A strong police presence was deployed as a protest was held in Bulgarian capital Sofia against illegal migration and demanding the closure of refugee centres – with the police presence practically matching the several dozen participants who turned out for the marches.
The protest march in Sofia on November 19 proceeded from central Sveta Nedelya Square to Lion’s Bridge, with participants demanding that the area around Maria Louisa Boulevard and Lion’s Bridge be “freed” from migrants.
There were demands for the closure of homes for refugees in Bulgaria and closure of borders to migrants from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Hundreds of policemen guarded the area of the procession, as measures were taken to ensure that the participants did not carry firearms, fireworks, batons and bottles.
Participants called not only for the closure of refugee centres, but also for the expulsion of those who had entered Bulgaria illicitly to be sent back to where they came from, and for stronger measures by police in places in Sofia where foreign nationals gather.
They said that there had been an upturn in crime near Sofia’s Central Railway Station, which they said was the work of migrants who had arrived in Sofia illegally.
One of the organisers, Blagovest Asenov, told Bulgarian National Radio: “We have always had the same goal when we go out against illegal migrants, to clean the area around Lion’s Bridge because it is already a symptom – a symptom of what will happen to Bulgaria”.
“We have set ourselves the goal of cleaning Lion’s Bridge. If it’s clean, we shall clean Bulgaria too. If Lion’s Bridge falls into the hands of Islamists, it means Bulgaria will fall too.”
One of the participants in the march, Tsvetelina Stoyanova, told Bulgarian National Television that the state should “limit” the number of migrants. “And they are just young men between 25 and 35, without women and children – this cannot be a question of refugees,” she said.
The march against the migrants consisted mainly of young men.
The Interior Ministry said that the march in Sofia passed without incident, with no arrests. It was the third such march in recent weeks. Previously, some participants were detained, for carrying weapons or lacking official state-issued identity cards.
In the Bulgarian town of Yambol, a protest against migrants and against the construction of a refugee reception centre in the village of Boyanovo gathered all of 20 people.
In Bulgaria’s recent presidential elections, the winner – socialist-backed Roumen Radev – made much of a strong line against illegal migration. In the contest to be head of state, a position that is not part of the executive arm of Bulgaria’s government, the nationalist “United Patriots” also ran on a strong anti-migrant ticket, finishing third in the race at the first round.