The municipality of Elin Pelin, a town in western Bulgaria about 24km from capital Sofia, has refused to accept a family of Syrian refugees or issue residence documents to them in spite of them having official humanitarian refugee status.
Residents of the town of 7200 have been hostile to the family, who for two months have been left without official Bulgarian-issued personal identity documents, according to a February 13 report by television station bTV.
Tensions between the town’s residents and the Syrian family, the Jabers, have been increasing, forcing police to intervene, the report said.
Elin Pelin mayor Ivailo Simeonov said that the people of Elin Pelin were “not without humanity” but they did not want to accommodate refugees.
He was adamant that he would not allow the family to stay. “They have to find another place to live. I do not intend to allow anyone to disturb the peace of my fellow citizens,” Simeonov said.
The Syrian family’s representative, Akram Nayuf, said that this refusal violated international conventions on human rights and Bulgaria’s own laws.
Nayuf said that the family had humanitarian status, the legal equivalent of permanent residence and it was mandatory to issue them with EGNs, personal identity numbers.
The bTV report said that residents of the municipality had exchanged sharp remarks with the family and said that it was not the family alone that bothered them, but that they would be followed by “young and healthy men who had handled weapons and know what is death”.
The Syrian family, Fatima and Fahim Jaber, have been taken aback by the reaction of Elin Pelin’s residents and the institutions.
Fahim Jaber said that it made no sense to try to move his family to another place, where the same reaction could be expected.
The Jabers said that they had lived well in Syria before the war. Five years ago, their house was destroyed and with their children, they had left Aleppo, heading for Turkey. Their life as refugees had begun. Their bid to escape war and death brought them to Bulgaria.
“We were looking for a quiet life. We knew that in Bulgaria, everything is very nice,” Fahim Jaber said.
Not long after their arrival in Bulgaria, they were granted humanitarian status, and by law the municipality is obliged to issue them with identity documents. But the municipality refused to register the family on the territory of Elin Pelin.
Dimitar Kirov of the international protection directorate said that a letter had been prepared to the municipal mayor pointing out that the family had humanitarian status, for the purpose of them being registered in the place they intended to reside. There was no legal bar to them being registered at the municipality, Kirov said.