This week Amnesty International and the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) have called on the Bulgarian authorities to take all necessary measures to protect migrants and refugees and to investigate crimes committed against them. The call comes after two Syrian refugees in Sofia were injured this week in a violent attack. This is the seventh attack in the country’s capital targeting migrants and refugees in just one month. Last month, a 17-year-old Syrian was stabbed in the back while waiting to enter one of the three camps for asylum seekers.
Amnesty International accuses the Bulgarian authorities of not investigating such crimes properly and not bringing the perpetrators to justice, and instead downplaying the violent attacks as ordinary muggings or crimes. Amnesty International and BHC urge the authorities to thoroughly investigate possible hate motive behind these crimes.
In a letter sent to Interior Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev, the BHC accuses him of contributing to the atmosphere of impunity regarding such crimes and of giving statements which present asylum seekers as a threat to the country.
“We call on Minister of Interior Tsvetlin Yovchev not to damage the reputation of our country by allowing serious violations of international law and Bulgarian legislation,” stated Margarita Ilieva from the BHC.
In recent months, the Bulgarian media has been accusing refugees of being members of terrorist organisations, and protests have taken place in areas where the government plans to open new reception centres. “There has been a media-driven hysteria about the size and impact of the Syrian refugees coming into the country — it started with some misleading information on how much the government is spending on the accommodation”, stated Kamelia Dimitrova, from the Centre for the Study of Democracy in Sofia.
According to a poll, 83% of Bulgarians see the influx of refugees as a risk to national security. Support for ultranationalist party Ataka, which has 23 seats in Parliament, has also grown in the past months and a new nationalist party was founded last month.
Commissioner Cecilia Malmström highlighted recently that hate crime is becoming increasingly visible in Europe. “Rather than defend the contributions made by migrants and minorities in the EU, politicians too often join populist parties in blaming minorities for strains on their social security systems, for problems in their healthcare systems or for high unemployment”, stated the European Commissioner for Home Affairs.
Bulgaria is currently hosting some 8,800 asylum seekers and refugees, around two-thirds of them Syrians. Refugees in the country are being hosted in very poor conditions and lack much needed medical help and food, and up to ten families may share a single room in crumbling old buildings. Bulgaria, the European Union’s poorest country, normally receives around 1,000 asylum seekers and refugees a year.