BHC: Riot in Bulgarian refugee camp caused by political and media manipulation

Written by on December 9, 2016 in Bulgaria - 2 Comments

A protest in the refugee camp in Harmanli, Bulgaria, on November 24, 2016, turned into a riot that was suppressed by more than 300 policemen.

The reason for the rebellion was the recent quarantine imposed in the camp by the State Agency for Refugees (SAR), which feared a spread of diseases within the camp and the nearby community.

During the unrest, many asylum seekers destroyed property and threw stones at police officers, who responded with water cannons and clubs. Several police officers and refugees were injured – including a 15-year-old boy with severe skull fractures.


In connection with these events, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) poses the question, “Who needed this escalation?”

Who stirred up rumors and misinformation about the risk of infection and spread of disease, despite Bulgaria’s Chief Health Inspector stating categorically that there is no such risk to the population of Harmanli?

Who forced the SAR to lock up the whole refugee camp, effectively confining the refugees, although quarantine could easily have be imposed only to certain facilities or people? Why did the authorities send an ultimatum demanding the immediate quarantine of the camp, without any preparation.

Why were no SAR staff, NGO representatives or volunteers there to explain to asylum seekers why the yard is being secured with barbed wire, and for how long?

‘Patriotic’ provocateurs

Both SAR and the Interior Ministry announced that the investigation will find the provocateurs of the incident. For the sake of justice, however, the provocateurs must be sought among the representatives of the so-called “patriotic” far-right parties.

Those parties have staged demonstrations against refugees all over the country, and, in this case, they were allowed to speak on behalf of the entire population in Harmanli and the Bulgarian nation.

There are many possible answers to the question why this manipulation was carried in the style of the best totalitarian staging, but some stand out:

  • The approaching elections. Certain parties that rely solely on anti-immigrant, xenophobic and fascist rhetoric need to accumulate confidence within the electorate. What better way than through a controlled rebellion with little blood but a lot of media hype?
  • Recently, Bulgaria received 160 million euros, much of which is given to the SAR to conduct strictly necessary steps for the improvement of reception capacities and the squalid conditions in refugee camps. From this perspective, probably there is significant pressure for the resignation of the camp’s leadership, thereby allowing someone closer to certain parties to be appointed to the post and “absorb” these funds.


By the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee/

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2 Comments on "BHC: Riot in Bulgarian refugee camp caused by political and media manipulation"

  1. Mirela Torossian December 11, 2016 at 11:50 PM · Reply

    Did the Bulgarian Helsinki Committe (BGH) “notice” that the main organizer of the riot in Harmanli – an Afghan – had previously been arrested in Germany for running a drug cartel and had served 18 months in prison before being deported?!! The man, who arrived in Bulgaria four months ago, has been detained and immediately expelled. In this case an Islamic sleeper cell was activated. Afghan refugees organized a protest against the camp authorities. At least one of the invaders involved in the violence had already been identified as belonging to an Islamic radical cell, Interior Minister Rumyana Bachvarova informed lawmakers at the country’s National Assembly.

    (!) And you have the nerve to title the riot was caused by political (far-right parties) and media manipulation. The other way around I could blame you of doing exactly the same by misleading the reader. There are many words to name the content of your article.
    The same applies to the creator of this news-internet-site who regularly publishes articles based on stereotypic biases that are non-objective, leaking facts, polarizing and that support his personal view which demonizes Bulgaria as a country concerning the treatment of refugees and Roma.

    I warmly suggest to first do your homework by making some reality-check plus accurate research that includes “all” facts before publishing without “understanding” the topic!!

