Bulgaria’s Border Police chief has described the scenes on an amateur video of migrants being captured by private citizens and forced back to Turkey as “somewhat illegal”.
The video, watched by many people since being posted on social networks and in the Bulgarian media, shows three young men forced to the ground and their arms bound behind them with plastic packaging ties.
The video was posted on the Facebook page of one of the men involved in the capture of the group.
On the soundtrack, a man is heard saying, in a mixture of English and Bulgarian, “Turkey! Back! Go back! Back, Turkey! Now!”.
It is not clear where the video, apparently shot with a phone and which jerks back and forth showing the men on the ground, was shot. Reports said that the profile of the man who allegedly made the video said that he was from Bourgas.
The comments on the video by Border Police chief Antonio Angelov on April 11 came a day after Bulgaria’s Prime Minister was quoted in Bulgarian-language media reports as having praised the actions of private citizens who have taken it on themselves to capture and expel people crossing the border into the country illegally. They also came some days after Angelov was reported to have given an award to a group involved in migrant-hunting.
Borissov, added, however that those who take such actions should “not exceed their rights”.
The Prime Minister was reported to have said that he had talked to people involved in the “volunteer groups” capturing migrants and had thanked them personally.
“I sent the director of Border Police to meet with them, so as to co-ordinate the signals and what they need. The state is ours, together. Anyone who helps deserves only a ‘thank you’,” Borissov reportedly said.
Border Police chief Angelov said that in Bulgaria, detention of people could be carried out only by authorities with police powers, acting on the orders of prosecutors and judges.
He said that in the past day, 97 people had been detained while trying to cross the border illegally into Bulgaria.
Angelov said that he and his subordinates could not control the “volunteer corps” because Bulgarian citizens were entitled to be in the country’s border zones.
He added that those seeing people crossing the border illegally should not try to stop them themselves but should contact the police.
The most prominent “migrant hunter” is Dinko Vulev of Yambol, whose vigilante actions have been the subject of various media reports and have led human rights watchdog the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee to lodge a complaint against him at the Prosecutor’s Office.
The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, in an open letter to Interior Minister Roumyana Buchvarova on April 8, said that it was extremely unacceptable that Border Police chief Angelov reportedly had, two days earlier, presented an award to the vigilante group “Organisation for the Protection of Bulgarian Citizens”.
The letter described the organisation as ultranationalist and said that according to its website, in its short existence since mid-2015, it had carried out several anti-minority actions, directed against Roma people, migrants and Muslims.
The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee said that such actions not only should not be rewarded, but should be punished under Bulgaria’s Penal Code. It critised Angelov for what it described as abdicating duties to lawless groups.
“What kind of leaders are those that allow and even encourage such usurpation of their statutory powers?,” the letter said.
The committee noted that in early March, it had reported Vulev to prosecutors.
It called on Buchvarova to make a clear public statement that crossing the Bulgarian border to seek asylum was a right enshrined in the country’s constitution, not a crime under the Penal Code.