“They put me into the van like an animal”

  • Date and time: September 4, 2020 23:00
  • Location: Ipsala, Turkey
  • Coordinates: 40.943838977088, 26.357152321134
  • Push-back from: Greece
  • Push-back to: Turkey
  • Demographics: 110 person(s), age: 20-45 years old , from: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Syria, Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Lebanon, Turkey (Kurdish)
  • Minors involved? Unknown
  • Violence used: beating (with batons/hands/other), kicking, pushing people to the ground, forcing to undress, theft of personal belongings
  • Police involved: 5 greek army soldiers, wearing black masks and helmets, one truck and one riot bus, one van.
  • Taken to a police station?: yes
  • Treatment at police station or other place of detention: detention, denial of access to toilets, denial of food/water
  • Was the intention to ask for asylum expressed?: No
  • Reported by: Mobile Info Team

Original Report

On Friday morning, September 4th, 2020, the respondent, a 35-year-old man from Pakistan, was sleeping in a shared tent at the Diavata camp of Thessaloniki. Between 7:00-8:00 am, while other people in the camp were still sleeping, two police officers, one man and one woman dressed in black uniforms, entered the tent and told the respondent and the other man in the tent, that they were from the Greek police and that the two of them should get out of the tent. After they left the tent, the police officers told him that he should not take a bag with him, because they will come back with him later to get it. 

Subsequently, the two men were then handcuffed and brought near the management office of the camp, where already six other people were sitting in handcuffs, four men from Morocco, as well as an older Lebanese woman with her adult son. The respondent, who was living in Greece since two years and therefore speaks Greek, reported that the two police officers started to communicate in Greek with each other, confirming that 30 people in total have been taken into custody and thus “the operation” would be complete now, enabling them to leave. They then put the eight people into a white van, which had metal windows on the side and a small hole in the roof for air circulation. Another police officer, also dressed in black clothing, was driving the van. The respondent remembered that the two officers were telling the driver to bring the people to the police station. He estimated that the car ride took about 10 minutes.

Once the respondent and the other seven people reached the police station, the police officer, who was driving the van, escorted all of them into the police station, which was on the first floor of the building, and left. Seven or eight police officers, who were dressed in casual clothes, were at the police station and started to take the personal belongings of the respondent and the other seven people. 

The respondent stated that the police took “everything, each and everything”, including all of the money in his pockets, which amounted to about 270 euros, and his mobile phone. The officers told him that he was supposed to give everything in his possession to them. They then took his personal belongings and put them into a plastic bag together with a piece of paper, on which they wrote the number 15. The respondent did not receive his belongings back from the police. 

Afterward, he was brought into one of the cells at the police station, in which about 35 people have been detained with him. He was able to recognize some of the persons in the cell as also coming from the Diavata camp. In the cell were some of the other men from the van in which he was brought from the camp to the police station, as well as other people he had not seen before. In the cell were only young men, whose age the respondent estimated to be from 25 to 36 years old. The respondent recalled the men being from Pakistan, Turkey (Kurdish), Morocco, Algeria, and Syria. No women were in the cell of the respondent, and the Lebanese woman that was also brought to the police station from the camp was sitting on a chair in front of the cell. In regard to the condition of the cell, the respondent described it as “hell on earth”, and that he was not able to sleep in it, because it was a “very dirty place” which “smelled very bad”.

After about three to four hours, everyone was taken away from the police station. The respondent recalled that first the detainees from the other cell were brought away, and after about 30 minutes he and the people in his cell were taken to a building that he described as the “Kordello prison”. Since he was at police stations in Greece before, he recognized the building as being a police station. The transport was conducted in a white van with no windows, that looked similar to the one in which the respondent was transferred from the Diavata camp to the police station, and two officers in black police uniforms were responsible for the transfer. One of them was driving, and the other one was sitting with the detainees in the back of the van. Once the van reached the courtyard of the “prison”, the two policemen put the men out of the white van and left the scene.

The respondent estimated being in the courtyard of the “Kordello prison” for about ten to fifteen minutes, and that due to the sunlight, the time of the day must have been around 14:00. When the men left the white van, they were awaited by five men, dressed in casual clothes, who were standing in front of a big blue bus. The detainees were told to come out of the white van and to stand up in one line in front of the bus. Four of the unidentified men started to search the pockets of the detainees and ordered them to remove their clothes to conduct body searches. The respondent did not want to allow a body search, and perceived the conduct as very shameful, but cooperated anyway due to his fear of getting beaten by the police officers. He was also asked by one of the four men whether he had anything in his pocket, which he denied by explaining that the police at the police station had already taken all of his belongings.

Afterward, the detainees were handcuffed and put on the bus. The bus had eight to ten small rooms, which each fitted 4 men inside. One of the five men, who has not been conducting the body searches, was responsible for opening and locking the doors inside the bus. The respondent did not recall seeing any woman in the courtyard or inside the blue bus.

They were driving for about three hours before the bus stopped on a road near the highway. While driving, the respondent looked out of the window of the bus and saw that they were driving in the direction of Xanthi. The detainees were let out of the bus by an unidentified number of officers, who were dressed in casual clothes and armed with guns and metal batons. The men were told to quickly go into a van that was parked next to the blue bus and to sit down there. The respondent had the impression that the officers were “look[ing] around to see if no one was watching”. Around 34 men were put inside the white van, that had no windows and only a small hole in the roof for the air to circulate through. The respondent described the seating capacity in the van as being for 20 people and the air in the van as not being enough – “they put me into the van like an animal”. 

The detainees were in the white van for about one and a half to two hours, before they reached a building that the respondent described as a police station. When they left the van, there was still sunlight outside and five police officers were awaiting them. The detainees were checked once more and ordered to remove their shoes. The shoes of the respondent, as well as the ones of the other detainees were taken away by the police and put into a bin. He was then pushed into a cell, where already around 250 to 280 people were sitting inside. The respondent described most of the men inside the cell being between 20 and 35 years old. He estimated that the men came from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Morocco, Algeria, Syria and that a few people were from Libya and Lebanon. The cell itself was described by the respondent as being “not very big”, having no adequate space to sit or sleep, and with “a lot of dirty toilets” of which “water [was] coming out”. The respondent did not receive any water or food. Women and families were put into another room, which the respondent described as “a room for the police”, instead of a cell.

After three to four hours, five men, described as army soldiers who were wearing black masks covering their face and neck, helmets, as well as long and short guns, opened the cell and told the people to get into a truck. It was already dark outside. Around 70 to 75 people were put into a small truck and then driven off. Afterward came a van in which another 40 to 45 people had to go in. Everyone had to stand in the van because there was no space for everyone to sit down.

After a ten to fifteen minutes drive, the van in which the respondent was standing in stopped at the Meric River along the Greek/Turkish border. The soldiers told everyone to come out and to silently sit down in a line near the river. The people were transported in groups of twelve to fifteen people with a dinghy to the Turkish side. Four men from Afghanistan and Pakistan were cooperating with the soldiers to bring the people to the other side of the river. On the Greek side were the Greek army soldiers, while two of the men were driving the dinghy, and the other two were waiting on the Turkish side of the river to help the people out of the boat.

Once the respondent was brought to the other side of the river, he waited for his friend who was in the line behind him. He was not able to see the Greek side of the river due to the lack of light, but he was able to hear people screaming. After three days of walking without shoes, the respondent reached Istanbul together with a man from Afghanistan.