A dilemma between unbelievable violence and death

Detailed accounts of survivors shed light on the brutal practices and the infrastructure of violence against people on the move in the Evros/Meric region.

In recent times, the Alarm Phone has received many distress calls from individuals who were stuck in the woods in the Evros region. They are often in bad physical condition and require immediate medical help. However, often they are still pushed back by Greek border guard units. This confirms what we have said in our Border Crimes report: To call Greek authorities today means to put people’s lives at risk. However, in the Evros region, there is often no other choice. As these very detailed testimony show, the people are often in remote areas and either poisoned or immobilized. To call nobody, would often mean to die. To call somebody, always means that border authorities will be informed. It’s a dilemma between unbelievable violence and death.

That people come into these situations at first, is a direct consequence of the brutal pushback regime. It forces people to travel in ever smaller groups and to be invisible. People walk during the night in mountainous regions, always carrying the fear they might be found and illegally pushed back. The situations the people describe are hard to imagine: they are not only found and pushed back, but robbed, stripped of their clothes, humiliated and brutally beaten. If one beats a person on an injured knee or if one is playing games to undress people in front of others, this is nothing but torture.

The following testimony was given by a survivor of a brutal pushback. Alarm Phone was informed about this distress on August 10 and upon request informed various authorities, but also UNHCR, Frontex and different NGO’s. As the testimony in addition shows, even a local lawyer was involved who went to the police station of Alexandroupolis. But even with all these steps taken, the brutal pushback as described by Majed* in the following, could not be prevented.

At first I’m sorry I can’t speak much as I feel still  pain in my knee.

We reached the Greek border at night and crossed the river with a rubber boat. The Greek army did not notice us. We walked 5 km in the mountains at night, then we hide all day and walked again at night for another 5 km. On the third day, I fell on my leg exactly on my right knee. First, the pain wasn’t too intense. On the same day we met another group of 7 people, which we did not know. Their phone was broken and they did not have a map. They asked to walk with us because we had a phone – we agreed and we became 14 people. At night we made 10 km. Walking exacerbated and increased the pain I felt on my knee. It really was a lot of pain and it became so strong. The next night we walked 14 km. The pain was very severe, I took painkillers, and the next night we walked another 19 km. This day was so exhausting because the mountain road was tough it was a hard rough journey. I completed the path being carried by my friends. I knew this was the end of my trip. The fifth night I tried to walk but I could not walk even one step. Then there was a disagreement in the group, but finally they agreed that they let me to rest for an extra day – then I could continue walking, possibly with another group. They left me extra food and water.

During the day, I called my cousin. He gave me the number of a lawyer. I contacted her and I gave her the coordinates of my location and I told her about my knee injury. The lawyer went to the police station in Alexandropulis. She informed me that the police would come to bring me to the police station and then to the hospital, so that I could be registered in the camp according to my health status. And she said to go close to the main road and when you see the police turn yourself in without any problems.

At seven o’clock, close to the highway, a masked/hooded person in green military uniform with the “Border Police” written on it came to me. He took the phone while I was talking to my wife. He broke it and he asked me which knee is injured, I said the right one. He beat me all over my body, especially on the injured knee. He asked me to take out what was in my pockets. I had Euros and Turkish money. He took it all, he robbed me. He checked my bag and didn’t find anything of value but he didn’t let me take anything. He was repeatedly hitting me on my knees with a stick and on my back in a brutal manner. On the main road there was a police car and there was another person in the car, masked and wearing the same outfit. He opened the trunk of the car and put me inside it. It was very tight and I could not breathe. They took me to another area. It was like a forest road, a country road. They asked me to come down and there were two policemen in normal black police uniforms. They were just looking. Here began a torture party of half an hour of severe caning all over my body with a lot of racist talk and sexual humiliations like “I want to kill you” or “I want to fuck you”.

Then a car exchange happened. The police took their car and I was taken in a closed military vehicle. We drove a bit and then they set up a checkpoint by the two masked people. The border police was searching cars. They arrested 3 Afghans, one of whom could not walk, and a Syrian who was in critical health situation. I think he was poisoned by the swamp water.

Another small military vehicle arrived without any ventilation holes, containing at least 30 people in a very small space. We were dying from the heat and the smells. We arrived at a prison close to the border. I don’t know the place, but among the Syrians it is known as “Abu Riha prison”, which has a bad and frightening reputation. It is a dirty prison. They asked us to take off all our clothes and made us all naked and piled all our clothes in only one pile. There were children and women in the other room watching us. Then they gave us 30 seconds to get dressed and people started taking other people’s clothes. Then they put us in a very small military truck. We were at least 70 people in a very small place maximum 2/3 meters 

There were a lot of other cases of fainting and nausea.  

Half an hour later we reached the Turkish border. We got on the rubber boat and then they left us on the other side. There was a small river after the big one. There was a lot of pain in my leg and there were many other injured persons and suddenly the people of a neighbouring village came with cars. They were driving people for a fee. I took the car in the direction of Istanbul. I went directly to the emergency hospital. Now I take painkillers and use crutches, I have a torn ligaments and pressure on the artery. I also have fluid in the knee.

