The head of the Bulgarian Parliament’s internal security committee has called for a thorough investigation and the allocation of responsibility in the case of the fatal shooting by Border Police of a migrant.
In the late-night incident on October 15, Bulgarian Border Police came across a group of 54 young men in a thickly wooded area near a town about 30km from the Turkish border. According to the Interior Ministry, the group of migrants were aggressive and resisted arrest. The officer who fired the shot said that he fired into the air, but the bullet ricocheted and hit one of the migrants, who reportedly died before reaching hospital.
Atanas Atanassov, chairperson of the National Assembly committee on internal security and public order and a member of the Reformist Bloc, a minority partner in the coalition government, said that there was no information on weapons or the resistance that had led to the use of a firearm.
“In such a situation, we are talking about murder, regardless of how it will be described by the investigating authorities. Responsibility must be borne,” Atanassov told public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio.
Before having held a news conference, Interior Ministry chief secretary Georgi Kostov should have come out and said who would bear responsibility for what happened, Atanassov said, adding that the incident would have a European dimension.
Several media reports have pointed out that since the current European migrant crisis started, the case in Bulgaria is the first in which a migrant has died as a result of a police shooting.
Valeri Simeonov, co-leader of the nationalist Patriotic Front – a party that in Parliament supports the coalition government – told television station bTV, “Why should we incite the feeling that our Border Police officers are guilty? The Bulgarian border police officers should be given medals because they were doing their job”.
Border Police should open fire whenever their orders were not obeyed, Simeonov said. “What should they do? Wait to be shot or stabbed to death?” Simeonov said. The nationalist VMRO, a component of the Patriotic Front, expressed similary sentiments, stating solidarity with Border Police defending Bulgaria’s and the EU’s borders.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees office in Bulgaria condemned the incident in which the Afghanistan migrant was shot dead and urged Bulgaria to conduct a thorough and independent investigation.
Boris Cheshirkov of the UNHCR office in Sofia said that the UNHCR was deeply shocked by the incident.
The UNHCR condemned the fact that a person from Afghanistan had died while seeking protection and making an attempt to reach safety in Bulgaria, exercising a universal human right to asylum.
“We urge Bulgaria to investigate, promptly, thoroughly, independently and transparently,” Cheshirkov said.
He said that in the past year Bulgaria has managed to create serious capacity for receiving refugees, up to about 5000 people.
“The refugees are seeking safety, seeking a safe environment.”
He said that the refugees were in despair because in the absence of legal routes to Bulgaria and Europe, they had to resort to people-traffickers and their movement happened by criminal networks.
“We are talking about human beings – about mothers, unaccompanied children, about families and men. Regardless of the profile, those who come and seek protection should be given the opportunity to be heard, their application to be processed and the end of a rigorous procedure to receive a decision,” he said.
He said that it was a big mistake to create a link between refugees and those from which they fled, referring to comments that among the asylum seekers there may be radically-minded people.
Meanwhile, in comments on social networks and in forums on Bulgarian-language websites, there were those who praised and defended the actions of the Border Police, and those who questioned how a bullet fired into the air in the open could ricochet.