Hidden camera exposes conditions in Sofia shelter for Syrian refugees

A team from public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television used a hidden camera to expose conditions under which refugees, mostly Syrians, are living in the shelter in the Voenna Rampa area of the capital city Sofia.

The report showed terrible living conditions, inadequate police protection and a lack of medical supervision.

The footage was shown on October 13 and the State Agency for Refugees was due to respond in a broadcast on October 14.

According to the report, the poor conditions were no different in another refugee centre in the city, in the Vrazhdebna area.

The report said that in the camp in the Vrazhdebna area where Syrian refugees were house, there was a risk of epidemic. Problems with a lack of hot water, proper sanitation and a lack of cooking facilities had not been solved.

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Recently, human rights group the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, after an official inspection visit, reported conditions so poor as to constitute a serious violation of human rights and breaches of international and Bulgarian law. The group, which also alleged that refugees who protested had been threatened with having their asylum applications deliberately delayed, called on the current government to resign.

The broadcast of the footage in the Voenna Rampa and Vrazhdebna area facilities came a day after the first 54 migrants were accommodated in a new temporary refugee centre in the town of Harmanili in south-central Bulgaria.

Interior Ministry chief secretary Svetlozar Lazarov and State Agency for Refugees head Nikolai Chirpanliev inspected the facility. Lazarov told journalists that absolutely all measures have been taken to ensure public order in the region, according to a report by Bulgarian news agency BTA.

Meanwhile, the weekend also saw strong words as the current government attacked its predecessor for failing to make adequate plans for dealing with a serious influx of refugees.

Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev said that the previous government had done no preparation for receiving and accommodating refugees in Bulgaria, given that it was clear as early as last year that a serious refugee influx was coming.

Those who were supposed to build a refugee system and missed the last four years are now criticising and asking questions, Yovchev was quoted as saying by local news agency Focus.

“I am very much surprised. There are various political comments. Perhaps this is a new type of self-criticism, of an internal partisan analysis, an analysis of the past government, but it is a little bit unacceptable,” he said.

They ask why a camp is being built in Harmanli, but the decision about this was taken in 2012 by the former government, Boiko Borissov’s GERB.

This decision was taken by the former government at a cabinet meeting, according to Yovchev.

He said that 200 000 leva (about 100 000 euro) had been spent, “and the journalists saw there was a just a weedy field”.

“We had to use staff and money from the Civil Protection and Interior Ministry to prepare normal conditions so that refugees could be accepted. No absorption of European funds and as to those absorbed, I do not want to go into details, but they were not absorbed in most suitable way,” Yovchev said.

“They did not provide for a refugee system. Their preparation boils down to 10 troops putting up tents in Harmanli. The rest is general talk. At the meeting of the Consultative Council for National Security they announced there was no problem, (even though) a tenfold rise in illegal immigrants detained on the border was registered in September 2012 in comparison with January 2012,” he said.

Reacting to Sofia mayor Yordanka Fandukova’s call on the Health Ministry to undertake measures in the refugee centre in the residential district of Vrazhdebna in the capital, Yovchev said the concern resembled her concern expressed during the anti-government protests when paving stones were piled up in front of Parliament

Instead of scaring people with rumours, the mayor of Sofia should focus her efforts on helping to communicate with people, on seeking ways to insure food for and integrate refugees, Yovchev said.

He described as ridiculous the statement that there was a concentration of refugees in Sofia.

“Two thousand people in two million are less than 0.1 per cent, while 1000 people in 10 000 people are 10 per cent. After gaining refugee status, refugees can travel everywhere they want. This is deflection of actual questions and it looks like political PR,” he said.

Yovchev also criticised President Rossen Plevneliev, who said that it was the business of the government to cope with the refugee situation.

“As to the refugee issue, the President speaks and behaves like an observer and a commentator, as if he bears no responsibility for national security. We are in an odd situation indeed,” Yovchev said.

Earlier, Fandukova said that the concentration of refugees in one area carried many risks.

She said that she had pointed this out at a meeting with Yovchev and with Plamen Oresharski.

“At the very first signal that new refugee centres will be opened in the capital, I asked for a meeting with Interior Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev and Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski, but, unfortunately, the two meetings took place after the decision to open two new refugee centres in Sofia,” she said.

She said that the state was responsible for accommodating refugees in Bulgaria, including in Sofia.

“Unfortunately, however, the government was hasty to accommodate the refugees and that’s why it did not get in touch with the mayors of municipalities. Undoubtedly this is not a correct step,” she said.

She called for more patrol officers around the refugee centres and in the centre of Sofia.

“The refugee issue is a very serious issue for the whole of the country and I hope the state will keep on increasing the patrol officers in order to insure higher security,” Fandukova said.




The Sofia Globe staff

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