A video, published by Bulgarian National Television, shows police men beating an asylum-seeker in the camp in Voenna Rampa, Sofia. The incident has taken place on July 30th 2014, when a group of asylum-seekers protested their removal from the camp in Sofia to the one in Harmanli. A while ago it became clear that there are thousands return applications from all over Europe awaiting approval by the Bulgarian government, where 3,000 come from the German government. In light of the large number of expected returns from other European countries and the increased number of newly registered applications (more than 600 for the months of April, May and June 2014) and border crossings, the Bulgarian government decided to remove status-holders from the camps in Sofia and to accommodate them in the camp in Harmanli so as to free space for the new comers.
The protest does not come as a surprise to anybody as the first attempt by the State Agency for Refugees to remove 50 people from Voenna Rampa to Harmanli, that took place on July 17th 2014, failed due to resistance and resulted in a hunger strike. Moreover, back then, status-holders petitioned with the agency in a letter stating that if they are removed, “[some of them] will attempt suicide; others will start robbing the meager possessions of poor Bulgarians. Still others will end up in the local hospital and the rest will sink in depression.”
On July 30th it became clear that there will be no integration program in Bulgaria in the near future. The integration of status-holders was blocked by Bulgaria’s outgoing government as the Ministry of Councils voted “nay” to the annual plan for the execution of the integration strategy.
Considering the harsh socio-economic and political situation in Bulgaria, exasperated by the lack of integration program, the risks of homelessness and chronic unemployment among asylum-seekers and status-holders increase by the day. The situation of status-holders is extremely difficult as they cannot spend more than six months in an accommodation center after the granting of the status. Their relocation from Sofia to Harmanli dooms them to higher risks of unemployment, social insecurity, and exclusion.
We urge the EU states to halt all returns to Bulgaria until the new Bulgarian government to be elected later this autumn ensures the implementation of a working integration program, resolves the accommodation crisis among status-holders, and stops the usage of excessive police violence.
For a broader view on the situation of status-holders and asylum-seekers in Bulgaria, read Bordermonitoring’s report from July 2014.