Bulgaria struggling with Syrian refugees

2013-08-30 12:04
Syrian refugees behind a barred window at Bulgaria's shelter for clandestine migrants near Lyubimets. (Dimitar Dilkoff, AFP)

Syrian refugees behind a barred window at Bulgaria's shelter for clandestine migrants near Lyubimets. (Dimitar Dilkoff, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Lyubimets - They fled the conflict raging in their native Syria, crossing Turkey and finally slipping into Bulgaria in hopes of making a new life in the European Union.

But these refugees now find themselves behind bars in a Bulgarian detention centre, shoved together like sardines as the EU's poorest member struggles to cope with an ever-rising number of Syrian arrivals fleeing the two-and-a-half-year conflict.

"Freedom!", "Help us leave," refugees appeal from behind barred windows at the Lyubimets detention facility in south-eastern Bulgaria, just over the border from Turkey.

"I am Syrian, a sociologist. I have been held prisoner here with my family for 67 days now," 37-year-old Bashar Selim shouts to journalists from the window of one of the buildings.

Other men jostle around him, lifting their children to show them to the visiting reporters.

The civil war between Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime and the rebels fighting to overthrow it has now killed more than 100 000 people and made almost three million homeless, according to the United Nations.

With the bloodshed deepening, more than 1 670 Syrians have illegally entered Bulgaria this year, up from 200 over the same period of 2012, border police data show.

The number is small compared to countries that have welcomed tens of thousands of Syrian refugees, such as Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon.

European violation

But the onslaught has caused Bulgaria's three reception and temporary accommodation facilities - with a total planned capacity of 1 100 - to overflow, prompting authorities to place newcomers in two detention centres usually reserved for immigrants awaiting deportation.

One is Busmantsi, near the capital Sofia. The other is Lyubimets.

Unlike at the standard facilities, where the refugees are allowed to go out, the conditions here are "similar to prison", UN refugee agency spokesperson Boris Cheshirkov told AFP.

Not only detainees but human rights groups have protested, he added.

"Several people in the Busmantsi centre declared hunger strikes in recent weeks," said Krasimir Kanev, chairperson of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, a human-rights group.

"Detention of asylum seekers constitutes a violation of European and national legislation," he added.

One woman, Janda Hussein from Damascus, pleaded with journalists visiting the Lyubimets detention centre this week, saying: "Help us leave".

The 29-year-old said she first fled with her husband and two-year-old daughter to Turkey. But, unable to find work there, they paid €1 250 to a trafficker to escort them across the border into Bulgaria.

They have shared a room at Lyubimets with seven other families for 48 days now, she said.

"They are all on edge," Iskra Kasheva, a psychologist at Lyubimets, told AFP.

"Besides, the cohabitation of people from many different nationalities in such a small space creates additional tensions."

Mariana Marinova, a top immigration official at the interior ministry, defended Bulgaria's response.

"We provide accommodation and food and have not returned a single Syrian migrant since the beginning of the crisis," she said.

Strict border controls - thanks to sophisticated EU-funded surveillance and tracking equipment - have kept the flow of illegal migrants away from the main Kapitan Andreevo border checkpoint between Bulgaria and Turkey.

Instead, most illegals brave the steep terrain and thick forests of the Strandzha Mountain in the southeast, where they are usually abandoned by their Turkish guides, said Cheshirkov, the UN refugee agency spokesperson.

Bulgarian media reported several cases of migrants who froze to death this winter.

Once safely in the country, they often pin their hopes on receiving humanitarian protection or refugee status, which will allow them to leave the shelters within three to 12 months and stay in Bulgaria.

Others, however, do not even apply, probably hoping to leave Bulgaria for another country.

This leaves authorities with no option but to keep them in the shelters indefinitely, said Marinova, the immigration official.

Faced with this crisis, the Bulgarian government's security council will on Friday debate possible measures to boost the country's reception capacities.

Earlier this week, however, Foreign Minister Kristian Vigenin insisted that a major migrant wave was "unlikely".

Read more on:    un  |  eu  |  bashar assad  |  syria  |  bulgaria  |  syria conflict
NEXT ON NEWS24X
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
2 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/Africa
 

Hottie of the day: Charlotte

Meet our hottie of the day, Charlotte. She feels sexiest after a good workout at the gym!

 
 

Men24.com

This is why guys shouldn’t be in photos
BMW drift battle: M235i vs. speedway bike
Want to start talking dirty?
And this year's Miss Bumbum title goes to...

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Jobs in Western Cape region

Private Banker

Western Cape
Hire Resolve
R550 000 - R650 000 Per Year

Senior Articled Clerk

Cape Town Southern Suburbs
ODwyer Personnel
R7 000 - R7 500 Per Month

Project Manager

Cape Town
Origin Foodservice Management
R20 000 - R25 000 Per Month

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Festive gifts!

Check out our awesome range of festive gifts to make everyone’s wishes come true. Shop now!

Seen something you like in our catalogue?

Find the perfect gift and save up to R5000 – As seen on the catalogue. Hurry and shop now!

Save up to R2200 on electronics! – As seen in the catalogue

Wishing for tech gadgets this festive? Save up to R2100 on hot tech products at kalahari.com. While stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 35% off books

Save up to 35% on the latest page-turners. While stocks last. Shop now!

Good Morning, Mr Mandela by Zelda la Grange

Good Morning, Mr Mandela tells the extraordinary story of how a young woman had her life, beliefs, prejudices and everything she once believed in utterly transformed by the greatest man of her time. Now R221. Pre-order now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

You have the ability to lead and take up campaigns that can sway the crowd and make things happen. There can be a slightly...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.