The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC), has demanded a full investigation into scandalous and criminal behaviour by Bulgarian police officers at the southern border. The organization has received 33 reports about robbery, assault or degrading treatment of refugees on the part of border police officers, during the time period from May to September of 2016.
In a statement, the BHC said, it assumed the number reflected was only a fraction of these kinds of crimes committed by police. The reports were based on systematic monitoring of the border by the BHC and on statements collected from refugees in Bulgaria.
The organization also accused the Bulgarian authorities of treating people fleeing war and persecution like immigrants who left their countries mainly for economic reasons, making access to the country difficult. There were neither practical solutions, nor a differentiated approach to secure access and protection for forcibly displaced people.
The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee voiced yet another concern, about forced returns to Turkey, not just from the southern border region, but also from inside the country.
In addition, the NGO criticized inhumane and degrading treatment of refugees, which consisted of forcing them to undress, setting fire to their property, physical violence while knocking refugees to the ground, kicking and hitting them, using police dogs to intimidate and injure them and scaring asylum seekers by shooting in the air.
In October of 2015, an Afghan teenager was killed near Sredets, by a shot fired by a Bulgarian officer. The Burgas Regional Prosecutor’s office later refrained from criminal proceedings, calling the deadly incident an “accidental act”.
In the statement released, it said the following: “The BHC calls on the competent authorities to control the behavior of the police and investigate thoroughly, promptly and impartially all reports of unlawful use of force by law enforcement officials.”
The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee is not the first NGO to blast Bulgaria’s treatment of refugees. The United Nations and Pro Asyl also accused the country’s authorities of abuse.
(Photo: Ben Melrose/V Photo Agency)