Frontex is here, Czech police forces will be helping Bulgaria too. On the other side of the western border, Hungarian police forces will support Serbia in their efforts to secure it. Of course, the Bulgarian Border Police, the part which was not fired or arrested for corruption, is busy as well. The Bulgarian government’s and the President’s dialogue with neighbours, other partners and Turkey is in full swing.
Just to make sure there is no misunderstanding: Bulgaria’s geographical location definitely dictates political and other efforts. The same applies to the country’s economical situation. And yes, border protection is necessary. Also, the refugee crisis indeed needs to be dealt with by trying to improve the situation in the countries of origin. I admit the refugee wave does come with dangers. Radicals are among the refugees. Terror organisations are trying to use the crisis to their advantage. On top of that, there are male refugees with a twisted view on women and some might be criminal. Any offences need to be dealt with, according to the laws.
But, there is quite a list of problems, which are being caused in Bulgaria:
1. Those Bulgarian laws, according to which crossing the border in and out of this country illegally, leads to prison sentences, is scandalous. NGOs, such as the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, who have been saying so for a long time, are absolutely right. The UN has blasted Bulgaria on this aspect as well – and rightly so.
2. When a high-ranking official, such as Interior Ministry chief Secretary Georgi Kostov, says that the “migrants”, who were now coming into this country, were “aggressive”, this statement might further increase racism, the level of which is already alarmingly high in Bulgaria.
3. When racist and brutal “refugee hunters” in the Strandzha mountains, who have no right to “arrest” anyone in the first place, are praised by the highest government officials, that amounts to a huge scandal too, even if the same government retracts these kinds of statements shortly after.
4. When the Bulgarian police robs refugees and when the same corrupt police is connected to smugglers, who make a lot of money by driving irregular refugees across the country, it shows how many effective anti-corruption measures the different governments have taken in the past decade: zero. This huge scandal is obviously home-made as well.
5. Locking up refugee children in jails, which even is against Bulgarian laws, is yet another huge scandal, which hardly anyone has been talking or caring about, since Deutsche Welle broke the story.
6. President Plevneliev, who, among all Bulgarian officials, has actually delivered the most intelligent quotes, said in Prague, he did not want the Balkan Route to be re-opened. Well, that route mainly involved Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and Croatia. From there, it went on via Hungary and Slovenia to Austria and Germany. I was in eastern Croatia a year ago, when six thousand refugees arrived at the Tovarnik and Opatovac camps on a daily basis. That number (per day) was several times higher than the number of refugees who come to Bulgaria per month (!). What I am saying? The refugee numbers in this country are harmless, in comparison. At least for now.
7. To my opinion, there is a general lack of empathy in Bulgaria, when it comes to refugees or minorities, and blunt racism. I would neither want to be a refugee in Bulgaria, nor a person of Romani origin or a Black person, because I would most likely be discriminated, robbed, abused, exploited, locked up for nothing, or all of the latter. On the other hand, what the small number of volunteers do for refugees, inside and outside those camps, is admirable. The rest is far from it.
8. There are lots of issues at the United Nations. Some U.N. bodies, such as UNRWA and the UNHRC, are biased and they don’t do what they are supposed to do. But, when the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, said, there was an ambience against refugees in Bulgaria, and the government in Sofia did not do enough to counter that trend, I thought he was right.
(Main photo: Imanuel Marcus at the Opatovac refugee camp, Croatia, in September 2015)