MEPs slam treatment of Turks at Bulgarian borders

MEPs slam treatment of Turks at Bulgarian borders
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia September 6, 2017

Two MEPs – Kati Piri and Kathleen Van Brempt – have gathered information about numerous cases of harassment of Turks with EU citizenship by Bulgarian border police and plan to inform the European Commission and the government in Sofia. 

Turks are Bulgaria’s largest ethnic minority, accounting for around 8% of the population, and over 400,000 Bulgarian nationals live in Turkey. A large part of the Turkish minority in Bulgaria lives in isolated small villages and do not have significant interaction with other people. However, those living in cities are usually normally accepted and treated as equals by ethnic Bulgarians and other nationalities. 

The only exceptions to this are ultra-nationalist groups, which sometimes become violent because of someone’s name or skin colour. Many of those cases remain without consequences, because victims rather do not report them to the police.

However, the voice of Bulgaria’s nationalist parties has become significantly stronger recently, after the United Patriots — a hard-right alliance of anti-migrant nationalist parties — backed the government led by Boyko Borissov. 

Nationalists in Bulgaria have repeatedly spoken out against Turks and other ethnic minorities in the country. In March, the United Patriots — comprising the NFSB, the Bulgarian National Movement (VMRO) and Ataka — blocked border checkpoints between Bulgaria and Turkey for several hours in a bid to prevent “electoral tourism”. 

Now Piri and Brempt have drafted a list of questions to address to the Bulgarian authorities and raise the issue with Turks crossing the Bulgarian border.

“Bulgarian border police intimidate Turkish Dutch. A problem that has been going on for years, but it has to be tackled at once. Together with Belgian colleague Kathleen Van Brempt, I have asked the European Commission and we will include all the experiences shared with us in a black book to be sent to the Bulgarian government,” Piri said in a Facebook post.

Dutch broadcaster NOS quoted a Dutch citizen of Turkish origin as saying that people have been forced to pay bribes in order not to be fined.

"As long as you do not pay, you cannot drive or you have to leave your luggage," Ates was quoted as saying.

Piri and Brempt have gathered information on a number of cases of border police forcing Turks to wash their cars at the border or wait 14 hours for no reason if they refuse to pay a bribe, according to daily Dnevnik.

The two MEPs want the EC to inform them of what measures other than the Mechanism for Cooperation and Verification (CVM) can be used to guarantee that European citizens can safely cross Bulgaria.

The CVM is a safeguard measure invoked by the EC on Bulgaria and Romania when they have joined the EU. To be lifted, Bulgaria needs to complete all requirements in the fight against corruption, fight against organised crime and judicial reform.

The two MEPs also want to know what is the efficiency of the measures taken against Bulgaria and whether the cases of corruption directed against European citizens is an obstacle to the right of free movement.

State authorities have been previously accused of treating migrants inhumanely. In February, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights has stopped the deportation of two Syrian refugees from Denmark to Bulgaria due to the risk of cruel, inhumane or humiliating treatment.

The two Syrians with the initials R. A. A. and Z. M. (a man and a woman) were detained by the Bulgarian authorities and beaten, while the woman was also strip searched. The possessions of the two refugees were taken and never returned by the police.

Both were then sent to a refugee camp where the living conditions were extremely poor. As a consequence, the woman developed an infection, but the Bulgarian authorities refused her medical treatment.