The recent statement of the Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, reported by the Focus News Agency that the situation in the Bulgarian refugee camps is perfect, can still not be confirmed. Today, poor living conditions are an ongoing issue in virtually all refugee camps, operated by the State Agency for Refugees (SAR), throughout the country. Literally many of the people living on the margins of Bulgaria’s society.
One example is the camp Voenna Rampa, located in the north of Sofia, a former abandoned school in a complex of former military barracks in an industrial area, which is hosting more than 400 asylum seekers, where is normally place for about 800 people. It seems, that at the moment, the influx of people fleeing through Bulgaria is increasing once again. Only in the last 1 1/2 weeks, 300 additional inhabitants were accommodated in the building.
Since the last two years a lot changed in the camp, especially in the maintenance of the buildings. During the last years, the building was renovated and thermal isolation as well as heating and windows were installed. In the yard a playground for children was built. The complex has now more toilet rooms than previously, but right now the showers can not be used, because they are out of work. People need to take a shower with a bucket. Especially in the corners of the toilets there is a lot of mildew and water damages. The toilets are on each floor directly next to the sleeping rooms, so people are exposed to these defects.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.