I stayed for week not bale to sleep, and now doctors told me that at least I need 6 months of rest and I can’t work. In the end, I called the Greek lawyer and she was angry with me because she waited for me at the police station and because the police told her that I was not at the site and I ran away. I told her that I did not change my position coordinates and did not run away and told her the story and  she was shocked. Also, hooded /masked soldier asked me directly about any injured knee means that he knows that my knee is injured.

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The following testimony was shared with the Alarm Phone by a person who was pushed back from Greece to Turkey end of July 2022. On July 30, the Alarm Phone was informed about a person in urgent need of medical help near the Greek village Mikro Dereio. As the person was reportedly poisoned and asked for immediate help, regional authorities as well as UNHCR, Frontex and various NGO’s were informed. When we called Metadaxes Border Guard station, they confirmed to know about the case, but claimed they “did not find anyone”. As the testimony of Mohanat* proves, this was a lie. His story makes clear, that people are not just left behind, but often carried with the group for hours or days. However, at some point people come into condition in which they cannot be carried along. Then, in the light of risk of pushbacks and attacks by Greek units, they are left on the road with the hope they will be found and taken care of. In addition, his story shows the issue of chain pushbacks, meaning that people are picked up in Bulgaria, stripped of their clothes, got robbed and beaten and are then pushed back via Greece to Turkey. And it as well shows, that people after being pushed back to Turkey are being chased by Turkish forces and fear deportation to Syria.

We crossed the river in a rubber boat, and the Greek army did not notice us. We chose to walk during the day because the road was very mountainous and difficult with dangerous valleys. On the first day we walked for 7 hours. On the second day, the water ran out. We had no choice but ONLY to drink dry kind of spring water. It was not suitable for drinking. It was full of frog worms and insects. All of us got some vomiting issues after drinking this water, and I was the one who had most critical situation with a lot of vomiting fever and nausea. 

On the third day, I could not eat anything and the nausea vomiting continued. On the fourth day, we reached a river coming from Bulgaria and passing through Greece, whose name I do not know. Because of extreme thirst, I drank from the water of this river which led to intensify my poisoning and I almost lost consciousness. I could not stand on my feet. My friends did not leave me, they carried me and carried my things. On the fifth day, the situation worsened, and I could not continue the journey. The friends continued their journey, and I took the phone, searched in the map for the nearest village, and headed for it. 

Very exhausted, I reached a house and found a Greek family who gave me water. In fact, they were nice to me, but I noticed that their neighbour was making a call by phone and looking at me a lot. I understood that she was calling the police. I decided to go to the nearby church in the village to rest and hide a little, because I  was really exhausted and seriously ill and without any power. I got to the church and suddenly the police car arrived. It was a big closed car. A policeman and a policewoman came out. I don’t remember well the colour of their clothes because I was almost unconscious. It could be dark blue. The policeman approached me and asked me, what am I doing here? So I told him that I m in a critical condition and that I need urgent health care. They told me there is no problem, we will take you to the camp. They opened the back door and here I found at least 30 people, all naked, with only boxer shorts on them. They were Afghan and Moroccan refugees. I spoke with one of them and he told me that they were in Bulgaria and the Bulgarian police took their money and clothes and took them back by force to Greece. The car was very hot and there were no ventilation holes. We couldn’t breathe in this overcrowded space. We arrived at the prison, got out of the car. They stripped us, took off all our clothes and put it on the ground. We were completely searched. Then the police gave me back my clothes, but without a tie of my shoes. They took me to a small and overcrowded cell without giving me any painkillers, food or water.

I was in the cell from two in the afternoon until eight in the evening. They took us out of the prison and put us in a closed car without any ventilation holes again and we headed to the Turkish border. We got to a place, where they about 40 people before us on the ground – all naked. There were masked people who were beating them severely. It was so dark I couldn’t see the uniforms of the masked people. They redeemed us money and started beating us with sticks for a long time. They brought the boats to cross the river and stole from me even my shoes. They escorted us in the boat towards Turkey. I reached the Turkish bank of the river. We entered the forest. The road was very bumpy and full with stones, especially without shoes. We were about 100 people, and then we split into groups. Suddenly we were hearing noise of engine but kind of military engines. Then we heard screaming people behind us  – they were clearly being beaten. I was walking with people from Morocco, but because I was so sick, I was walking slowly and they were speeding. Then an armored military car came and took them in after beating them. I directly manged to hide and they didn’t see me. In this night, the Turkish army went crazy. There were a lot of vehicles and military vehicles, and the forest turned into a battlefield. There were a lot of soldiers and continuous combing, and I listened to a lot of screaming throughout the night.  I hid from ten o’clock at night to seven o’clock in the morning without food or water and with a swollen leg that made me very dehydrated. At seven I gathered all the strength I had left to survive and ran to a nearby village. I arrived in the village and asked for help and water. I was so dehydrated. I couldn’t drink water. I asked for a taxi to Istanbul. Now I am doing kind of treatment by myself because in the hospital the Turkish police can arrest me and deport me to Syria which happening recently too much in Istanbul.

