Controversy continues over Bulgaria’s ‘migrant hunters’

Bulgaria’s Interior Minister, the leader of a nationalist party and the leader of a right-wing opposition party are among the latest to weigh in with condemnation of self-appointed “volunteer patrols” carrying out illegal so-called citizens’ arrests of migrants and refugees.

Bulgarian prosecutors are investigating after the posting online of an amateur video by a group who had captured migrants, said to be from Afghanistan, forced them to the ground, bound their wrists and shouted at them in broken English to “go (to) Turkey”.

Authorities have been told that the group of “migrant hunters” not only unlawfully detained the migrants, but also robbed them.

Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Roumyana Buchvarova, in a Facebook post, said that citizenship and responsibility were reflected in respect and compliance with state institutions.

“Today we must be careful not only of illegal border crossings, but also of those who want to benefit from them. For money or for cheap and dangerous glory,” Buchvarova said.

Only the relevant authorities could access what was appropriate when it came to refugees, she said. “It cannot be random people, going for a walk, calling themselves ‘patriots’, deciding whether to return refugees or leading them to places to be registered.”

Bulgaria had border guards. Help had been sought, but only from the Defence Ministry, Buchvarova said, referring to recent government decisions to deploy military personnel in support of Border Police.

Valeri Simeonov, co-leader of the nationalist Patriotic Front coalition, which supports the coalition goverment in Parliament, said that the “voluntary squads” were nothing other than gangster brigades.

Simeonov said that the motive of these people was connected to money – either by taking the belongings of migrants or through organising trafficking by larger criminal groups.

“What these neighbourhood thugs, because that is exactly what they are, do is to cause a fuss, first, by robbing a group, and then, calling themselves ‘border police’. Note that there is always a television (a reference to video recordings). This achieves a formalisation of the group. So these legitimise the presence of refugees on our territory and their registration, and then receive an appropriate cut from the larger ‘sharks’. This has nothing to do with patriotism,” Simeonov said.

He called on the Interior Ministry to arrest “these impostors”, adding that the Prime Minister should not make comments off-the-cuff because that only prevented the ministry from doing its job.

This was an apparent reference to Prime Minister Boiko Borissov having said at the weekend that he had thanked the “volunteer squads” and said that those who helped the state deserved only thanks. Amid controversy about his statements, Borissov sought to walk them back, coming out on April 11 with a new statement that it was up to police to enforce the law and citizens who exceeded their rights would be punished.

Simeonov called for the shutting down of access to Bulgarian territory and the completion as quickly as possible of a fence at the border with Turkey.

Radan Kanev, leader of the Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria, a minority opposition party, said that the “volunteer squads”, besides being illegal, were ridiculously inefficient, having no training to protect the state border.

Second, they were far from immune to bribery, Kanev said, describing the groups as “people with criminal records, out of control, potentially an extremely dangerous trafficking network”. He referred to what had happened at the time of the 1990s embargo at the Serbian border, which was exploited by organised crime smuggling groups.

Third and most importantly, Kanev said, support for a bunch of illegal “soldiers” compromised the government’s efforts to organise the resources of Bulgaria’s armed forces and the whole of the EU for the security of Europe’s external borders.

Europe’s borders were guarded by armed, uniformed state employees. “And the security of our border is terribly important both for us and for all of Europe,” Kanev said.

It was lawlessness in Bulgaria that raised the risk of the European border moving to the Danube. The “volunteers” and high-level sympathy for them – an apparent reference by Kanev to Borissov’s earlier endorsement – was hurting, not helping, Kanev said.



The Sofia Globe staff

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