Bulgaria Struggles with Onslaught of Syrian Refugees

August 30, 2013


They fled the conflict raging in their native Syria, crossing Turkey and finally slipping into Bulgaria in hopes of making a new life in the European Union.

But these refugees now find themselves behind bars in a Bulgarian detention centre, shoved together like sardines as the EU’s poorest member struggles to cope with an ever-rising number of Syrian arrivals fleeing the two-and-a-half-year conflict.

“Freedom!”, “Help us leave,” refugees appeal from behind barred windows at the Lyubimets detention facility in southeastern Bulgaria, just over the border from Turkey.

“I am Syrian, a sociologist. I have been held prisoner here with my family for 67 days now,” 37-year-old Bashar Selim shouts to journalists from the window of one of the buildings.

Other men jostle around him, lifting their children to show them to the visiting reporters.

The civil war between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and the rebels fighting to overthrow it has now killed more than 100,000 people and made almost three million homeless, according to the United Nations.

With the bloodshed deepening, more than 1,670 Syrians have illegally entered Bulgaria this year, up from 200 over the same period of 2012, border police data show.

The number is small compared to countries that have welcomed tens of thousands of Syrian refugees, such as Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon.

But the onslaught has caused Bulgaria’s three reception and temporary accommodation facilities — with a total planned capacity of 1,100 — to overflow, prompting authorities to place newcomers in two detention centres usually reserved for immigrants awaiting deportation.

One is Busmantsi, near the capital Sofia. The other is Lyubimets.

Unlike at the standard facilities, where the refugees are allowed to go out, the conditions here are “similar to prison”, UN refugee agency spokesman Boris Cheshirkov told AFP.

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