A Turkish migrant who fled Ankara’s crackdown on dissent disappeared just hours after Greek border guards left him stranded in the Evros River, Euronews reported on Friday.
According a report by Zübeyir Koçulu from Euronews, Ümit Şakır has been missing for one week since being left in the Evros River, which marks the Greek-Turkish border.
Şakır’s family said they haven’t heard from him for the past week.
Salih A., who was with Ümit and another Turkish asylum seeker during their journey across the Evros River, said they were pushed back by Greek border units on Sept. 3.
According to Salih’s account, the Greek soldiers collected the three upon their arrival in Greece near the town of Kastenies. Ten policemen strip-searched them and seized their identity cards and phones before a blue police van took them to “what appeared to be” a police station around the town of Vyssa.
“An insignia on their uniforms read ‘Border Police.’ They showed up in two cars. We told them we wanted to see a lawyer and apply for asylum. They said nothing, just laughed.”
Salih said the van drove for an hour, when he saw a sign saying “Rizia,” a small town in the area. There were uniformed police officers and a Greek flag at the entrance to the building where they stopped.
The three men witnessed dozens of refugees from various countries including Syria, Afghanistan and Iran being brought to their cell in the police station once dark fell on Sept. 3.
“The cell was packed, bursting at the seams. A Syrian man with good Turkish explained to us that he had been pushed back twice by the Greek police. Then an officer with a baton in his hand opened the door. He led us out of the cell, counting and hitting each of us with his baton. He counted us by striking us with his baton. I remember he counted 65 in the end.”
The witness stated that the police loaded the 65 refugees onto a truck parked in front of the detention center, again hitting each one.
“We said we were Turkish political asylum seekers. A policeman said ‘Sorry’ and forced us onto the back of the truck. We understood at that moment that they were returning us to Turkey.”
“The police kept hitting us. I saw Ümit there for the last time.”
Twenty-six-year-old Salih A. said they found themselves near the Turkish border when the policemen opened the back of the truck.
A number of masked men in military uniforms with long-barreled rifles and police dogs were waiting there.
“They started to hit us with their batons and belts. They were asking everyone’s nationality. Each answer, such as ‘Pakistani’ or ‘Afghan,’ drew another blow.”
He reiterated to the police that they were Turks fleeing persecution in their homeland. The police put them into a line, this time without hitting them. Ümit was behind the line — the last time the missing man was seen.
The police did not give them back their belongings.
“I had 650 euros and 1,200 Turkish lira in my wallet. I asked for them [back]. One of the policemen said in broken Turkish, ‘Para yok [No money]’,” he said.
Salih A. recalled that one of the masked men in military uniform launched a boat into the river; he called out to three colleagues by the names of Ibrahim, Ahmet and Mehmet — very common Turkish names.
The masked men were speaking Greek and uttered some broken Turkish words, but the pronunciation of their names was exactly the way a Turk would pronounce them, said Salih A.
“The police threw some refugees out of the boat in the middle of the river,” he said.
According to him, the masked men forced people onto the boat, with 10 in each group, and the men in the military uniforms rowed the boat.
They made the refugees get out of the boat before it arrived at the riverbank in Turkish territory.
“I said I didn’t know how to swim. They said in English, ‘Jump.’ When we hesitated, they started to hit us with batons. We jumped, and the water dragged me down. I remember a young Afghan man pulled me out of the water and saved my life.”
According to the witness, the refugees sent back to the Turkish side of the river started shouting at the masked men, who then began to throw refugees out of the boat in the middle of the river.
“I saw some people floating away.”
The survivors searched for them for more than an hour.
“We called to them for a long time thinking they might have managed to hold onto a tree or something. No one responded.”
Call by the family for a search
Murat Şakır, who lives in Turkey, said he has not heard from his elder brother Ümit since Sept. 3.
He said they had appealed to Turkish authorities to launch a search but that their plea was rejected due to the “tense situation at the Turkish-Greek border.”
The Şakır family is urging the Turkish and Greek authorities to find his brother.
Ümit Şakır spent 17 months in a Denizli prison on charges of membership in the Gulen movement. Ankara claims the group was behind an abortive coup in July 2016 to topple the regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Pushback is a practice that has been carried out for years by Greek border guards, according to the Greek Council for Refugees, a prominent NGO that monitors human rights violations at the border.
Athens vowed to send refugees back to Turkey after Erdoğan threatened to send millions of refugees living in Turkey to the Greek border in late February.