Bulgarian state supports racist groups which are hunting for migrants

Since the private TV station bTV reported about people who are patroling with All-terrain vehicles through the border region of Bulgaria and calling their leader a national hero, more groups popped up in public which claim for arresting the migrants who crossed to Turkish-Bulgarian border. Although, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee called for prosecution of the case, the prime minister, Boyko Borissov, thanked in a statement these patrols:

I personally talked with them [the voluntary patrols] and thank them. I send the director of the Border Police to meet and coordinate with them.

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Legal and organizational problems in Bulgaria’s closed camps

At the moment, there are three camps of a closed type existing in Bulgaria. The buildings, which are administered from the Migration Directorate of the Ministry of Interior (MoI), provide 1,040 places: The Detention Center in Busmantsi has 400, the Detention Center in Lyubimets (since recently) 400 and the Detention Center in Elhovo has 240 places. In these accommodation facilities unaccompanied minors are being held illegally, which was reported by the Ombudsman some days ago. A recent statement, done by a team from the Center for Legal Aid – Voice in Bulgaria (CLA), confirmed the report.

It [the CLA-Team] met a number of detained unaccompanied minors, whom the centre’s administration had listed as accompanied by a seemingly randomly chosen person who happened to be a part of the same group traveling together and smuggled into the country.[…]

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Breaking News: Two dead bodies found near Malko Tarnovo

On Wednesday, the 23rd of March at 11 a. m., the Border Police found two dead bodies at the near of Malko Tarnovo in the Mishkova Plains, one kilometer away from the Bulgarian-Turkish border. This was reported by the press office of the police in Burgas. The bodies of the two males, who likely “illegally“ crossed the border, which were already decayed were brought to Burgas hospital for an autopsy. The police could not find any papers with them and is currently investigating the case, said Lora Lyubenova a speaker of the Border Police. The last incident of this type came out in the open in February 2016, when two women froze to dead in the same region.

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Ministry of Interior searches new space for refugee camps

Recently, talks about accommodating refugees in a 200 square meters big old military barracks in Kresna (Blagoevgrad Province) triggered a large, and in some cases xenophobic, protest on the 21st of March, held by Bulgarian citizens in Kresna. About a thousand people gathered, when they heard that there is a possibility that asylum seekers could be accommodated soon in their town. Some of the protesters also threatened that next time they are going to block highway E-79, which is close to the town of Kresna, or the Greek border itself. In a report, done by bTV, a citizen stated:

I am afraid that they are coming as conquerors. They come to take our territories. […] We are Christians before everything else. I cannot imagine my granddaughter to be wearing a burka.

The Idea of opening a refugee camp in Kresna, which could be used in the case of a higher migration influx from Greece and Macedonia, was discussed between the Interior Minister Rumyana Bachvarova and the mayor of the town, Nikolay Georgiev. Later the people were assured by the authorities, that for now the unused building will not become a refugee center but it became clear that the Ministry of Interior (MoI) is generally looking for such buildings to create new centers and therefore discussed several options.

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The EU/Turkey-agreement and (possible) effects on Bulgaria

As the EU-Turkey agreement came into effect on today, the 20th March 2016, there could again emerge a tremendous change of the main route, that people use to move towards Western Europe. Greece will turn literally into a detention zone and many migrants will likely try to avoid the deportation back to Turkey. Recently, the Bulgarian State Agency for Refugees (SAR) published with a delay the registered asylum applications from January and February, this year. According to its statistics, 3,160 asylum-requests were registered during that time. German state media reported about a total influx of 7,500 refugees who ended in Bulgaria until the 16th March. In addition, several volunteers, working in different camps in Bulgaria, claimed that there is a bigger influx of migrants arriving, during the last days and the police is detecting 200-300 migrants on a daily basis in the area of Malko Tarnovo. Only in the last 2 1/2 months Bulgaria has detained 1,124 migrants.

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Bulgaria as an alternative Route?

The complete closing of the humanitarian corridor caused a humanitarian emergency in the Greek village Idomeni. In the recent days Bulgaria’s politicians have expressed their fear, that an alternative humanitarian corridor could emerge via Bulgaria. The Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov warned about such developments and the Interior Minister Rumyana Bachvarova stated that the EU Commission was already asked by Bulgaria for help in order to boost the security at the Greek border. Bulgaria’s Defense Minister Nikolay Nenchev talked about the possibility of building a new fence between Greece and Bulgaria. Until now Nenchev did not see it as an important step, but rather as a ‚last resort‘. He mentioned that the army at the border will only be used in “emergency cases“. In the beginning of March 2016, a drill was held by Bulgarian authorities at the border crossing Kulata-Promachonas, which is located about 125 km away from Idomeni.

