported them to the pushback point.
Image 2: Gun used by the officers who first apprehended the respondent.
Image 3: Vehicle used by the border officers.

Physical violence began soon after the group was apprehended. Reportedly noticing the tattoo on a traveler’s hand, one officer gestured to the man’s arm – asking to see it.  With his arm now stretched out to display the image, the officer hit his hand with a plastic baton followed by a blow to the shoulder. The men were then told to strip as the officers searched each of them one-by-one. Completely naked, the group were left kneeling in the cold for around 30 minutes before their shirts and pants were returned to them. Ten minutes later, another Bulgarian Border Police jeep arrived at the site. 

From the second car, three officers filed out. The officers reportedly wore the same uniforms as those who apprehended the respondent (see Image 1). One officer came directly over to the group of four and began kicking them while screaming in Bulgarian. The four travelers were then forcibly loaded into the jeep’s trunk. Reportedly only measuring around 1 meter by 1 meter in size, the men were all crammed into the same jeep. At around 12:00 they were driven along an unpaved road to an unknown destination. With limited space and no windows, the four men could barely breathe  – colliding with one another given the hapless driving of the officers. 

After nearly an hour, the car came to a halt and the group was unloaded from the jeep. Around them, the respondent reportedly saw mainly forest, trees, and a fence with a small door. When the four men were pushed back, the officers unlocked the door in the fence and forced the men back over to Turkey near Topçular. On the Turkish side, the respondent spotted an unpaved road near a river. Bereft of their personal belongings other than a shirt and trousers, the men started down the unpaved road for around three hours before reaching a small town. From there, they continued another seven hours until finally reaching Edirne. The time was around 23:00. 

None of the four travellers requested asylum. The respondent reported that, “we heard about what Bulgarian officers do, we were afraid to talk….[worried] that they would kill us and [that] no one would hear about [it]”. From the point of apprehension until pushback, no food, water, or medical supplies were provided by the Bulgarian Border Police.