Bulgaria’s Harmanli Refugee Camp: A Timeline of Recent Events

Written by on November 28, 2016 in Bulgaria - 3 Comments

Harmanli is a Bulgarian town with approximately 10,000 inhabitants, located in the southern part of the country, close to the Turkish and Greek borders. The town accommodates the largest refugee camp, with up to 3,000 asylum seekers. Recently, riots broke out inside the camp, right after the authorities had locked it, effectively confining all refugees there. The official reasons for that step, infectious diseases, turned out to be false.

Since 2007: The refugee crisis hits Europe. In 2007, the first boat with refugees, 53 of them, sinks to the south of Malta. Over the years, more and more asylum seekers, including Syrians, Afghans and people from other countries hit by crises and wars, head for Western Europe. By 2015, thousands of refugees per day move towards Austria and Germany via the so-called Balkan Route, which involves Macedonia, Serbia and Croatia. Most refugees try to avoid Bulgaria, due to reports of abuse on the part of the authorities and appalling conditions. Even though the number of refugees in Bulgaria is low in comparison all along, ultra-nationalists and their followers stage protests against “migrants”. The government does not fight hate speech or xenophobia. NGOs and the United Nations blast Bulgaria for the treatment of refugees in the country. At the same time, the authorities keep on firing and arresting border police officers for corruption and ties to people smugglers.

September 4th, 2016: Bulgarian Nazi parties and groups stage another demonstration against refugees. They want all refugee camps closed and all refugees deported.

September 9th, 2016: The Bulgarian State Agency for Refugees decides to build a fence around the Harmanli refugee camp, and to turn about half the camp into a “closed facility”, after there were reports about a mass fight among refugees in the town.

Throughout October: “Patriots”, mostly xenophobic ultra-right radicals, organize more and more protests against refugees, in Harmanli, but also in Varna and Sofia.

October 24th, 2016: Many refugees at the Harmanli camp stage a protest, during which they complain about the conditions at the facility. They want to move on towards Western Europe.

November 18th, 2016: The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, a large NGO, demands an investigation into reports of scandalous and criminal behaviour by Bulgarian police officers at the southern border. According to those, refugees have been robbed, beaten kicked and intimidated by police.

November 20th, 2016: More protests against refugees are being staged, by ultra-nationalists and inhabitants of Harmanli. Rumors about infectious diseases within the camp begin spreading.

November 21st, 2016: The State Agency for Refugees and the Health Inspectorate in Sofia say the rumors about mass infections at the Harmanli camp are inaccurate.

November 23rd, 2016: The Ministry of Health says the Harmanli camp will be locked. According to them, that decision was taken in cooperation with the officials who had said there were no dangerous mass infections at the camp, a day earlier. Critics interpret this move by saying the Bulgarian authorities were now obeying orders from radical xenophobic groups and parties.

November 24th, 2016: Several hundred refugees at the Harmanli Refugee Center start protesting and rioting. Many of them throw stones at police forces. The latter respond with water cannons and clubs. Several police officers and refugees are injured. Accusations, according to which police attacked and injured refugees who did not take part in the riots, have not been confirmed so far. But pictures of refugees with bleeding head injuries appear on social media.

November 25th, 2016: The authorities say the situation at the refugee camp in Harmanli was “under control”. On the same day, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov convenes a meeting with his Council of Ministers, on the Harmanli crisis. Borissov visits the camp twice. The NGO Bulgarian Helsinki Committee accuses some Bulgarian media of stirring up rumors about infections at the camp and says the reasons for the riots should be sought outside the camp.

November 26th, 2016: The authorities announce that 300 refugees have been arrested after the riots at the locked camp. Also they say, those who took part in the riots (at the closed camp) would be sent to closed camps.

November 27th, 2016: President elect Rumen Radev says, Bulgaria should speed up deportations of “migrants” who will not receive any refugee status, while a medical expert at the Harmanli camp states, no dangerous diseases had been found. According to the prosecutor’s office, hooligan charges will be pressed against 18 “migrants” from Harmanli. One person is being charged for burning the Bulgarian flag. A 15-year-old refugee is being taken to a hospital with a brain haemorrhage. 

November 28th, 2016: Fifty refugees from Afghanistan agree to return to their home country.

November 29th, 2016: The UNHCR criticizes Bulgaria for deporting refugees on national security grounds because of a protest, not without mentioning deplorable conditions in the country’s camps.

November 30th, 2016: The Bulgarian Interior Minister awards cash prizes to police men for handling of Harmanli refugee camp unrest.

By Imanuel Marcus

Photo source: Boyko Borissov in Harmanli. Source: His Facebook page.










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3 Comments on "Bulgaria’s Harmanli Refugee Camp: A Timeline of Recent Events"

  1. Reya Kapoor December 1, 2016 at 8:10 AM · Reply

    bulgarian police took out many innocent refugees from open camp to the place where they brutally beat them up without any reason just out of their own frustration. there are 15 people out there who didnot participate in the protest and remain in their room for whole day. they behave so rude and dont even want to listen to anybody. i dont know how these people can forward their voice out of that sick place. they didnot participate and not even showed in any camera there but they are victimized

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