The new border fence between Bulgaria and Turkey is not ready, yet. In February 2016, the Bulgarian government decided to spend additional 17 Million Euro on it, so 47 Million Euro were already paid for it. In May 2015, the first stage of the fence (with length of about 33 km), which was build after the (so called) refugee crisis in Bulgaria 2013/14, had problems as it partly collapsed  and the Bulgarian army had to underpin it. Other reports referred about rust and wholes in the fence or people who threw carpets on it to climb over. The period of constructing the small fence took about 10 months and was completed by the end of 2014 in July. The new fence of about 132.6 km, which was announced 12 month ago, is supposed to be thicker and has partly “three rows instead of the existing two“. Nevertheless, at some places such an intend is extremely difficult, because of the Strandzha mountain massif and the natural park with its river and hills, furthermore still 90 km of the border fence in the Burgas region have not been built, yet. By the end of May 2016, 8 km are planned to be finished in the region of Yambol, where the new fence is affiliating the old fence.

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Unaccompanied minors inside Bulgaria’s detention centers / Drills at the border to Greece

The Bulgarian Ombudswoman, Maya Manolova, announced this week that unaccompanied minors are placed in Bulgaria’s detention centers with other adults, “who are not members of their families or authorized companions“. The announcement was part of a report about the results of evaluating detention facilities and jails in Bulgaria. Already in November 2015 Valeria Ilareva, from the Foundation for Access to Rights (FAR), warned that after the new asylum regime, “detention of unaccompanied minor asylum seekers is permitted“.

Last weekend, drills of the Bulgarian police and army took place at the border-crossing point to Greece near Kulata, which is hard to secure. 400 police staff and 50 soldiers took part, in addition 2 helicopters, a water cannon and amored vehicles were used during the exercise. The authorities deployed also “refugees“, who were throwing stones at the police. For the training, the border crossing Kulata-Promachonas was temporally closed. Two days later, it seemed like nothing has ever happened on the spot and, the situation was very calm and no special police, fence or additional cameras were seen at the border checkpoint.

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Ovcha-Kupel: A place of broken dreams

When Serbia recently started to deport refugees to Bulgaria, some of them stranded in the Reception Center for Asylum Seekers in Sofia/Ovcha Kupel. Jamal Anjuman*, who recently made it through the border to Serbia, but was deported by Serbian border police to the Bulgarian border, stated:

In Serbia we were arrested. We were handcuffed and they brought us back to Bulgaria. We don’t now why. Now we are here and don’t know what to do.

The Reception Center is located in a district, where many industrialized buildings are included. One could find a lot of neo-nazi graffiti and swastikas on the walls of many houses, many of them are already present in the neighborhood since years. Nearly every day, the police is present in front of the center for asylum-seekers and the migrants are getting permanently controlled by them.

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Group of 34 people rescued in the forests between Bulgaria and Serbia

On the 28th of February, BMB received a message from a kurdish and arabic speaking group of 34 refugees, who were urgently calling out for help, via WhatsApp. The people were lost for days in the forests between Bulgaria and Serbia. A father of a daughter sent a voice message and tried to describe the situation on the spot:

My daughter, we cannot stand it any longer. We are in a dying condition. The children are dying. Since three days we have neither eaten nor drunk. We did not flee voluntarily. My daughter, we cannot stand it any longer. We will all die!

The group managed to send the coordinates of their location, as well. Luckily, a Serbian emergency unit rescued the people after some hours. There are rumors about more refugees who try to find their way beside the official “humanitarian corridor”. Since it is only possible to get the new biometric paper at the Greek-Macedonian border, to travel in a legal way to Europe, many people are stuck on their way in the mountains, forests or elsewhere, because they are trying to search for other ways. The new regulation leads obviously to more confusion and suffering for the ones who attempt to run away from war and destruction.

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Update: After the Serbian Borderpolice explained the rescued group that it is only possible to ask for asylum in Serbia, the people decided to head back to Bulgaria. There they were arrested by the police. 13 people of the group had already a running asylum procedure in Bulgaria and were sent free after their documents were being checked. The other 21 people were brought to the detention center in Lyubimets.

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Serbia starts deportations to Bulgaria

Two days ago, Bulgaria was warned by Serbian officials to tighten up the border who, by the same time, announced deportations back to Bulgaria. Simultaneously, new rules seem now to implemented in Dimitrovgrad and Preševo. On the 19th of February, Serbia has stopped issuing transit documents for migrants. Since now, the new biometric document is only issued and handed out at the Greek-Macedonian border in Gevgelija, where one needs a passport or a similar identification document for that procedure. Two days later, the “Movebus” from the “Moving-Europe” project announced that, people from Afghanistan were “not allowed to enter the offical corridor at the Greek-Macedonian (FYROM) border.”

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