In December 2018 again a part of the fence at the bulgarian-turkish border collapsed. It was reported that this time it was a circa 12 kilometer long part in the region of Malko Tarnovo, due to heavy rain falls. The governor of the region, Vulcho Cholakov, announced that while the repair is accomplished, additional Border Police is being deployed.
On the 17th of December 2018, the camp in Vrazhdebna / Sofia with a capacity of 370 places was until further notice closed. Until now the camp out of three facilities in Sofia was always ranked by the State Agency for Refugees (SAR) and other organizations as a flagship, which was gladly shown to foreign visitors. The residents of the camp where distributed to other camps. Only recently the camp was renovated from EU-money.
For that reason only five open camps are existing in Bulgaria, which can be left at least during the day. Contemporary they are used solely by 10%: Voenna Rampa und Ovcha Kupel (both in Sofia, capacity: 800 respectively 860 places), Banya (in Central Bulgaria, capacity: 70), Pastrogor and Harmanli (in South East Bulgaria, capacity: 320 respectively 2.710).
Update: The camp was re-opened in May 2019 and in June 2019 refugees were again hosted in the camp.
On the 11th of December 2018, the trial against th Harmanli 21 endet. Only a few of the defendants were present in front of the court. The rest of the accused, who were already partially brought back to Afghanistan, were sentenced in absentia concerning hooliganism and the destruction of the State Agency for Refugee’s (SAR) property to one year jail on probation with a probationary period of three years.
On the 24th and 25th of October 2018 another court session against the Harmanli 21 took place. The session was attended by seven people out of the 10 people who attended the last court cases. It was reported, that the three missing people have already asked for repatriation and they have returned to Afghanistan. Furthermore three other people out of the seven had as well asked for their repatriation. That means that at the moment four out the initial 21 accused are continuing to stay in the closed facility of Luybimets. They claimed that they will struggle to prove their innocence.
During the two days of the trial in October 30 witnesses of the events from the 24th of November 2016 were testifying. Many of them were representatives of the riot police from Kazanlak, Pleven and Plovdiv and some employees of the State Agency for Refugees (SAR), in particular the ones who are working in the Open Camp of Harmanli. Since now, no accused migrant was allowed to speak about his own perspective. Because of that since the beginning of the trial the police violence was not mentioned once in front of the court. Although the official and appointed defenders (from the state) were shortly asked about it, but they claimed that the accused did not say anything on this topic.
It is interesting to hear that during the quarantine, the camp was totally overcrowded and it is quite astonishing that the access to the working places of the SAR employees at the open camp in Harmanli was not denied. Neither police members nor SAR workers could identify the accused migrants as part of the group of 50 people who were rioting in November 2016 – out of several thousands who were living there during this moment and protesting peacefully.
Bordermonitoring Bulgaria (BMB) notes that it is very obvious that the Bulgarian State is not interested in a clear enlightenment of what happened on the 24th of November 2016. Instead of that people, who once fled their country and once were registered as asylum seekers in Bulgaria, are urged to leave the country ‚voluntarily‘
On Tuesday (2nd of October) a Bulgarian border police patrol discovered a group of three people from Afghanistan and two people from Pakistan, near the Bulgarian-Greek border around the little village of Siva Reka. The group reported to the police that they had to leave one man from Pakistan in a helpless condition near a forest, next to the village. The border police searched for the person and found him „obviously heavily exhausted“. The Bulgarian Ministry of Interior (MoI) reported that the man was sent into a hospital, but died on Tuesday evening. The region with the border triangle (Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey) is a transit region for migrants. Already in 2011, a No Border Camp took place in Siva Reka to address the topic of migration in its surrounding area.
On the 27th of September the postponed trial (from the 11th and 12th September) took place. Again only 10 Afghan migrants appeared in front of the court. The court still did not do a hearing with them. A small group protested once more in front of the court in Solidarity with the accused migrants. The police intervened and stopped the protest by removing the banners and checking the ID cards of the protestors.
Today, the trial against the Harmanli 21 has finally started, after it was already postponed two times. Still only 10 people were present in front of the court and were brought in and out the court building via the back door. All of them are still accommodated in the detention center of Lyubimets. The local District Court of Harmanli announced that during the trial more than 60 witnesses will be questioned. The Judge Veselin Kolarov stressed out that there is an ‚increased public interest‘ in the whole trial.
The fact that no investigation was done by the authorities concerning the police violence against the asylum seekers in the camp of Harmanli was criticized by Bulgarian Human Rights Organizations. Beside that, everybody of the defendants is of Afghan origin. In front of the court a group of people protested in solidarity of the accused migrants. The next court hearing will take place on the 11th of September 2018 at 9.30h.
The EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency recently cited the Ombudswoman, in an interview published in its report from July 2018, who criticized the open centers for asylum seekers for their lack of interpreters, qualified psychological care (especially for victims of torture and traumatized people) and adequate infrastructure for disabled people. The deficit of facilities for unaccompanied minors was also criticized by the Ombudswoman. Until today, there is not even a separated area existing for them in Bulgaria’s refugee centers. The hygienic conditions in some buildings are also questionable. Furthermore, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) called 2017 another “zero integration“ year for refugees living in Bulgaria.
In May 2018, the refugee center in Pastrogor was empty, although the fence of the facility was recently extended. The building, set up with EU-money, will most probably turn into a closed camp soon. Also in Harmanli, a new closed area was created. The Bulgarian government agreed already on the 31st of August 2016 to allow the State Agency for the Refugees (SAR) to set up closed camps or transform already existing open camps into closed facilities.
Right after Bulgaria’s EU-Presidency ended in July 2018, Bordermonitoring.eu visited Bulgaria again, but was unfortunately denied access to the open and closed camps by the SAR and the Ministry of Interior (MoI).
In the last months two institutions of the Council of Europe reported about the situation of refugees and asylum-seekers in Bulgaria. One report published in April 2018 by Ambassador Tomáš Boček, Special Representative of the Secretary General on migration and refugees, focuses on regular Push-Backs along the Bulgarian-Turkish border, the Bulgarian asylum system, the detention of those seeking protection, the situation of unaccompanied minors and the problems of integrating recognized refugees. The report, for example, mentions that asylum-seekers are being systematically detained in detention centers in Lyubimets and Busmantsi. One the one hand, they face a lack of knowledge regarding their rights. On the other hand, a translation deficit during the procedures of registration, interviews, court cases and signing of documents can be observed. Another report by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture published in May 2018, describes limited access to medical care in the detention centers, such as gynecological and psychological treatment. In addition, nearly all types of medicine have to be paid by the detainees themselves. Both reports of the Council of Europe address ill-treatment by staff employed in the detention centers. These range from beatings to more subtle forms of disrespectful treatment.
Ministry of Interior forbids photographing the border fence