2014: Immigrants Still Posing Challenge to Bulgarian Society
Novinite's team is publishing brief daily comments about how 2014 unfolded in Bulgaria and elsewhere.
After the dramatic increase of the number of illegal immigrants arriving in Bulgaria in 2013, which caught the authorities totally unprepared, the situation in 2014 slowly improved.
The initially appalling conditions in the immigrant centres in Sofia and across the country were considerably ameliorated, mostly thanks to the EU funding Bulgaria got for the purpose.
At the same time, the Interior Ministry stepped up the security along the Bulgarian-Turkish border, sending around 1000 additional border police officers to guard it. The construction of the controversial 30-km barbed wire fence along the border started in the spring and was completed in the autumn, at exorbitant prices. Its efficiency is somewhat dubious, as the border between Bulgaria and Turkey is 260 km long.
According to the official data of the State Refugee Agency, the number of immigrants living in its centres is 4000, as of the beginning of December. The information on the numbers of immigrants who already got a refugee or humanitarian status, living outside the centres, is not very precise, but the most frequently quoted numbers put them at 6-7000 people.
Thankfully, in 2014 there were no serious incidents involving immigrants, unlike the notorious case in the autumn of 2013, when an Algerian illegal immigrant stabbed repeatedly a sales person in a Sofia shop in an attempted robbery, or the incident in which an Iraqui teenager who was standing by the fence of one of the refugee centres in Sofia, was stabbed by unidentified attackers. Throughout the year there have been minor incidents and brawls, both among the immigrants and between the immigrants and the Bulgarian citizens, but without serious consequences.
Unfortunately, there have been blatant cases of xenophobia on part of Bulgarian citizens. The first one that got publicity was in the Kazanlak village of Rozovo where the locals expelled several families of Syrians with refugee status, who had legally rented a house in the village. Another more notable was in the village of Kalishte where the local residents refused to let their children go to school with nine immigrant children from Afghanistan whose families were living in the refugee centre in the nearby village of Kovachevtsi. The refugee children placed in schools in the nearby town of Zemen and in Sofia.
The number of illegal immigrants who were bussed by human traffickers directly to Sofia has increased. So have the cases in which Bulgaria's border police arrested immigrants trying to illegally cross Bulgaria's borders en route to Western Europe.
There have also been cases in which immigrants died of exposure while roaming the wooded and mountainous areas along Bulgaria's western borders, attempting to cross into Serbia towards Western Europe. Cases of immigrants who had crossed the border with Turkey, got lost and died of hypothermia, have also been reported.
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