Clashes during refugee protests lead to threats of deportation

Peaceful Assembly

At the end of November, refugees in Bulgaria protested over their treatment by the authorities, with some of these demonstrations turning violent. Protests took place close to the Turkish border with Bulgaria, leading to clashes between protesters and police. These were sparked by restrictions on the movement of protestors imposed by the Bulgarian authorities reportedly due to public health fears.  Authorities had barred refugees from leaving the area pending medical checks. The ban on movement affected around 3,000 refugees located in Bulgaria's largest refugee camp. Reports indicated that six police officers were injured after some 1,500 refugees clashed with the police who used tear gas and water cannon against the protesting refugees. According to al Al Jazeera, the refugees began throwing stones at police, who then deployed water cannons to disperse them. Al Jazeera also later reported that the authorities were planning to deport all of those refugees involved in the disturbances with police. 

The previous month, supporters of the far-right in Bulgaria planned protests against refugees and migrants in the cities of Sofia, Burgas, Yambol and Varna. The Natsionalna Saprotiva (National Resistance) movement was one of the organisers. They demanded that authorities expel all refugees and migrants from Bulgaria, that all refugee centres be closed, called for a ban on the opening of new ones and a demanded a halt to all financial or integration aid for asylum seekers. According to these demonstrators, the government of Boyko Borissov is doing nothing to protect the country’s border with Turkey, and Bulgaria’s very existence has been put at risk as a result.

Expression

In November, the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) released findings from a survey which shows that perceived levels of press freedom in Bulgaria are on the decline. In 2016, Bulgaria was ranked 113th in Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index, having been ranked 106th the previous year. AEJ Bulgaria highlights that this is the lowest position of any EU member state. Their research refers to a “pressure culture" within the Bulgarian media scene. Ultimately, this pressure has a chilling effect on free speech and leads to higher levels of self-censorship. Journalists surveyed said that the most common forms of pressure were slander, smears and rumours circulated about individual journalists.