Syrian migrants take Bulgarian government to court, alleging abuse
Pablo Gutierrez in Sofia, Bulgaria

Authorities in Bulgaria say they are seeing a sharp increase in the number of migrants illegally crossing the country's border with Turkiye.

The Balkan country is considered to be the gateway to Europe for many migrants from Middle Eastern countries. Tension at the border is at an all-time high, with authorities cracking down on human smugglers taking higher risks to get migrants across.

Along the 259-kilometer fence separating Bulgaria from Türkiye, border guards often intercept migrants, crushing their hopes of claiming asylum in the country.

A local aid group has now filed a series of lawsuits against the Bulgarian government, claiming border guards are using violent tactics.


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"The guards took us to a military facility inside Bulgaria, about 3 kilometers from the border checkpoint. Once we arrived, they pulled us out of the cars and beat us," said a Syrian migrant.

‌A batch of Syrian migrants are seeking justice through the courts.

"These are vulnerable people, they are running from authorities that have been abusive, and now they have the courage to stand up and speak again in front of another authority," said Diana Radoslavova, Executive Director of the Center for Legal Aid Voice in Bulgaria.

The group says some of the alleged abuse took place near the border or at refugee camps set up inside the country.

"At the camp, they told us to take everything out of our pockets, phones, money, everything," said another Syrian migrant. "Then they opened their patrol cars and threw their dogs at us. One of my friends was bitten in the leg. It was terrible."

Diana Radoslavova talks CGTN's Pablo Gutierrez through some of the legal cases. /CGTN
Diana Radoslavova talks CGTN's Pablo Gutierrez through some of the legal cases. /CGTN

Diana Radoslavova talks CGTN's Pablo Gutierrez through some of the legal cases. /CGTN

Neither the Bulgarian government nor the Bulgarian Border Police would comment on these allegations, citing its policy not to make public statements on pending legal cases.

The Bulgarian government insists it is committed to protecting Bulgarian and European borders. It states that since January 2022 it has deported or prevented the entrance of more than 160,000 migrants, more than three times the number of people  pushed back during the same period the year before.

Radoslavova told CGTN: "Ninety-nine percent of Syrians do receive status once they manage to register their request, but preventing them to come into the country means you are preventing them from having access to asylum procedures."

Detained and deported

In March, the European Commission launched two pilot programs to enhance surveillance at the Turkish border by deploying more vehicle patrols, cameras, and watchtowers. The Commission also said it would accelerate asylum procedures.

Human rights groups are concerned about another issue reported at refugee camps. They say that on arrival, instead of being registered to begin their asylum claim, refugees are detained and deported.

Stricter border enforcement means human traffickers are taking more dangerous risks to bring people into the country. Last February, 34 migrants were stuffed into a cargo truck transporting timber; 18 died from suffocation, among them five children.

"It's difficult. We have suffered. We thought we were coming to a safe place, that they would care for us as refugees, but we were wrong," said a Syrian migrant.

The migrants' lawyer says she expects an uphill battle in court. Nonetheless, she says she hopes justice will eventually prevail.


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