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UN criticizes Bulgaria for ‘disturbing’ refugee policies

Thu Aug 11, 2016 4:24PM


United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein ©AFP

The UN rights chief has slammed Bulgaria for its policies on refugees, including detentions and attacks by security guards against them, saying the “disturbing” measures may run against international law.

In a Thursday statement, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, criticized Sofia for automatic detention of the refugees entering Bulgaria, saying it is “even worse” to hold those trying to leave the country as such a move is a violation of basic laws on freedom of movement.

“One of the most serious problems is that virtually all people entering Bulgaria in an irregular manner are detained as a matter of course,” Zeid said in the statement, adding that the refugees trying to leave can be prosecuted or jailed for up to a year.

The UN diplomat called the procedure “inhumane and unacceptable,” saying it questions Bulgaria’s “compliance with international law.”

He regretted that some courts in Bulgaria fail or refuse to provide legal representation or translation services for the refugees facing prosecution, saying this means some refugees do not even know they have been charged with a crime.

He said Bulgaria had made improvements in its response to the refugee influx, but some problems remain unresolved, including attacks by the security services and vigilantes against refugees as well as rising xenophobic rhetoric targeting foreigners.

Zeid said the practice of making inflammatory statements against refugees has become very common in Bulgaria, adding that even Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and other influential public figures express “support for illegal armed vigilante groups who have been brazenly hunting down” refugees.

Police escort refugees as they walk to a refugee centre after crossing the Croatian-Slovenian border near Rigonce on October 24, 2015. ©AFP

The statement came after the UNHCR staff paid a second visit to Bulgaria to examine the situation of refugees arriving in the country.

Bulgaria, a member of the European Union, shares a border with both Greece and Turkey and has become one of the frontline states in Europe to cope with the unprecedented exodus.

The country detained about 14,000 refugees in the first six months of this year.

Conflicts in the Middle East caused over a million people to cross into Europe last year, creating the worst refugee crises for the continent in decades.

The EU reached an agreement with Turkey in March to have any refugee landing in Greece deported to Turkey. 

The mega deal has largely decreased the number of arrivals although people continue to the risky sea journey to escape war and militancy in Middle Eastern and African states.


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