The respondent is a 22-year-old man from Syria. He was travelling in a group of 6 men aged between 22 and 30 from Morocco, Algeria and Syria. The group crossed the border on the 8th October 2021 at around 9pm. The respondent stated that they crossed the border at the fence between Karaağaç and Bosna.
After crossing the border, the group walked between 15 and 20kms to Orestiada. Here they bought a bus ticket to Thessaloniki for 11am the next day. While the group waited for the bus just before 11am on the 9th October an officer approached them. The officer was wearing civilian clothes, a white shirt, black jacket and blue jeans with white sneakers, and carried a gun. The officer asked in English for the respondent’s passport and asked where he was from. The respondent replied that he was Syrian, and the officer told him to follow him. The respondent told the officer that he wished to apply for asylum and go to a camp in Thessaloniki but the officer ignored him.
The respondent and his group followed the officer to a white Mercedes van, identified by the respondent like the one in the image below.
Waiting at the car was another officer, also wearing civilian clothes. The officers loaded the group into the truck and there was one 26 year old Algerian male already inside. The officers drove for 30 minutes to the detention site. The officers drove recklessly, originally on a paved road but then an unpaved road as the journey progressed. The trunk of the van did not have windows so the group could not see the road.
The group arrived at the detention site at around 2pm. The building was in the middle of a forest, was surrounded by a fence and had a big door. There was a small yard in front of the building. At the detention site there were 2 officers wearing an olive green uniform of shirt and pants. Both officers wore gloves.
The officers told the group to remove all their clothing. They spoke some English, but used signs to make themselves understood, and slapped the respondent when he did not understand. All members of the group were totally naked, and people passing the detention site were about to see them. The officers took phones, money, bags, cigarettes, and shoes from the group and only returned their underwear. Again, the respondent told the officer he wished to apply for asylum, but the officer punched him in the stomach and told him to go.
The officers loaded the group into a cell. The cell was 5m by 4m and the ground was dirty. The cell contained only 4 bunk beds without mattresses. The group was left in the cell for 8 hours without anything to eat or drink. The officers did not take their fingerprints or photographs. When the group entered the cell there were no other people inside, but the officers brought around 5 or 10 people to the cell every hour, meaning that at the end of the 8 hours there were approximately 75 people inside.
Those in the cell were Afghan, Algerian, Syrian, Moroccan and Somalian and were aged between 18 and 44. One person in the cell was female and the respondents could hear the screaming and talking of other women in another cell but could not see them. The respondent stated that from the language he could hear he believed they were of African origin.
After 8 hours in the cell, the officers took the group to the pushback site. There were 8 officers wearing a black uniform with balaclavas and holding tree branch batons and carrying guns.
The guns carried by the officers were identified by the respondent as resembling the image below.
The officers loaded the group of 75 people into a van that looked identical to the one used previously. They also loaded another cell of people into another white van. The respondent could not see clearly but estimated at least 10 vans were present at the site.
The officers drove the group to the pushback site for 40 minutes. The driving was fast and reckless, and those in the back collided with each other, while many people struggled to breathe. The van was driven for 20 minutes on a paved road and the remainder on an unpaved road.
When the van arrived at the pushback site at approximately 7pm, there were almost 100 people waiting at the site. The respondent estimated there were around 160 people in total at the pushback site and nationalities included Afghan, Syrian, Algerian, Moroccan, and Somalian. There were also around 15 women in the group, and around 4 or 5 children, accompanied by their parents.
At the pushback site, there were 10 more officers, bringing the total number of officers to 18 at the pushback site. These officers all wore the same black uniform with balaclavas, with insignia. The officers spoke Greek to each other, English to the group and some words of Turkish.
The officers forced everyone to get out of the truck and kneel in a line, still wearing only underwear. They left people to kneel in a line while they searched people in groups of 20 at a time. The people who were searched were also beaten with branches. The children and most of the women were not searched, but one woman was searched by a male officer.
Some people were only hit once or twice with the batons, but 2 Algerian males were beaten with a branch for 5 minutes after the officers found money on them. The officers focused on the head when beating people.
The pushback site was in a big forest with empty land, about 30m from the Evros/ Meriç river. After the group was searched the officers took people 10 at a time to the river. There was a single white plastic boat waiting by the water’s edge with no engine.
There were 10 people from the detained group in each boat and 2 officers. These officers wore the same uniform of black clothes and balaclavas but spoke Arabic. They cursed at the group in Arabic when they struggled to sit on the boat and hit them with branches.
The respondent was in the 5th or 6th group of 10 people to cross the river. They took the respondent to the other side of the river, but the respondent watched the officers force some people to jump in the river, including some of the women. The respondent identified the area on the other side of the river as Kapıkule.
On the other side of the river the group did not stay together. The respondent walked briefly into the Bulgarian side of the border. They asked for help at a gas station, and someone gave them food, water, and some old clothes, as they were only wearing underwear. From here the group made their way back to Edirne.