Bulgaria to move rioting refugees to closed camps, start extraditions to Afghanistan – PM

Bulgarian riot police are seen inside a refugee center during clashes in the town of Harmanli, Bulgaria, November 24, 2016. © Tihmoir Petkov
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said all refugees who were arrested after taking part in Thursday’s riot will be put into closed camps, while some of them will be deported to Afghanistan immediately.

On Thursday over 2,000 asylum seekers clashed with police at a migrant camp in Harmanli, southern Bulgaria, angry at being told they were not allowed to leave. Some 250 police officers were deployed to the scene as the rioters set car tires, mattresses, furniture and buildings on fire.

Twenty-four officers were injured by stones thrown by the migrants, and water cannon was deployed. Over 400 rioters were arrested.

PM Boyko Borisov, who had to cancel a planned trip to Hungary, later arrived on the scene. “I am very worried ... you see there is no window left unbroken. The people who committed these acts of vandalism will be brought to justice,” said Borisov, as quoted by Reuters.

“Based on an agreement between the European Union and Afghanistan we have asked for a plane to start extraditing people there in early December. As for the rest, all who have acted brutally and violated public order will be moved to closed camps.”

“We will try to extradite five people immediately because of national security,” he added, as quoted by Novinite. The Harmanli camp houses about 3,000 people, mainly from Afghanistan. The riot there started after residents were informed the camp was under quarantine and they were unable to leave. This followed allegations that people from the camp carried infectious skin diseases, leading to a protest by local people which was led by nationalist groups.

Petya Parvanova, head of the Bulgarian Refugee Agency, said that reports of skin diseases were groundless and “artificially created tension.”

There seems to have been tension between asylum seekers and local people in the area for quite some time. “This camp should be closed,” one local resident, Rusi Stoev, told Reuters. “You should see what it's like here at weekends. They go around in big groups and take fruit and vegetables at the market without paying.”

Nationalist politician Krasimir Karakachanov of the Patriotic Front coalition saw the riot as yet further evidence the asylum seekers were a threat to Bulgarian society. “The riot and the vandalism at the camp in the town of Harmanli confirms that these people are not some poor refugees at all but rather people with aggressive behavior,” Karakachanov told Focus News Agency.

Bulgaria, one the EU’s poorest countries, has been at the forefront of the ongoing migrant crisis, with many trying to cross over the border from Turkey. Despite the erection of a border fence and tighter security, which has reduced the flow of asylum seekers substantially, many nationalists insist the country cannot support any asylum seekers and have called for the closure of all refugee centers.