Bulgaria: the Harmanli camp riots and the bloody aftermath

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Since the riots last week in the Harmanli migrant concentration camp, Bulgaria, we have seen the brutal collective punishment of Afghans in the centre, considered the main culprits.

This account of the riots from No Borders Serbia:

“Bulgaria Hundreds of migrants clashed intensely with police today (24.11.2016.) in the detention centre of Harmanli, close to the Turkish-Bulgarian border.

The riots lasted for hours and the pigs needed rubber bullets, water cannon and tear gas to break it. After entering the camp the cops indiscriminately beat up migrants in their own rooms (note from Rabble. many photos have emerged of wounded skulls – eg. see here). The migrants were put under a quarantine some days ago after local people, stirred up by nationalist and fascist parties and organisations, protested against the centre, claiming it was a source of diseases. Although an inspection proved this wrong, the camp was literally besieged by police and people were forbidden from leaving it (it is not a close centre, so people are normally allowed a limited mobility).

The treatment of migrants in Bulgaria is and has been specifically brutal. Migrants have been killed on the border with Turkey, where a massive fence was recently built, the cases of beatings, degrading treatment and brutality are an everyday reality. All this happens in an atmosphere where the media with no exceptions is a source extremely racist and anti-migrant discourse. The fascists and nationalists have been gathering strength and carry out daily attacks on migrants, apart from their regular “refugees out” marches. The opposition on any level is becoming more and more difficult as people who express anti-fascist and anti-racist ideas are targeted by violent gangs of fascists who enjoy almost complete impunity.”

Two strategies have been key to Bulgaria’s handling of the uprising: naked violence; and efforts to divide and rule the captive migrant population, with the Afghans explicitly portrayed as the instigators, and Syrians characterised by the media as the ‘obedient’ prisoners, as Border Monitoring Bulgaria account of the aftermath shows:

It was reported that after the riots, in the night, around 9 p.m. the police stormed into the three buildings, which are inhabited by asylum seekers predominantly from Afghanistan. They have beaten severely all men and teenage boys for two hours and broke doors, windows, etc. A 15 year old Afghani boy with a broken skull is in a very critical condition and a medically induced coma. He was already part of an escort accompanied by policemen, who tried to send him to the closed camp in Elhovo. After it was recognized, that he has serious problems, the teenager was first treated in a hospital in Yambol and afterwards transported to the the hospital in Stara Zagora. There an emergency operation was carried out.

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Since two days, the health checks in Harmanli have started. The Bulgarian authorities have announced openly that new fences will be constructed around the camp. It was also announced that the former Transitcenter in Pastrogor will turn into a closed camp. Afghan habitants of the camps are blamed by the authorities that they have started the riot and bigger parts of the Bulgarian media propagated this.

It was stated by the State Agency for Refugees (SAR), that Afghans will be deported back to Afghanistan. For now, they are offered voluntary deportation, even if their cases are not decided, yet. 40 people already signed such a paper. If they do not want to, they are threatened to get imprisoned after they had to go in front of the court. After the first trials against the 18 people who were are arrested in Harmanli for rioting everybody of them (three of them underaged) will remain in custody.

Meanwhile there were statements made by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) and the UNHCR: The UNHCR spokesman urged, that asylum seekers should not be deported on national security grounds or because of a protest. The BHC has called for an investigation of the events in the camp. Bordermonitoring Bulgaria (BMB) is sharing these two opinions. All closed centers and open centers are still overcrowded. As long as the conditions in the country are as bad as in Harmanli and elsewhere, Bulgaria will remain a Transit Country for migrants.”

As well as simply deporting masses of Afghans from the camp, the authorities are holding one Afghan on remand for allegedly throwing a Bulgarian flag into the fire during the unrest. He has been charged with desecration of the flag and hooliganism, and was told by the court that he would be held in ‘indefinite custody’ pending his trial.

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If ever you needed an invitation to burn Bulgarian flags, take these actions of the government as a provocation.

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