Amnesty International slams Bulgaria on treatment of refugees, hate speech, media freedom

Amnesty International has released its international report for 2017/18, in which it slams Bulgaria over its treatment of migrants and refugees, says that hate speech against minorities continued, and says that there was a continuing pattern of threats, political pressure and attacks against journalists.

On the treatment of refugees, the report said that summary detentions, pushbacks and abuses at the border continued.

“The necessary services were not provided to migrants and refugees, including to unaccompanied children,” according to the Amnesty International report, released on February 22.

“A climate of xenophobia and intolerance sharply intensified. Roma continued to be at risk of pervasive discrimination.”

The report said that the number of refugees and migrants entering Bulgaria declined, but reports of frequent pushbacks, excessive use of force and theft by border police continued.

Irregular border crossing remained criminalized resulting in administrative detention of migrants and refugees, including unaccompanied children, who arrived in greater numbers.

Human rights organisations documented numerous allegations of ill-treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers and substandard conditions in detention facilities, the report said.

It noted that in February 2017, local authorities in the town of Elin Pelin refused to receive a Syrian family that had been granted humanitarian status in Bulgaria. The mayor publicly warned that

“Muslims from Syria [were] not welcome” and refused to register the family or issue them with identity documents.

Other municipalities expressed a similar unwillingness to accommodate refugees, the report said.

In July, the government adopted the Regulation on Integration of Refugees; however, this fell short of providing an effective mechanism for integration, Amnesty International said.

According to UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, the Regulation failed to address the persistent problem of unco-operative municipalities or to propose measures to create more favourable conditions for integration in local communities.

It also failed to address the gaps in refugees’ access to social housing, family benefits for children or language training, which limited their enjoyment of social and economic rights.

The government issued an order restricting freedom of movement for registered asylum-seekers.

Adopted in September, it imposed territorial limits for asylum-seekers in refugee centres, prohibiting them from moving out of prescribed areas.

Although Bulgaria committed to accept 1,302 asylum-seekers from Greece and Italy under the EU emergency relocation scheme, it had only resettled 50 people from Greece by the end of 2017r. It did not receive any Syrian refugees from Turkey under the EUTurkey “one-for-one” resettlement deal although it had originally committed to accept 100 people under the scheme.

The Amnesty International report said that hate speech and hate crimes continued, directed at minority groups, including Turks and Roma; refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants remained vulnerable to violence and harassment.

Discriminatory or xenophobic statements were made during the campaign for Bulgaria’s parliamentary elections held in March, by candidates and political parties as well as by

the coalition of far-right parties, (which the report refers to as the Patriotic Front, but which is called the United Patriots) which gained enough seats to enter the government.

Marginalization and widespread discrimination against Roma persisted, Amnesty International said.

“They faced systemic obstacles in all aspects of life, including education, health care, housing and employment.

“Roma children were enrolled in special schools and denied access to mainstream education. High numbers of Roma lacked health insurance and faced persistent barriers to adequate health care and services,” Amnesty International said.

The report said that Bulgarian authorities continued the practice of forced evictions without the provision of adequate alternative housing, leaving many families homeless.

Human rights organisations documented numerous cases involving ill-treatment and physical abuse of Roma by police, according to the report.

In July, mass anti-Roma demonstrations organized by the Patriotic Front took place in the towns of Assenovgrad and Byala, following a violent incident between a sports youth team and several Roma.

People with disabilities, particularly children, continued to face discrimination and systemic social exclusion, including limited access to education, health services and employment, the report said.

It noted that despite numerous threats and simultaneous counter-demonstrations organized by far-right groups, Sofia Pride took place in June under heavy police presence.

On the issue of freedom of expression, journalists and the media, the Amnesty International report said that a pattern of threats, political pressure and attacks against journalists continued.

“A significant portion of the media remained under the tight control of political parties and local oligarchs,” the Amnesty International report said.

It said that in October, Deputy Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov and MP Anton Todorov publicly threatened TV journalist Victor Nikolaev that he would be fired unless he stopped investigating the government’s purchase of a fighter aircraft.

The incident was widely condemned by civil society, but no action was taken against the public officials, Amnesty International said.

The report noted that Bulgaria remained the lowest-ranking EU member state on the World Press FreedomIndex. The NGO Reporters without Borders ranked Bulgaria 109th out of 180 countries in terms of press freedom.



The Sofia Globe staff

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