Bulgaria is in crisis, a fact that can be seen on every street and heard in almost any conversation. Feeding off the waves of refugees who have recently entered the country, Neo-Nazi groups in Bulgaria are fomenting fears among the local population and creating social and political divisions.

Since June 2013, the number of refugees in Bulgaria has reached over 10,000. Most of these people have fled the horrors of war in Syria, about 2,000 km south of Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital city. Human rights organizations expect another 11,000 to reach the Bulgarian-Turkish border in the next year.

Initially, many Syrians left their country through Turkey, headed to the Greek border, and from there to other countries in the European Union. But, at the end of 2012, Greek authorities shut down this route. In response, some refugees took the more perilous journey by sea, facing Greek patrols that tried to push them back into the Mediterranean Sea.

Soon enough, waves of refugees began to re-direct their efforts to the Bulgarian-Turkish border. Rocked by internal problems and protests, Bulgaria was not ready for their arrival.

In the camps outside Sofia, refugees live in the worst conditions. They can go days without food with many depending on the Red Cross for donations. A camp in the city of Harmanli was slated to take in only 500 people but now has over 2000 living in huddled tents. Refugees are provided with no electricity and water and must endure weather conditions that include snow and temperatures as low as -3 Celsius.

Doctors Without Borders has warned of the “disasterous lack of medical assistance” for refugees in Bulgaria. Due to lack of space, hundreds must sleep outdoors. A bathroon can serve upwards of 50 people. Recently, refugees protested after the death of a 35-year-old Syrian man who was not provided medical aid after complaining of chest pain.

The state’s lack of preperation, coupled with little public awareness raising about the refugees and high poverty among the local population have fuelled increasing xenophobia in the country, which is affecting immigrant groups at large.

A few weeks ago, an Algerian man assaulted a 20-year-old woman in a store on Pirotska Street, one of the central avenues in Sofia. While the woman, Victoria, survived, nationalists used the incident to call for action against “immigrant crime.” The nationalist movement, VMRO, and nationalist parliamentary party, Ataka, cynically manipulated the incident to galvanize more support for their group, despite Victoria’s plea to the country’s politicians not to exploit her attack. Since the influx of Syrian refugees began, both Ataka and VMRO have started to advocate for anti-immigrant policies.

Only one day after the call by the nationalist parties, a Syrian refugee, aged 17, was stabbed near a refugee center in Sofia. This was followed by a wave of attacks around the city. An Iraqi-Bulgarian was attacked in front of a mall, a Malian boy was beaten by a group of men, and a Cameroonian mother and child were assaulted by a group of Neo-Nazis. Attackers targeted a hostel for refugees and immigrants and severely beat a Bulgarian man mistaken for being one of them. The man, Metin, is still in a coma. While his assailants have been arrested, the police are generally slow in responding to cases involving immigrant or refugee victims.

These are but a few of the violent incidents facing refugee and immigrant groups in Bulgaria, many of which are not covered by the local media. Arabs and Africans have been particular targets of attacks by nationalist elements and have had to organize in order to protect their communities.

Beyond specific incidents, like the attack against Victoria, nationalist factions have used growing social tensions and the state’s lack of response to violent crime against immigrants/refugees to increase their power and influence in the country. They have formed so-called “civil patrols” to stop immigrants and check that their documents are in order and otherwise

Some activists claim these patrols were formed with the knowledge of the authorities and represent the state’s “abdication to right-wing factions.” The chief prosecutor of Sofia, Sotir Tsatsarov, has ordered the police to monitor nationalist patrols, but activists doubt there will be any concrete results. For their part, the Roma – Bulgaria’s largest  minority – have also formed patrols in their districts to protect their people from nationalist groups.

For the first time in Bulgaria, immigrants and refugees are expected to be a campaign issue in the next parliamentary elections, with nationalist politicians presenting refugees as responsible for stealing local jobs. Some five months before the May 2014 elections take place, protests against refugees have already been happening, some in Harmanli and the village of Telish in North Bulgaria where there are plans to build refugee camps.

