Report by Madita Strähle

In mid-April, the 21-year-old man from Syria and 14 other Syrian men aged from 10 to 35 years were arrested by Bulgarian police officers approximately 1 km from the Fakiya village. They were taken to the police station where they were repeatedly beaten up and detained for 12 days. The men were released under the condition of having their fingerprints and photos taken by the Bulgarian authorities. 

The incident took place around April 15, 2023. Because all personal items, including his mobile phone were allegedly taken by Bulgarian officers, the man is unable to trace the exact date of the incident. 

The transit group of fifteen Syrian men was moving through a hilly jungle, approximately 1 km from the village Fakiya and about 7 km from the Turkish-Bulgarian border. According to the man, three members of the group were minors, aged 10, 12 and 16. 

The village of Fakiya is located 7 km from the border between Bulgaria and Turkey.
The transit group was apprehended on a hilly jungle, approximately 1 km from the village Fakiya.

“I think that some locals in the village spotted our group passing and called the police on us.”

At approximately 10 am, a female and a male officers in dark blue uniforms, matching the description of the Bulgarian police uniforms, approached the transit group. Both officers were equipped with firearms and had a dog with them.

The dog attacked a 35-year old member of the transit group who suffered from bite wounds on his arm.

Pictures of dog bite marks on the arm.

The officers handcuffed all 15 members of the transit group, including the minors, and walked them to a road about 500m away. 

The group had to sit on the ground for about one hour, until three more officers arrived on the spot with a black land rover, identified as Bulgarian Border Police vehicle. They were two male and one female officers in sacramento green uniforms, resembling the Bulgarian border police uniforms. 

“They were shouting at us and insulting us in their language which we couldn’t understand. They didn’t let us ask for asylum.”

All 15 members of the group were forced to board the police vehicle with which they were taken to a police station for what felt like a 1.5-2 hours drive, according to the man testimony. 

“Before they made us enter the car, we had to hand over our bags. When we asked to get food and water from our bags, they did not allow it.” 

In the police station, all personal belongings were taken from the men, including mobile phones, chargers, and money. They were denied food, water, as well as access to a bathroom.  

Then, all members of the transit group, including the three minors were taken in pairs to the bathrooms of the police station where each pair was beaten with fists and batons, and kicked for approximately 15 minutes.

“They took us to the bathroom to beat us so nobody could see what they were doing to us. They beat me so badly on my leg that it still causes me pain today, almost a month later.” 

Various wounds on legs, feet, arms and hands, caused by police beatings.

The group was detained in the police station for 12 days. Reportedly, adults and minors were kept in the same detention cell. During those 12 days, none of the group members was informed about the reason for their detention or about any ongoing investigation. Neither a translator nor a lawyer was available to any of the men. For the whole period of detention, the group reported to have received only one meal per day, on some occasions only a few biscuits for a meal. They were granted access to a bathroom once a day, and never at night. 

“If any of us would insist on using the bathroom, they would take us to the bathroom and beat us all over again.” 

Reportedly, the officers were screaming and insulting the men on a regular basis. Due to a changing shift schedule of the police officers, the abuse was committed by a variety of different officers. 

On the 12th day of the detention, all members of the group were threatened with imprisonment for six months up to one year if they did not agree to facilitate fingerprinting. 

“We knew that leaving our fingerprints meant that we would have to stay in Bulgaria. We heard about the bad situation in the Bulgarian camps. Apparently, they don’t give enough food, have dirty bathrooms and charge you money for staying there. That’s why none of us wanted to give our fingerprints here.” 

Consequently, all members of the transit group had their fingerprints taken by the Bulgarian authorities. Photos were taken of all members of the group before they were allowed to leave the police station. None of the personal items of the group members were returned. 

This was the man’s second detention in Bulgaria. He was previously been pushed back to Turkey twice.

From No Name Kitchen we want to remind that people need to cross borders through these dangerous routes because the European Union does not offer other alternatives to apply for asylum. With legal and safe ways to migrate, people would not risk their lives and health by these routes.

Illegal push-backs and violations of Human Rights, as well as all acts of physical and psychological violence, are unjustified and condemnable.