Since the last week of June, the Collective Rotte Balcaniche Alto Vicentino has been on the border between Bulgaria and Turkey for a new three-month active solidarity and monitoring project.
The border reached is one of the outermost borders of the European Union and is considered by the collective, which had previously carried out an initial observation activity there, as ‘one of the key points in the European strategy of controlling bodies and closing borders’, as well as one of the areas where there are no ongoing initiatives of care and support for people on the move. Furthermore, not even in the media can one find articles and reports on the situation experienced by migrants in Bulgaria.
The relay therefore has multiple purposes and writes that after three weeks of presence there would be so many things to tell and reflections to share.
A very complex situation
The group of activists faces the difficulty of being the only – or almost the only – solidarity group present. They move mainly between Harmanli – where there is the largest camp in Bulgaria, with around 1,500 asylum seekers – and Svilengrad, a border town where they meet people from the Pastrogor camp, whose architecture is that of a prison.
‘We are confronted on a daily basis,’ they explain, ‘with the extreme violence of the border, which materialises in multiple dimensions.
The corporeal one, the swollen bodies of people clubbed by the police with baseball bats, for an hour and a half, their hands handcuffed behind their backs. And the sores caused by the stings of the insects infesting the mattresses of the camps, and the bites of the border police dogs on their legs.
But also the ‘psychological’ dimension: in the widespread fear of telling the truth, of showing one’s wounds, of getting treatment, of going to hospital. Police violence traumatises and terrorises, it gets inside people, as does life in the camps, which is a continuous training in inferiority. When we distribute food and material, it happens that we have to explain to people that there is no need to show documents”.
‘Every day we encounter new and different emergencies, which are the norm. Those who come back lame from the border then fall ill in the camps and detention centres: the food is inadequate if not inedible, the hygienic conditions poor, the water dirty, the medical service absent. Inside the facilities, the police often harass arbitrarily. At the border, guards steal money and telephones, they turn people away literally in their underwear,’ says the group that is trying to be a friendly and supportive presence for migrants.
Thanks to a relentless and daily intervention, in a short time, they have come into direct contact with numerous people and collected several testimonies that map the brutality of another country used as a watchdog by the richer states of the European Union.
‘Migrants suffer as much violence at the border as in the camps. The rejections from Bulgaria are continuous and characterised by the use of firearms, dogs and baseball bats. But the Bulgarian police also ‘push back’ from the northern border, the one with Serbia, paradoxically forcing migrants to remain within its territory, preventing the dream and the project of walking towards Europe,’ says an activist of the Collective reached on the phone.
‘Just yesterday we met four young men of Moroccan origin in Svilengrad who told us that they had been sent back to Turkey four times. They were a group of about 20 people, they were robbed of everything – primarily phones and money – and sent back literally in their underwear. A few days ago, on the other hand, we again came across some people who had just returned from the Serbian border: after being beaten for an hour and a half with clubs, handcuffed, their bodies were purple with bruises, even on their heads. They risk damage to their internal organs, but it is not possible to carry out the hospital examinations that would be necessary.
People are afraid even to speak and show their swollen bodies, for fear of police reprisals.
The week before, in Harmanli, we learnt that camp guards had beaten up a man and two children simply because they had forgotten their ID, but it seems that this futile violence is the norm’.
As is often the case on other borders, police violence is not something that can be relegated to a few heavy-handed gendarmes, or a practice reserved only for those who try to leave the country or are intercepted while trying to cross it, but is systematic and represents the way the institutions have chosen to ‘manage’ migration.
This is certainly one of the reasons why the activists of the Collective have encountered hostility in their activities from both the authorities and local nationalists who consider them an unusual and suspicious presence. ‘In this sense,’ they declare, ‘we have already experienced repression: in Bulgaria it is not possible to publicly tell the truth about violence’.
This first brief account concludes with a request to continue supporting the solidarity relay and also to bear the legal costs of working there:
‘We need everything – food, clothes, medicine, mobile phones, hygiene products -, and for all this to be known. As you know, because of the distance it is not possible for us to bring the material by van, so we have to buy it here. In addition, we are already facing legal expenses. Therefore, we ask you once again to be our accomplices also with financial support. With all our love, with all our anger, we remain: by the side of the migrants who exist and resist, despite everything. They will try to bury us, but we know we are seeds’.
You can support expenses by donating to:
Associazione Di Promozione Sociale Megahub
Banca di Verona e Vicenza Credito Cooperativo
Causale: Collettivo Rotte Balcaniche