    Migrants need to realize that they’re entering countries illegally and that those countries are trying to accommodate them as best as possible. Standards and financial support for refugees differ so greatly among the EU states. Bulgaria is the (!) poorest of the EU’s 28 member states and has struggled to handle the growing influx of nearly 11,000 people though its very little compared to he 3 million Syrians who have fled the war since it began in 2011.
    The migrants know they can get generous welfare in Germany, Denmark and Sweden. Bulgaria is largely considered to be a transit country rather than a final destination for migrants. It gives them a roof over their heads and food. A monthly allowance of 33 euros per month was cut last year. From the moment on they leave the country they were registered first choosing the rich states – they are “economic”migrants ! Not to mention those who through away their Ids or others that claim to be minor in order to bypass law, who literally look 20 years old or more and are going as child refugees – and people who dare to express their disbelief are offended and named racists or far right radicals. Then everyone complains that the far right parties are gaining followers. Why do they think it’s happening?
    Setting camps on fire and violence in Greece, Germany, France and now Bulgaria violates public order of the host country and is, of course, increasing unease and fears among the local population.
    Harmanli looked like a war zone after rampaging migrants smashed windows, overturned trash containers, carried out mattresses, beds, chairs, threw stones and set fires. A new building, which was supposed to be opened and which was built with European funds, has been demolished. Refugees were protesting against the temporary medical restriction to leave the centre and wanted the border with Serbia to be opened. At least 400 “refugees” were arrested after police stormed the camp, finally using water cannons and rubber bullets to suppress the escalating riot in order to stop them from leaving violently the camp. At least 24 policemen were injured during the operation.
    In October this year Harmanli was the scene of another protest when several hundred Afghans demanded they be allowed to continue their journey towards western Europe.
    “I want to go to Germany, because they give you support and pay for your education.” (Spiegel report)
    When German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced Germany’s doors were open, she says. “As of that moment, no one wanted to register in Harmanli anymore,” the social worker says. “In theory, those who had already registered had to stay. But they wanted to go to Germany so they smashed windows in protest.” (Spiegel report)
    Among the refugees that arrive from the other end of the world having crossed several countries on their way to Europe are people who “do carry” visible and invisible diseases. This is a matter of fact and not xenophobic far-right based propaganda! Due to the countries they come from and the season of the year various medical checks are done (Tuberculosis, Diphtheria, Aids, Parasites, Salmonella, Malaria etc.). Cases of “scabies” had been registered in Harmanli, 26 of 130 checked and hundreds more to be checked. Diseases spread easily among masses of people and can turn into epidemics, especially if there are already infected among them. Men in anti-contagion suites were disinfecting the rooms. It may not have been “outbreak-code=red” but absolutely reasonable and responsible “to the refugees and to the already worried population” to close the biggest camp in Bulgaria, housing 3000 migrants, until medical checks deliver the full picture after been completed. Not having enough doctors for so many patients at once is another problem. But again, Bulgaria has not the financial power an facilities German refugee camps offer.
    I speak for many people who have legitimate and reasonable concerns about the destabilizing consequences of mass immigration, the unavoidable cultural clash and problems with inflexible Islam, the financial and economic side effects for the European countries and most of all a “huge security risk” resulting in refugees still entering “without identity”. The minority are political asylum seekers, that’s ok and they should be helped. But this is not the point!
    The major rest are “economic migrants” who intentionally choose rich welfare countries and do escalate riots – also in other countries – when not getting their way to continue their journey to Germany or elsewhere. Worst of all it turns out that the number of troublemakers, criminals and terrorists is growing and activating sleeping cells in Europe. Extreme Islamists find breeding grounds to radicalize refugees or even Christians to convert to Islam. Europe has been shaken from terrorist attacks, also Germany. A new dimension of organized attacks carried out by single perpetrators targeting public places with maximum possible damage and death tolls
    Yes it’s time to take a tougher stance on those who don’t come with good abusing politics of “Endless Tolerance” aka “European Political Correctness”. I think Bulgaria may deal with it better than the “spineless” West by bringing them to justice and deporting those who have acted brutally and violated public order or have already criminal backgrounds!
    Offending in general people, who have understandable concerns due to a history of bad experience and facts, to be far-right, racists and xenophobic is absurd! It’s demagogic, polarizing, irresponsible and – pure barefacedness! We should stop dividing the society in left and right and focus to solve the problems connected to uncontrolled Mass Immigration. They will be not solved with more endless tolerance but with control and restrictions for abusers.

    I have seen here people living worse than refugees or Roma – no one cares about them. How can you exist with a minimal pension of less than 200 leva?!
    People, not refugess, not Roma, die in the cold without food living like animals. The newspapers are full of it. This is daily tragedy in Bulgaria too.
    Where are the Human-Rights-Bla-Bla-Organizations to help??

    This comment may also be deleted from this site the same way other comments have been deleted that did not suit your opinion. Upset readers, also in German language, complained about it.

    Just saying “Freedom of Speech”?

    • Admin December 12, 2016 at 7:16 AM · Reply

      Thank you for your comment. These are our answers on some of the aspects:

      – The interior minister you are quoting retracted her own statement an hour later and blamed it on media:

      – The part about “the creator of this news-internet-site” comes close to a personal attack in comments, which is against our rules. The article was written by the BHC. But I do believe they have a point.

      – “Understanding the topic” and “research”: Yes, this point usually comes up in discussions of this kind, when those who oppose any rights for Bulgarian minorities run out of arguments. Nice try.

      – Accommodating migrants “as best as possible” in Bulgaria: The United Nations and other organizations have a different view. Do they “understand the topic”, to your opinion? Probably not.

      – We reject the notion that all “migrants” are “economic migrants”.

      – Harmanli: There was no medical reason for locking up 3000 refugees. This is not what we are saying, but rather experts in Sofia. Xenophoblic groups and parties are indeed using the opportunity to spread hatred and incite some of the protests. The authorities are helping them, by making mistakes (e.g. the Harmanli lockdown) and by refraining from fighting the rhetoric of hate. This is obviously the BHC’s view, and mine, which I have expressed in opinion pieces.

      – Diseases: Again: The authorities had no medical reason to confine 3000 refugees in Harmanli. This is what experts at the Health Inspectorate in Sofia said. To my opinion, the notion refugees might infect all of us with diseases is propaganda spread by xenophobic groups. Since even intelligent people like you use their propaganda in anti-refugee rhetoric, I have to admit they are pretty successful. That is why voices like the BHC are so important.

      – Criminal refugees and terrorists: I am worried about these aspects as well. The picture some refugees have of women, of homosexuals or Jews is very problematic indeed. Terrorist organizations are indeed trying to get sleepers into Europe through the wave of refugees. These issues have to be dealt with swiftly, but without blaming all refugees.

      – “Deleted comments”: I have deleted a comment, on Facebook, in which a lady called me “racist scum” because I had complained about racism in Bulgaria in an opinion piece (we have a screenshot). And I have deleted another comment on Facebook, in shaky English, written and repeated a few times by a German expat, which included the notion that George Soros was to blame for the number of migrants in Europe. The same person had connected that statement to “Rothschilds”, meaning to all Jews, in separate Facebook posts before. We do not accept anti-Semitism or personal attacks in comments. Therefore, those two comments were indeed deleted.

      Your comment is a little more moderate and the level of your personal attack, about accusing me of not doing research and what not, is just below the threshold. Therefore, I have approved it.

      Imanuel Marcus
      (FF Magazine, editor-in-chief)

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