Ambassadors of Arab countries accredited in Sofia were to visit a refugee centre in the Bulgarian capital city on October 11, in an initiative organised in co-operation with the State Agency for Refugees.
The idea was for the ambassadors to hear from refugees at the centre in the Ovcha Kupel residential area requests for assistance.
The situation at Ovcha Kupel was raised in Question Time in the National Assembly on October 11.
Stanislav Ivanov, an MP for centre-right opposition party GERB, asked Interior Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev about security arrangements around the centre, raising concerns about the safety of children and pupils at a nearby kindergarten and school. Ivanov alleged that there had an incident of stone-throwing at the Bulgarian children.
Yovchev outlined at length security arrangements in the area, including a large increase in police presence.
“We will do everything to ensure the security of Bulgarian citizens,” said Yovchev, who also outlined steps being taken in dealing with refugees to filter out anyone linked to terrorist or extremist organisations and also to ensure standards of health care.
The issue was raised in Parliament a day after Sofia city council held a special meeting to discuss the situation at refugee centres in the capital.
On October 10, institutions warned that Bulgaria had no more financial resources to accept refugees, and city councillors were especially concerned about the situation in Sofia, where – according to mayor Yordanka Fandukova – more than 66 per cent of the refugees in Bulgaria were being hosted.
Meanwhile, human rights body the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) said that the current government should resign because serious human rights violations in dealing with refugees.
Advocate Margarita Ilieva, director of the law programme at the BHC, outlined a number of allegations in a statement. The allegations were made after BHC representatives visited two of the refugee centres in Sofia on October 3 and 8.
These included that State Agency for Refugees officials threatened refugees who protested against the inhumane living conditions at the refugee centres that their applications for refugee status would be delayed indefinitely.
The inhumane conditions included inadequate sanitation facilities, including broken toilet pipes, insufficient hot water supply, lack of access to a doctor, no heating, faulty electrical wiring, window frames lacking insulation while some were broken, rooms clogged with refuse that had built up before the arrival of refugees, a lack of equipment for cooking, poor food, no refrigerators in which to store food, no dining tables or other furniture, no facilities for drying laundry, overcrowding and the absence of State Agency for Refugees officials on the spot.
The BHC said that it had photographs to support its allegations.
The living conditions constituted inhumane and degrading treatment of refugees, in violation of the European Convention of Human Rights, as well as violating Bulgarian law on asylum and refugees, according to the BHC.
The crisis of inhumane treatment of asylum seekers from Syria was the biggest human rights crisis in Bulgaria since the beginning of 2013 “and the current government, which elects the leadership of the State Agency for Refugees, is responsible for this crisis and therefore should resign,” the BHC said.
(Photo: UNHCR/D Kashavelov)