Bulgaria: 21 asylum seekers to be indicted for riot at refugee camp

Written by on January 9, 2018 in Bulgaria - Comments Off on Bulgaria: 21 asylum seekers to be indicted for riot at refugee camp

During the height of the refugee crisis, when far more refugees were in Bulgaria, a riot erupted at the refugee camp in the Bulgarian town of Harmanli. A total of 21 asylum seekers from Afghanistan, who allegedly took part in the riot, are now being indicted by the local District Prosecutor’s Office.

The prosecution accuses the refugees, four of whom are minors, to be responsible for “hooliganism with boldness and cynicism” and for the destruction of property. The damage supposedly amounts to 85,000 leva.

The cause of the riot in Harmanli, which broke out on November 24, 2016, will not be part of the trial. Neither will police officers who allegedly attacked and beat refugees who were not even part of the riot.

“There is no prosecution on the disproportionate force used by the police to suppress the riot”, Krassimir Kanev told The Sofia Globe. He is the founder and chairman of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, an NGO which supports minorities and refugees.

“Lots of completely innocent refugees were chased in their rooms, attacked and severely beaten up by the police in the course of that operation. Nor is there any prosecution of those who closed the Harmanli center on the instigation of nationalists, turning it into a prison for several days, which provoked the riot. Instead, we are going to have several rioters prosecuted for destruction of property and hooliganism”, Kanev said.

To him, the whole business about prosecuting refugees mainly has to do with one aspect: “The aim of this prosecution is to justify the unlawful acts of the authorities.”

In the days leading up to the riot, radical nationalists and other xenophobic groups had demonstrated against refugees, in Harmanli. They spread rumours about contagious diseases inside the refugee camp. That kind of claim is an old way of spreading hatred against minorities. Not just the Nazis (the ‘original’ ones, in Nazi Germany) have used that strategy against Jews and Gypsies.

On November 21, 2016, the State Agency for Refugees and the Health Inspectorate in Sofia said the rumors about mass infections or diseases at the Harmanli camp were inaccurate. Even so, the Ministry of Health announced the Harmanli camp would be locked, a day later.

Back then, critics accused the Bulgarian authorities of obeying orders from radical xenophobic groups and parties. On November 24, 2016, the riot took place, inside a prison which had been a refugee camp shortly before.

Afterwards, Bulgaria deported refugees “for national security reasons”, again implementing demands from far-right groups and parties.

Shortly after these events, on November 29, 2016, the UNHCR criticised Bulgaria for deporting refugees on national security grounds because of a protest, not without mentioning “deplorable conditions” in the country’s camps.

In spite of all of this, the Harmanli prosecutors now want to go ahead with their indictments, including those against the for minors, because “they understood the meaning and are responsible for their actions.”

Photo: Police and refugees at the Harmanli refugee camp in 2016. Source: Youtube.

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

 

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