Bulgaria: Refugee protests over treatment turn violent

Refugees clash with police near the Turkish border after authorities restrict their movement over health fears.

Some 13,000 refugees, mostly from Afghanistan, are currently trapped in Bulgaria [AFP]

Police in Bulgaria have fired tear gas and water cannon at refugees protesting about restrictions on their movement after authorities barred them from leaving the area where they stay pending medical checks.

Between four and six police officers were injured on Thursday after some 1,500 refugees clashed against their treatment at the Harmanli reception centre near the Turkish border.

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The centre, which houses just over 3,000 refugees, imposed a ban on the refugees’ movement earlier this week after local media alleged that the camp, the largest in Bulgaria, was home to communicable skin diseases.

According to the Reuters news agency, the refugees began throwing stones at police, who then deployed water cannon to disperse them.

The protesting refugees were accused of damaging several buildings, including the camp’s canteen, and setting fires to tyres, mattresses and broken furniture.

“The riot had started at noon but the situation has already been brought under control,” an interior ministry spokeswoman told Reuters.

Petya Parvanova, the head of the Bulgarian Refugee Agency, which runs the camp, blamed media reports for the clashes.

“An artificially created tension led to this, following misleading reports of infections at the centre,” she said.

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Bulgaria has built a fence on its border with Turkey and has bolstered its border controls to prevent inflows of refugees.

Some 17,000 were detained in the first 10 months of the year, over a third fewer than a year ago.

Despite the decreasing numbers, Bulgarian nationalists have staged several protests in recent months calling for the immediate closure of all refugee centres in the country.

At present, some 13,000 refugees, mostly from Afghanistan, are currently trapped in the European Union’s poorest country.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies