Bulgaria’s authorities must send a clear message that they will take all necessary measures to curb the growing spate of attacks against refugees and migrants on the streets of the capital city Sofia, Amnesty International said.
The call comes after two Syrian men in their 20s and 30s were injured in a violent attack in Sofia’s Zaharna Fabrika district. A third man targeted in the attack reportedly escaped unscathed. This was the seventh such assault on the city’s streets since the beginning of November 2013.
“So far, instead of investigating and bringing the perpetrators of these violent attacks to justice, the Bulgarian authorities have sought to downplay them as run-of-the-mill muggings and crimes. Bulgaria is obliged under international law to thoroughly investigate any possible hate motive behind these crimes. Hate crimes are an affront to human dignity,” said Jezerca Tigani, a Deputy Director of Europe and Central Asia Programme of Amnesty International.
“The Bulgarian authorities must take a clear and public stance that xenophobic and racist violence will not be tolerated. Refugees and migrants must be protected from any further harassment and violence.”
The latest attack took place at about 11pm on December 1. A 27-year-old Syrian man has a broken nose, while a 35-year-old Syrian man suffered multiple cuts to his head.
Bulgaria’s Ministry of Interior has said that about eight unarmed assailants carried out the attack – but eyewitnesses say the number was closer to 25 and they had knuckle dusters and knives. Police are reportedly not ruling out hate as a motive, Amnesty International said
Bulgarian law allows for offences to be prosecuted as hate crimes if they involve violence, or if an attack is carried out by a group.
The December 1 incident followed six other attacks in Sofia targeting refugees and migrants in recent weeks.
On November 9, a Bulgarian of Turkish descent, Georgi “Metin” Dimitrov, was attacked – he has been in a coma since then.
Some of the victims of the recent attacks have been teenagers. On November 4, Ali, a 17-year-old Syrian, was attacked close to the reception centre for asylum-seekers in Voenna Rampa, and an 18-year-old from Mali was beaten and stabbed on November 10.
The attacks have sown widespread fear among Sofia’s refugee and migrant community, who have also reported a rising tide of harassment and intimidation against them as vigilantes – self-proclaimed “citizen patrols” – operate in Pirotska Street and other streets in the city.
The ongoing intimidation and attacks suggest that Sofia’s police and other authorities are not taking adequate measures to prevent them, Amnesty International said.
“The way the authorities are handling the situation is disturbing,” said Borislav Dimitrov, co-ordinator at Friends of Refugees, a local group providing support and assistance to refugees and migrants.
“They are trying to frame the current attacks against foreigners as everything else but hate crimes. However, the facts indicate that they are hate crimes and should be fully investigated as such,” Dimitrov said.
Media reports on December 3 said that two people had been taken into custody in connection with the December 1 attack.
In response to suspicions that the attack was a hate crime, the deputy head of Sofia police Hristo Terziiski said that it was being treated as a robbery because large amounts of euro were taken from the men.
Terziiski told local television station bTV that there was “no evidence” of a criminal group persecuting illegal immigrants.
Separately, the Interior Ministry said that there had been a decrease in the number of people entering Bulgaria seeking refugee status, halving in the past month.
In October, there were 3626 illegal entrants, but in November the number dropped to 1652, according to the Interior Ministry.
The reason for the decrease in the number was intensified border controls and new security measures, the ministry said. An additional 1400 police had been deployed in the border area and construction of a fence at the Bulgarian-Turkish border had started.
(Photo: Ben Melrose/V Photo Agency)