An amateur video published on social media yesterday (11 April), showing the arrest of asylum seekers by vigilantes, sparked debates at political level and among the wider public about the role of so-called “patriots” in discouraging refugees from crossing through Bulgaria.
The amateur shows vigilantes arresting three refugees, tying their hands behind their backs as they lie on the ground in a wood.
One of the vigilantes tells them: “No Bulgaria – go back [to] Turkey.”
The video was reportedly shot in Strandja, a mountainous area near the Turkish border.
The vigilantes have remained anonymous, but another vigilante, Dinko Valev, gained international fame for patrolling the border with Turkey “hunting” migrants.
“Bulgaria needs people like me, dignified Bulgarians, willing to defend their homeland,” says Valev, who has been interviewed by several Western media outlets.
An opinion poll by the Bulgarian National television BNT showed yesterday that 84% of the viewers supported the idea that vigilantes should be recognised and supported by the government. 16% said they were against.
On Facebook, the general opinion appears to be that vigilantes acting against refugees should be praised and supported. A minority claims that their actions are an offense to humanity and shame the country.
According to information in social media, often the vigilantes only pose as “patriots”, but in fact they rob the refugees of their possessions.
The Bulgarian premier first made remarks in support of the vigilantes, and following a reaction by right groups said he had been misinterpreted.
Borissov commented: “Any help for the police, for the border police and for the state is welcome. I thanked them [the vigilantes], I sent the director of the border police to meet with them, so that they coordinate their information. This is our common state. Anyone who helps deserves thanks.”
The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, a human rights group, said it would send a complaint to the prosecutor general about the prime minister’s statement, which according to them qualified for a crime according to two texts of the penal code: for inciting discrimination and violence based on race, nationality and ethnicity, and for inciting others to commit crimes.
Borissov backed down and wrote on Facebook that his statement had been misinterpreted.
“My strong opinion is that civil society should be vigilant, that is should give information and not be indifferent when law is breached, but in no case there should be abuse of rights,” he said.
Bulgarian border police chief Antonio Angelov commented that the arrest of migrants by vigilantes was illegal.
Bulgaria is confronted with refugees crossing into its territory from Turkey and from Greece. The country has erected a razor-wire fence along 95 km of its 269-km border with Turkey. On the border with Greece and Macedonia there is no fence, but in recent weeks, the army has been deployed in the critical areas.