In his latest comment on civilian groups intercepting migrants and refugees near the country’s borders, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov has told a Cabinet meeting: “No one has the right to make arrests outside the law”.
Borissov told his ministers, according to a transcript of the April 13 2016 Cabinet meeting: “I have not called on anyone to go and fight, to tie up or harass anyone. Anyone who crosses the land border is an intruder, and I said thank you to everyone who made a call so that they could be detained”.
Borissov has been caught up in controversy since his April 10 comments apparently endorsing the actions of illicit groups of “migrant hunters” detaining migrants and refugees.
At the time, Borissov said: “Any help for the police, for the Border Police and for the state is welcome. I thanked them (just who he meant by ‘them’ is now disputed), I sent the director of the Border Police to meet with them so that they can co-ordinate their information. This is our common state. Anyone who helps deserves thanks”.
Borissov’s comments a few days ago, and reports of a civilian group being given an award by the Border Police, caused controversy with human rights groups alleging that the Prime Minister was guilty of inciting the crime of illegal detention.
The controversy in recent days was centred on a group of men who captured migrants from Afghanistan, violently pushed them to the ground, bound their hands, allegedly tried to rob them, and then, in broken English, shouted at them to go back across the border into Turkey.
The controversy prompted Borissov to try to walk back his comments, as prosecutors announced that they were going to act against the vigilante group. It has emerged that the person who posted online amateur video of the capture of the Afghan group has a lengthy criminal record for assault and battery and hooliganism. The person, Petar “The Feathers” Nizamov, now faces charges of unlawful detention, which carries a maximum jail sentence of six years.
Borissov and other officials have insisted that his Sunday comments referred only to civilians who assisted the Border Police by reporting sightings of people who had crossed the border illegally. In the case of the award, officials have said it was given to people who were not migrant-hunters but who had come across a group of asylum-seekers and led them to safety.
By the second day of the controversy about his comments, Borissov’s ministers were on-message, all underlining that civilians should not usurp the role of the state in policing.
At the April 13 Cabinet meeting, Borissov said that several exercises had been carried out at Bulgaria’s borders and a further 300 military personnel were being sent to bolster the places where there had been a slight increase in migratory pressure.
“In my view, the aim was for Europe to hear that in Bulgaria, refugees are harassed and we are not coping at the border!” Borissov said. “I explicitly want to emphasise that not only are we exerting a great effort, not only are we doing very well with this large territory – both maritime and land, and that has been noted repeatedly by everyone who has been in Bulgaria in recent months.
“In short, I do not understand this masochism and the desire to raise a topic which vilifies Bulgaria,” Borissov said.