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News 08 Apr 16

Bulgaria Awards Vigilante Migrant-Hunters

Police have given an award to one of the voluntary ‘border patrols’ which have been gaining popularity in Bulgaria, with groups of ordinary people detaining migrants and handing them to the authorities.

Maria Cheresheva
BIRN
Sofia
Volunteers from the nationalist Organisation for the Protection of Bulgarian Citizens. | Photo: Facebook/OBZG

Bulgaria’s border police have given an award to a voluntary border patrol which detained 23 refugees near the country’s border with Turkey, border police chief Antonio Angelov said on Thursday.

The border police chief however told the volunteers, who are part of the nationalist Organisation for the Protection of Bulgarian Citizens, to inform the police next time they go on patrol in the forests near the border so that the authorities can react quickly if they spot a group of migrants again.

“I want to encourage them, because they have reacted very appropriately. The group [of migrants] was very calm, but it is not always like that,” Angelov told Bulgarian Nova TV.

“This [volunteer patrolling] is very risky. It is not a child’s game,” he said.

According to the Organisation for the Protection of Bulgarian Citizens’ website, on April 3, 11 members of the group went on “a walk in the forest” with a team from the TV programme ‘No Man’s Land’.

They spotted a group of 23 migrants – 18 men, three women and two children – and stopped them before calling the border police. The volunteers could not give their exact location to the authorities, so they escorted the refugees to the nearest village, Bliznak.

The police arrived an hour later and questioned the patrol and the journalists for an hour about their activities before letting them go.

A video of the group stopping migrants.

“Every Bulgarian citizen has the right to walk in the state’s forests. Stopping migrants and alerting the police is our civic obligation,” the Organisation for the Protection of Bulgarian Citizens said in a statement.

It called on more ordinary Bulgarians to take “walks in the forests” so there is more chance of “halting the anti-Bulgarian smuggling scheme”.

“We want to help the state,” it said.

Citizens’ arrests are not allowed under Bulgarian legislation, but they have become popular among nationalist groups which regularly patrol the area around Bulgaria’s border with Turkey.

There has been little opposition to their activities in Bulgaria.

The human rights group Bulgarian Helsinki Committee last month did however call on the state’s prosecutor’s office to investigate the case of 29-year-old Dinko Valev from the southern Bulgarian town of Yambol.

Valev had admitted on national television that he forcibly detained a group of 12 migrants.

Praised by the TV host for apprehending 12 migrants “with his bare hands”, he quickly gained national popularity and broad public support.

On March 25, dozens of people protested against Valev’s questioning by the police in Burgas, a city on the Black Sea coast.

Another group of young men from Burgas, calling itself the Civil Squad for the Protection of Women and Faith, has also admitted to patrolling the borders and even forcing migrants who had already entered Bulgaria back into Turkey.

“If you are an illegal immigrant, we will send you back, one way or another,” a member of the squad, who was wearing a bulletproof vest, told the website lentata.bg.

However he denied beating up the refugees.

He explained that the migrants think that the volunteers are policemen, so they surrender, believing they will be registered as asylum seekers in Bulgaria.

“But we do not want them registered here,” he said.

At hearing in parliament on Thursday, interior minister Rumyana Bachvarova called on the public not to interfere in the work of the police guarding the country’s borders, but asked them to alert the authorities if they notice illegal crossings.

Bachvarova added that the 130-kilometre fence at the border with Turkey, which Bulgaria is building to halt illegal migration, will be finished by the end of June.

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