22 January 2016

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has published a report which finds that asylum seekers and migrants are summarily returned to Turkey by the Bulgarian authorities, in violation of its legal obligations and the right to asylum.

The research reveals over 50 incidents of summary return from Bulgaria to Turkey between March and November 2015 which was often accompanied by physical violence by Bulgarian police. Asylum seekers and migrants from Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, including unaccompanied children described being shot at, kicked, and beaten with weapons by uniformed officials. Many were also bitten or viciously attacked by police dogs. The majority of those interviewed had their money, clothing, phones and other possessions stolen, in some cases at gunpoint, before being forced to cross the Turkish border by Bulgarian law enforcement officials. The report also describes poor conditions in Bulgarian detention centres, including brutality by guards, unsanitary conditions and insufficient food.

These findings corroborate those made by ECRE member, the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), in November 2015 in its report ‘Safe Passage’ which indicates a ‘consistent picture of alleged violations’. ECRE has also condemned violence at the Bulgarian-Turkish border, following an incident in which a 19 year old Afghan was shot and killed by Bulgarian border guards.

The author of the HRW report, Lydia Gall, said ‘Bulgaria needs to end the abuse and unlawful treatment of people seeking protection in Europe. The Bulgarian government should immediately put a stop to summary returns, investigate allegations of abuse and pushbacks, and hold those responsible to account.’ The Bulgarian Interior Ministry is yet to respond to concerns raised by HRW on 15 December 2015.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 22 January 2016. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.