Bulgaria is failing to properly investigate racist attacks fueling “fear, discrimination and violence”, it’s been claimed.
Amnesty International says those subjected to hate crimes have no confidence authorities will probe their complaints.
Attacks rose in 2013 as migrants and asylum seekers from Syria arrived via Bulgaria’s border with Turkey, the human rights group said. Around 1,700 arrived via that route in 2012, increasing to 11,150 the following year, with more than 8,600 crossing the border between August and November.
“Hundreds of people from minority groups have experienced hate crimes and many more have no confidence in the authorities to protect them,” says Marco Perolini, Amnesty International’s researcher on Discrimination in Europe. “The Bulgarian authorities urgently have to take a strong stand and ensure they are adhering to national and international laws, ensuring human rights for all.”
“Hate crimes are typically investigated as offences motivated by ‘hooliganism’, rather than crimes targeting victims on account of their ethnic origin, migrant status or sexual orientation,” added Amnesty’s report on Bulgaria. “The full extent of hate crimes in Bulgaria and their impact on victims therefore remain largely hidden and unacknowledged, fueling fears within targeted communities, eroding their trust in authorities and delaying the introduction of effective measures to combat these crimes.”
Sofia’s prosecution office opened 80 pre-trial proceedings concerning crimes against ethnic minorities between January 2013 and March 2014.
Amnesty says the data does not reflect reality.
UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, said anti-refugee sentiment, already strong in 2013, reignited in April 2014, when residents expelled three families from a village in central Bulgaria. Then, in September, protesters – including parents and teachers – prevented nine refugee children from starting school, claiming they would not fit in and hold back Bulgarian children.
Amnesty cite the case of an Iraqi asylum seeker, who was attacked with metal knuckledusters by a gang in September 2013. He told the human rights group that police refused to register his complaint, threatening to deport him. Bulgaria’s interior ministry later said two officers were “sanctioned” after an internal investigation.
Last year UNHCR launched a campaign in Bulgaria aimed at softening views towards refugees and asylum seekers.
Roland-Francois Weil, UNHCR’s representative in Bulgaria, said: “This campaign is aimed at influencing the attitudes of the people in the middle who are not sure who refugees are. We are trying to refocus the debate away from numbers of refugees and supposed threats, and rally moderate voices to be heard in the public debate. Too often they are drowned out by the far right.”
Bulgaria had 4,510 asylum applicants from Syria in 2013, Eurostat figures show, the third highest in the EU, after Germany and Sweden.
Bulgaria has a population of around seven million. Its biggest ethnic minorities are Turks (8.8 percent of the population) and Roma (4.9 percent).