On the 31st of August, 2020, a group of 16 people crossed the border from Meric, Turkey. 12 of them made an onward journey by car, the respondent and three of his friends continued by foot. They walked six days and reached Alexandropouli.
Their plan was to walk to Thessaloniki but shortly before they reached Alexandropouli, one of the group injured his ankle. He told the others to leave him there and continue, but they refused and carried him to the bus station in Alexandropouli to continue by bus. They arrived there at around 05:00 on 5th September 2020.
They were able to purchase the tickets and get on the bus but then, Greek police arrived. The respondents believed that the people at the ticket counter had called the police.The officers came in a white car. Two police officers were wearing blue uniforms with Greek flags and boots. They got out of the car. Two in civilian clothes stayed inside the car.
The uniformed officers got on the bus and asked them where they were from and if they had passports or other IDs. When they said they did not have either, they were handcuffed and taken off the bus and into the car.
They point out that they were not beaten at the bus stop because there were many people present, and they had their handcuffs removed inside the car.
They were driven to Didymoteicho. In the detention site there, the respondent did not want to enter and pleaded with the officers not to be returned to Turkey. One of the officers took him by his feet and dragged him across the floor, another burned him with his cigarette.
There was a Syrian family with small children, Egyptians, Pakistani, Algerians, and many Moroccans. In total around 70 or 80 people, all naked. There was one big room with a very smelly toilet. There were some short, thin mattresses. They said the room did not look like a normal prison or police station but more like a stable. On the toilet there was a small window outside. The respondent says when he looked outside through this window, he saw four cars with German license plates (they described the EU flag and D on the license plate). He cannot describe anything about the rest of the cars because the window was so small he only saw the license plates.
They were kept there for around 24 hours and then 8-10 masked men dressed in black came and told them to get into a van – all 70 or 80 of them into one black vehicle, brutally crammed on top of each other. This vehicle was driving with the lights off, very fast and recklessly, in total for around 20min.
When they arrived at Evros river on the 6th of September, 2020, they had to hide themselves. Several of the masked men were checking the other side of the river with what appeared to be night vision binoculars. Others got one dinghy ready.
They started boarding around 10 people at once onto the boat. The respondent describes:
“They drove us to the middle of the river – and then they told us to jump. Into the water. Some couldn’t swim and we told them, but they did not care!”
Only the Syrian family was taken to the other shore, everyone else had to swim.
The two other friends the respondents had crossed the border with disappeared in the river, and he has not heard from them since. At the time of interview, the respondent stated that the mens families keep calling him asking how they are doing. He could not bring himself to tell the real story, as he feared them to be dead.
“I tried. I got drunk for the first time in my life to have the courage to tell them, but I can’t. How can I tell them their child has died!?”
On the Turkish side, the group who made it to the bank were suddenly approached by a group of people in civilian clothes he thought to be locals. They were carrying guns and started shooting into the ground around them and asked them for money and phones – they did not have anything left anymore.