***

And this last testimony referes to an attack back in June. It refers to crimes committed by the Greek police with the use of mercenaries at the Evros/ Meriç land border between Greece and Turkey. The incident in the beginning of June 2022. Again, the people were chased, beaten, pushed back, assaulted and harassed. When back in Turkey, the harassment continued, as Parzan* explains in detail:

We were sitting in the forest waiting for the night to pass, when before sunset, four people (three young people about 25 years old and a man about 40 years old) came from behind the trees without the slightest sound. With pistols aimed at our faces and batons in their other hands.

One of them told us in a low voice to sit down, then asked for phones and GPS. When they took our phones and put them in a bag, they said, “How did you come here? With a smuggler?” When we said no, they asked “Did you see any other groups?” We said no. Then, they forced us to open our phones (still had the pistol in hands), they checked Google Maps, Google Earth and Telegram and looked for specific points on the map. When they could not find what they were looking for, they told us to move.

They took us about 100 meters away from that place to a more open space, and we had to take off our shoes and clothes. They took all Euro’s out of our wallets but left the Turkish Lira’s. They opened our bags, took the tools such as saws, knives, camping gas and power banks and put them in their car. It was a white Nissan Navara pickup truck with blue lines.

They give us our shoes again in that moment and said take your bag. Their boss then informed the police van to come. The police said “No problem, we will bring you to Thessaloniki Camps and give you papers to leave country.” – although later, when we saw the Maritsa** river, we knew they had lied to us.

One of our friends been pushed back before so he told us eat everything you have because they won’t give you food at the deportation center. So, while we were waiting for the van to arrive, we opened our cakes and biscuits and started eating. When a police officer saw us, he took our food and smashed it with his foot. And he kicked me in the leg.

It has not happened to me but I also heard from other refugees that they have something called “death tunnel”: they force people to pass between two lines of police officers and all of them hit them and laugh.

Finally, a black big Mercedes Benz van arrived and they told us to get in. There were no lights inside the van, all the windows were covered with iron sheets and there were no openings for oxygen to enter. There were no seats, the van had been turned into an iron can. We were in the van for about three to four hours, after the first half hour everyone was dizzy, scared and nauseous. My heart rate had risen strangely so that I could feel my heart beating in my eyes and head and I was very hot. We were all on top of each other, no one was talking to anyone. Suddenly, the van stopped and the door opened and one more person was pushed inside. The door was open for about 5 seconds and that was the only time when air had come in.

The police had broken his jaw and he could not speak. We were lucky because we did not go to the deportation center because it was full, they took us straight to the river and beat us when we got out of the car. There were about 80 people over there: Syrians, Iranians, Afghans, Pakistanis. A car came and brought even more people. They lined up all of us, the mercenaries with their faces covered and the Greek police talking to them in English. They started searching us, they took the bags, they took the shoes and the socks, they were looking for money in the clothes and they tore the clothes with knives until they found money, bracelets, rings, earrings and other valuables inside. At this point, they also took the Turkish Lira’s.

Then the mercenaries started taking us on a boat in groups of fifteen people without any noise or light, and they brought us silently to the shores of Turkey, threw us into the water and went back to bring the next group. The boat was Intex Excursion 5. This is a photo of it. I’m sure it was this boat.

Then we walked with no shoes and no idea which part of Turkey we were at, and even what time it is. Eventually, we found Turkish police and some people were there with them already. The police beat some of them too. Then Turkish police said “We will only give shoes to people who want to go back to Greece right now, and others will be deported to their countries.” But in the end, they gave everyone shoes (no one cared about your shoe size so if you were lucky, you would take big shoes, there were people who caught 9-year-old girls shoes). Then the Turkish police told us to go down this road and that we will find a village but they lied. We went there and the road ended in the middle of a jungle. We walked until we found a company building and the guard guided us to a village called Meriç.

After finding the village, there were taxis waiting for migrants to bring them to Istanbul for money, around 1000 Lira per person. When you arrive in Istanbul, police won’t see you if you are lucky, but if the police catch you and you have no papers to stay, then they bring you to a deportation camp. The situation there is awful: no clean toilet and no shower for weeks, little food, people are only able to sit there as there is not enough space to walk or sleep. After two or three weeks, they send people to their countries and do not care if it’s safe for you or not.

 

Once again, these detailed stories shared by people show the infrastructure of violence at the Evros/Meric border region. People, including children, are put in arbitrary detention; people are robbed, beaten and harassed by Greek border guards, injured people’s lives are put at risk. What if not this, are crimes against humanity? There is a clear handwriting and system in these violent practices. They happen coordinated and well-organized and need direct cooperation between the different units and institutions involved. These border crimes are a result of political processes – practically enforced by the Greek state, wilfully supported and legitimized by its main partner, the European Union.  

 

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* Names changed due to concern of safety
** Evros river in Greek

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