‘Doctors Without Borders’: Bulgarian and Serbian officers used violence against children

Written by on October 5, 2017 in Europe - Comments Off on ‘Doctors Without Borders’: Bulgarian and Serbian officers used violence against children

The organisatzion ‘Médecins Sans Frontières’ (MSF, ‘Doctors Without Borders’) has blasted Bulgaria, Serbia and other countries for not protecting asylum seekers from violence on the part of border guards and other officers. According to the NGO, children and young refugees often endure beatings and other forms of abuse.

In a report just released by MSF, the organisation said, its doctors were treating the injuries, both psychological and physical, of those trying to cross Bulgaria, Serbia and other countries on their way to Western Europe. MSF said, the injured and distressed were mostly young men and boys aged 15 to 25.

Instead of fair procedures for asylum seekers at European borders, the migrants were pushed back, robbed, beaten, humiliated and attacked by dogs, the MSF report says.

By questioning patients at its medical facilities, the NGO came to the conclusion that smugglers and traffickers are responsible for a small percentage of the violence against children and young men, while state authorities are the main perpetrators, in 76 percent of the cases registered by MSF.

Out of those cases, 92 percent were committed by E.U. border forces, almost half of which were Bulgarian. In the first half of 2017, 86 mental health patients treated by ‘Doctors Without Borders’ reported experiencing direct violence. A majority of them had visible physical injuries. Those included cuts with razor blades and knives, severe beatings, food and water deprivation, and sensory deprivation. The youngest patient treated was only 12 years old.

Injuries inflicted to a young asylum seekers by officers on the Balkans.

The report paints a terrifying picture of the treatment refugees get in Bulgaria, above all. A total of 48% of the physical injuries inflicted on the teenagers and children later treated at a MSF mental health clinic were attributed to various Bulgarian authorities.

According to the NGO, asyulm seekers crossing into Serbia from Bulgaria did not only report abuse around borders, but also mistreatment in police stations, detention centers and camps. “I saw with my own eyes people getting beaten by the riot police with their heads cut open”, a 30-year old man from Afghanistan told MSF. “Many were young, like teenagers and their faces were covered in blood. First they shot teargas and then they entered our room and beat everyone with sticks, many of us were injured.”

MSF still treats victims of police violence at the refugee camp in the Bulgarian town of Harmanli, where protests erupted in November 2016, after authorities turned the camp into a jail, by imposing a quarantine on the facility. Two days before, the Health Inspectorate in Sofia had said rumors about mass infections at the Harmanli camp were inaccurate.

Back then, it very much looked like thousands of refugees were locked in because protests staged by ultra-nationalists had demanded that step. The alleged police brutality was supposed to be investigated, but nothing was ever heard about it since.

The latest MSF report also mentions violence against refugees on the part of Hungarian and Croatian officers.

‘Doctors Without Borders’ says the so-called Balkan Route, which is supposedly closed, was still claiming lives. From January to June of 2017, 78 asylum seekers died between Turkish coast lines and the borders of Serbia, Croatia and Hungary. The causes of death included drowning, car accidents, hypothermia and suicide.

The entire MSF report can be accessed here.

Photos by MSF

 

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About the Author

Imanuel Marcus is Associate Editor of The Sofia Globe. He is German and lives in Sofia. Contact: imanuelmarcus (at) gmail.com