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News 25 Nov 16

Bulgaria Arrests Hundreds of Refugees After Camp Riot

Police and refugees have been hospitalized following violent clashes in Bulgaria’s largest refugee camp in the southeastern town on Harmanli on Thursday evening.

Mariya Cheresheva
BIRN
Sofia
Riot police in the Harmanli camp on Thursday. Photo: Rasheed Allawi

Around 400 refugees have been detained for vandalism during a mass riot that took place in the refugee reception centre in the town of Harmanli in southeastern Bulgaria on Thursday, the Bulgarian Interior Ministry said on Friday.

The ministry reported that 24 police sustained injuries during clashes with rioting refugees on Thursday during which police used a water cannon and fired rubber and blank cartridges.

Petya Parvanova, director of the State Agency for the Refugees, SAR, told journalists that three refugees were taken to hospital after the clashes.

However, 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 they participated in the clashes.

Tensions in the camp, which hosts over 3,000 asylum seekers, erupted at midday on Thursday after SAR on Wednesday said 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.

The forced quarantine measures followed complaints from locals who said they feared a possible outbreak of epidemics from the camp to the local population.

Teams of doctors assigned to screen the health situation in the camp will only enter the camp on Monday.

Refugees complained they were not informed about the quarantine measures and why their free movement was suddenly restricted.

Parvanova said most of the refugees who took part in the riot were from Afghanistan.

Outoing Prime Minister Boyko Borissov arrived at the scene late on Thursday and said Bulgaria would start deporting the Afghan migrants in December.

He said any migrants who violated public order would be moved to closed facilities and denied reports that police used excessive violence.

Borissov also warned Bulgarians not to take the law into their own hands, after angry locals demanded to enter the camp on Thursday evening, complaining of a risk of terror attacks.

On Friday, the rights watchdog the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee accused nationalist parties and organizations, which have organized anti-migrant protests in Harmanli and elsewhere, of sparking tensions between locals and refugees. 

A major fight between refugees themselves in Harmanli shocked locals and raised ethnic tensions in the town in August. 

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