BELGRADE, Serbia (AA) - Using police dogs and other violence, Bulgarian authorities are “brutally mistreating” Afghan and other asylum seekers and migrants before pushing them back to Turkiye, an international rights group said on Thursday.
“Bulgarian authorities are brutally and summarily pushing back migrants and asylum seekers across the land border with Turkey,” Michelle Randhawa, refugee and migrant rights officer at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said in a statement.
According to the statement, the rights group interviewed 15 Afghan men between November 2021 and April 2022, adding that 14 of the 15 men said that Bulgarian police, or men they believed to be Bulgarian police, beat them either when they were detained in Bulgarian territory, and/or in the course of forcibly returning them to Turkiye.
“Ten of the men said Bulgarian authorities stole their belongings and stripped them of their clothes, in some cases leaving them without shoes, only in underwear and t-shirts in freezing temperatures,” it said.
A 27-year-old Afghan man told HRW: “They were kicking us like soccer balls. They kicked me on every part of my body, I was just able to protect my head. They were wearing … [heavy] boots … and the toe of the boots was made of steel. On the border, they beat us again … and they told us, ‘Don’t come back again’.”
The HRW official called on the EU to ensure that Bulgaria immediately stops the “illegal and dehumanizing pushbacks” at its borders and allows asylum seekers access to fair asylum procedures.
“At a time when Bulgarian officials are welcoming Ukrainian refugees by disseminating information to them about temporary protection and living in Bulgaria, they are brutally mistreating Afghans and other asylum seekers at their border,” she added.