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News 28 Nov 16

Teenager in Coma After Refugee Clashes in Bulgaria

A 15-year-old Afghan boy who allegedly took part in violent unrest at Bulgaria’s largest refugee camp in Harmanli is in a medically-induced coma as a result of skull and brain trauma.

Mariya Cheresheva
BIRN
Sofia
Photo: Ivan Ivanov/Wikimedia Commons

The Afghan boy’s medical condition has been stabilised after an operation, but his life is still at risk, Jivko Zhelyazkov, deputy director of the University Hospital in the city of Stara Zagora in southern Bulgaria told BIRN on Monday.

“The worst is not expected to happen,” Zhelyazkov said.

The teenager, whose identity remains unclear, is accused of being one of the participants in Thursday’s riots in the refugee camp in the town of Harmanli.

Together with hundreds of other Afghans who allegedly took part in the clashes, during which police used a water cannon and fired rubber bullets and blank cartridges at the rioting refugees, the boy was detained at a migration police compound in the border town of Elhovo.

He was then hospitalised in the southern Bulgarian town of Yambol, where he was diagnosed with a skull fracture and bleeding in the brain, and taken from there to the hospital in Stara Zagora on Saturday.

Bulgaria’s interior minister Rumyana Bachvarova told private broadcaster BTV that during the initial medical examination when he was arrested, the 15-year-old had not complained about his health and only felt worse later and was immediately taken to hospital.

Zhelyazkov said that the management of the hospital in Stara Zagora did not know how the boy sustained his injuries.

Tensions at the Harmanli camp, which hosts over 3,000 asylum-seekers, erupted on Thursday after the State Agency for Refugees said on Wednesday that it was quarantining the camp, citing fears of infectious diseases.

Angry refugees threw stones, burned tyres and broke camp equipment in protest. Police officers first brought the situation under control but the violence escalated again in the evening and was only quelled in the early hours of Friday.

Photographs published by camp volunteers show numerous pictures of young men with wounds and bruises on their faces and bodies, which they claimed were a result of police beatings at the camp following the riot.

According to these reports, men and some minors were beaten by police using batons regardless of whether or not they participated in the clashes.

BIRN asked the interior ministry about the reasons for the severe injuries to the Afghan boy and whether the police had taken any actions to investigate the case, but received no answer prior by the time of publication.

A team of doctors who carried out examinations of the residents of the Harmanli camp concluded on Monday there was no outbreak of infectious diseases among the refugees.

A court in Harmanli has meanwhile decided to remand five of the alleged rioters in custody.

The Bulgarian government announced on Monday that 50 Afghan migrants connected to the unrest at Harmanli would be voluntarily returned to their home country, while another 200 would be deported after their documents are processed.

The regional prosecution in Harmanli said it was investigating alleged police violence against two refugees, as well as the case of the hospitalised Afghan boy.

The police union published an official statement on Monday, demanding “public appreciation” for police officers’ actions during the unrest and expressing its outrage with the investigations into allegations of the use of excessive force. 

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