Human rights NGO queries Bulgarian Interior Ministry’s statements on shooting death of migrant

Human rights NGO the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) says that it has interviewed Afghanistan migrants and found “significant differences” in what they say and what Bulgaria’s Interior Ministry told the media about the fatal shooting of a migrant near the town of Sredets on October 15.

On October 16, the Interior Ministry said that the night before, three Border Police had intercepted more than 50 migrants, who resisted being taken into custody and behaved aggressively. According to the ministry, one of the police fired a warning shot into the air, but it ricocheted off a bridge and fatally injured one of the migrants.

The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee said that on October 19, members of its refugee programme met and spoke with 20 people from the group of Afghan citizens involved in the incident. The interviews took place at a refugee centre in Elhovo, where the group of migrants have been taken.

BHC said that the man who was shot dead was named Ziyaulah Vafa, 19. He had been accompanied by his 17-year-old brother, who was among those interviewed on October 19.

The group said that they had been intercepted at the bridge not by three but by four or five police. They said that they did not offer resistance and showed no aggression towards police.

After seeing the police, the group scattered. The BHC said that it was told that two of the police had opened fire and that four shots were fired.

The group said that they had been running and were unable to say with certainty whether the shots were fired in the air or had been aimed at them.

After Vafa was hit and fell to the ground, the group gave up trying to escape, lay on the ground and awaited formal arrest.

The group said that in the subsequent search of their belongings, no firearms, weapons or any other items that could be used in an attack had been found, but only personal belongings, clothes, phones and documents.

“BHC considers it necessary to state that this establishes serious and substantial differences between the original version of the authorities and the statements of witnesses, which raises questions about the objectivity of the information given to the media as well as about the seriousness of the intentions of the authorities to establish and announce to the public the actual circumstances of this tragic event. The incident raises serious questions about the use of firearms, which does not seem to have been absolutely necessary under the circumstances.”

BHC said that this was not the first such incident at the Bulgarian border. In autumn 2000, in the area of responsibility of Ivailovgrad, border police while trying to arrest a group of 91 people in a wooded area, a citizen of Iraq was shot and killed by border patrol. In this case, both the original version and the final conclusion of the prosecution again were that the death was caused by a ricochet produced by a warning shot in the air, BHC said.

Fifteen years later, Bulgarian society is facing similar circumstances with identical explanations from the authorities, and unfortunately – again about the same fatal outcome, BHC said.

BHC called for a “thorough, prompt and impartial” investigation, saying that it was of particular importance to establish whether the firearm had been used under conditions of absolute necessity, as required by Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Bulgarian legislation.

“An investigation in accordance with international standards for integrity, independence and impartiality is essential to identify the actual cause and the blame for the tragic accident that claimed the life of a young man went looking for protection, safety and a better future,” BHC said.

(Photo, of the bridge where the fatal incident took place: Screenshot from BNT)

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The Sofia Globe staff

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