In response to these developments, on November 17, 2013, over 300 anti-fascist supporters protested in Sofia against racism and xenophobia. Also in November, 112 Bulgarian intellectuals wrote a letter to Chief Prosecutor Tsatsarov regarding the formation of a Neo-Nazi party in the country. The new party named “Nationalist Party of Bulgaria” includes “the formations National Resistance,” “the Bulgarian National-Radical Party,” the local branch of the Neo-Nazi organization, “Blood and Honor,” and a number of other informal groups. The letter highlighted the avowed goal of the Neo-Nazi party, namely to “cleanse Bulgaria from the foreign and alien immigrant scum that has been flooding the towns of Bulgaria.”

The Bulgarian government says it can only provide for 5000 refugees. There are plans to have a 3-meter high wall on the border with Turkey ready by February, pushing refugees and migrants toward even more dangerous routes. Against this backdrop, nationalists in Bulgaria will likely become stronger as they exploit the fears of an improvished population to foment xenophobia. To fight against these trends, Bulgaria needs a broad section of civil society to stand up for the rights of all people in the country, and promote the values of tolerance and understanding necessary for any pluralistic, democratic society.

 

 

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  • This is a manipulation!
    This man ruslan trad is fabricating a conflict nonexistent!
    I am from Bulgaria and all written here is a lie!
    ruslan trad is more dangerous than the radical islamists. I can’t believe that all of these lies are published!

  • I am not surprised by this manipulation of Ruslan Trad.In fact manipulating is his job. Bulgaria is a very poor country. Syrian ” refugees” in Bulgaria have much money monthly than an average retired man in Bulgaria. In fact there are no syrian refugees(at least not many) in this country- these are people striving to live in West Europe on social aids from Algeria, Tunisia, Marocco etc. Mr.Trad tries to destroy Bulgaria, the country of his mother . He should go to Syria and fight against Mr.B.Asad. But being fat and lazy , he prefers to write “artcles “and spit on Bulgarians. It is eazier and safer.Take it easy , Mr.Trad,and do not spit in the water well… Because you and your sister still drink water from it.

  • @Bulgarian:

    You are liar skin head, everything in this article is 100% true, proud of the real Bulgarian Ruslan Trad much more than such Bulgarians like you, you pro Siderov go to hell!

  • The huge amount of illigal immigrants , who R. Trad is talking about, has violated Bulgarian border with Turkey.These people are conducted to Bulgarian territory by criminals who organize criminal channels and are paid for doing this. Instead of fighting against them,R. Trad invents neo-nazis in Bulgaria, not mentioning the real problems , cosed by these syrian refugees from all over the world. Bulgaria has no border with Syria , Irak , Mai and so on and it is not oblaged to take care of these so-called refugees. Europe has had enough of them! Bulgaria , too.

  • so so sad – life is a struggle for many bulgarians I know, but it scares me to see the frustration turned into systematic violence… resembles the rise of the 3. reich.. including the denial

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  • Dear Ruslan,

    I cannot understand your wish to create an ethnic conflict at a place where it doesn’t exist. Truly, Sofia has problems, but they have nothing in common with “poor refugees”, some of whom have more money than Bulgarians, nor with so called neo-Nazi groups. Sofia and whole country have problems with their intrusive government.
    Why I wrote this?!
    It’s very simple! I’m sure you remember those days, which created “ethnic violence” in Sofia. But the reason has not been related with the skin heads, or with the refugees, or with that Algerian man, or even with the assault over Victoria.
    Just then the students have besieged the parliament. For the fist time since the beginning of the mass protests the ministers have feared for their security. They knew that they must do something to distract the social attention from themselves… And they decided to use the war in Syria. However, it is not my business to explain you the solid relations between the politicians and media in Bulgaria.
    Nothing easier then to pay 100 leva to group of boys to attack some refugees. You know that Bulgarians live poorly and unfortunately most of them would do everything for money. Moreover, it was not difficult because all the police in Sofia were gather around the parliament to guard the politicians and there was nothing to stop the boys. Then pay some TVs to present the situations as eruption of ethnic clashes, “which may threaten the national security”.
    And what was the result?
    For a couple of weeks Bulgaria forgot about its impudent government and start speaking about the refugees. But we have a saying “Each miracle lasts three days.” Now we Bulgarians and refugees live without tension, our “heroic” government continues its mission to steal the European money and media get bored from the theme.

    So, Ruslan, I would politely ask you to stop writing for ethnic tension except you want to provoke it. Same like you I am born and live in Sofia and would prefer my hometown to remain as peaceful as it was before the Syrian crisis!

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