In the early afternoon of September 19th a 33-year-old Moroccan man was beaten, verbally assaulted, and pushed back over the Bulgarian border to Turkey. One smuggler was present at the onset of their journey.
After paying 700 euros to the smuggler, the respondent and six other companions – aged between 20-40 years old, from Lebanon, Iraq, Libya, Morocco – were taken 30km towards the Bulgarian border. The time was approximately 8:00am. They were crossing from near to Suakacağı. While waiting near the border before crossing over, they spotted a Bulgarian officer patrolling. After around an hour, they crossed the border.
The group continued walking towards Varnik where they intended to get a ride from another smuggler into Sofia. Only 2km before reaching Varnik, the smuggler who had taken them to Suakacağı called one of the men in the group, informing them that border guards were approaching them from behind. They began to walk fast but soon came face-to-face with a patrol car. They were surrounded.
Attempting to avoid capture, the respondent ran but was soon fired at by one of the officers. Scared for his life, he stopped – hands raised, conceding to whatever would come. The respondent was met by a strong blow to the face by the officer’s foot, then a punch. He soon stared down the barrel of the officer’s gun (see Image 1). “Shte te ubiya – I will kill you,” threatened the officer. When the respondent then asked for asylum, the officer laughed and said, “I will kill you if you [come] back to Bulgaria again.” The verbal harassment continued until the respondent was forced to rejoin the group of six.
He found the remaining officers guarding his travel companions. There were four officers in total. Three were dressed in green sage uniforms, including a Bulgarian flag and ‘Border Police’ written on the back (see Imagine 2). The fourth wore a black Frontex uniform with a Bulgarian flag on his chest along with a blue armband (see Image 3). The cars that surrounded them were two deep green LandRover Discovery including ‘CB’ on the license plate – the city code of Sofia (see Image 4).
The respondent was searched and stripped of all possessions – including his phone and cash. When reportedly imploring one of the officers to return his papers, the officer responded by asking the respondent in Bulgarian to “kiss his shoes….” and kicked him in the stomach. With the seven now under the police’s control, the respondent was ordered to strip completely naked and demanded to bring the officer a branch. Wearing only his socks, the officer beat him for 20 minutes using the branch and while another officer whipped him with the belt of another travelers’ trousers. The other group members were subjected to similar beatings, though only for two-three seconds while clothed. The time was approximately 12:00.
The group was then forcibly loaded into the jeeps’ trunks – three people in one car and four in the other. They were driven recklessly for approximately five kms towards the border on an unpaved road, with no view to the outside despite the high heat. The trunk was reportedly no bigger than two-meters by one-meter with virtually no room to move. Limited by the sheer density of the people, breathing quickly became difficult. Yelling through the trunk, the group cried out to the officers to “open the window so we can breathe…but [they] didn’t care.” After 15 minutes, the cars came to a stop. Speaking through the fenced window of the trunk, all seven were commanded to get out.
As the door of the trunk opened, the officers reportedly used batons – hitting the men as they spilled out of the vehicles. The respondent found himself surrounded by a forest near Matochina. On a nearby mountainside, he reportedly spotted a huge swath of plants that looked like Marijuana. There, the group were hurriedly pushed back over the Turkish border. Back on Turkish soil, the group of six ran towards Edirne – leaving the respondent to walk the remaining six kms back to Edirne naked and alone.
From the time of apprehension to pushback, the group was given neither food nor water. No one’s fingerprints were taken nor papers signed.