“Witnessing torture in the Soufli Police Station”

  • Date and time: September 26, 2020 00:00
  • Location: 41°19'29.9"N 26°29'43.1"E
  • Coordinates: 41.3249375, 26.4953125
  • Pushback from: Greece
  • Pushback to: Turkey
  • Demographics: 3 person(s), age: 25-30 , from: Turkey (Kurdish)
  • Minors involved? No
  • Violence used: theft of personal belongings
  • Police involved: 2 persons in plain clothes (one wearing army trousers), 1 Turkish-speaking Greek policewoman, 1 Greek officer in military clothes with balaclava,
  • Taken to a police station?: yes
  • Treatment at police station or other place of detention: personal information taken, denial of food/water
  • Was the intention to ask for asylum expressed?: Yes
  • Reported by: Anonymous Partner

Original Report

The respondents, two Kurdish men, 26 and 30 years old, came to Greece because they were fleeing political persecution in Turkey, the country of their citizenship. They were in the town of Didimoticho at the bus station a bit before 8 am, together with a Kurdish woman friend, also fleeing persecution in Turkey. They had bought bus tickets for Thessaloniki and waited for the bus. Just when they were about to board the bus, two persons approached them. They were wearing plain clothes, just one of them was wearing army trousers. They asked the transit group for their passports. The two strangers did not identify themselves as police officers, but the three assumed they were officers. The three told them that they do not have passports and that they are refugees from Turkey. The two people assumed to be police took the transit group into a white van with no official signs and no windows in the back. 

After a 10-15 minutes drive, they brought the transit group to a police station. They could not see the surrounding, because the car arrived backwards directly at the building’s entrance. At the entrance, the police searched their bodies and belongings and took away their phones. The respondent and others from the transit group expressed their wish to apply for asylum. A woman police officer who knew some Turkish was asking them questions about the reason for their arrival, their experience of persecution in Turkey, and personal and biometric information, while filling out a form. No photos or fingerprints were taken. The police officers made the respondent and his two companions sign the forms, without explaining what their purpose was, and took them to a detention cell. The place was in a bad condition; it was old, dirty, full of garbage, and had writings on the wall. There were a lot of different people passing by, some in police uniforms, some in plain clothes, some wearing balaclavas.

At the police station, they were not treated with violence. They were in the cell alone and did not receive any food or water and could not speak with anyone, as they did not see the Turkish-speaking police woman again. After a few hours, 60-70 other people from other countries – Pakistan, Afghanistan, maybe Syria – including men, women, and children, were brought to other cells. The respondent heard sounds and screams from those cells, which led them to believe that the people in the other cells were subjected to torture. 

Before being apprehended by the police, the three had given the information about their location to a Greek lawyer, who was calling to all border police stations and asked for them, but the police told the lawyer that they were not there.

When the three were taken out of the cell, they saw the results of torture with their own eyes. Two people were lying in blood at the station’s entrance; one has a broken leg. There were officers in plain clothes with balaclavas holding long wooden sticks, who must have beaten the people, as the respondents reasoned. 

The three received back their clothes and bags, but not their phones. They were put in the same kind of unmarked white van, which was filled with blood as a result of torture of other refugees, as the respondents assumed. They were brought to the Evros river by an officer in army clothes wearing a balaclava, at around 6 pm, after about 10-minute drive. They told the officers again that they are political refugees fleeing Turkey and wished to apply for asylum, but it did not make any difference. The masked officer was jokingly saying that they should try again the next day. The officers did not want to speak more, they were in a hurry to get them across the border. Two people were waiting with an inflatable black dinghy at the river. According to the respondents, there were both Kurds from Western Kurdistan/Syria, as they exchanged a few words. 

After the three were brought across the river, they did not know where to go, as they did not know where they were and they were afraid to be caught by the Turkish soldiers. The masked man had told them to go in a certain direction, but they realized that he was sending them towards Turkish soldiers, so they went another way. They walked and arrived near a village. A villager took them to Edirne, from where they took a bus to Istanbul. They stayed in hiding at a friends’ home, until they crossed the border again after about 6 days. The respondents had been imprisoned for their political activities as university students and they had a prohibition of leaving the country. Were they caught by the Turkish authorities, they would have been imprisoned again.

 

When they fled Turkey the second time, they arrived in the town of Lagina, Greece. They asked a woman working in a cafe to call the police, as they were planning to apply for international protection. The police arrived with a police car and were wearing police uniforms. The group explained that they flee political persecution in Turkey and wish to apply for asylum in Greece. The police officers called a white van with no marks and brought them to the Soufili police station. Inside the police station, there were only Turkish citizens. However, there were many other people kept in a concrete backyard of the Soufili police station – Syrians, Afghans, Iranians, Pakistanians, Bangladeshis, among whom there were many women, children, and babies, who did not get any food or water. The three were giving some water and bread to those people, but the police yelled at them and threatened them. 150-200 of these people-on-the-move were being loaded on trucks, vans, and busses to be pushed-back every day, while the Turkish citizens were being kept at the police station and were given the right to apply for asylum.

While the three were detained at the police station of Soufli, they had a chance to spend time with some of the migrant/refugee dinghy-drivers. They spoke with a Kurdish youth from Syria. He explained to them that they are doing this job for three months – working with the Greek police by sending back the newly arriving refugees by dinghy – and after that they are given residence permits. This must be a general policy of the Greek state, the respondents said, because they met these people in two different locations and also heard similar narratives about refugee dinghy-drivers from other people who experienced pushbacks. 

At the end of our interview, our interlocutors wished to emphasize the torture of other people-on-the-move they have witnessed. They said that the police were not violent to them, because Turkish citizens bring cases of injustice to the media. The respondents suggested that it was the people in plain clothes wearing balaclavas who were torturing people-on-the-move.