March 20, 2013, Sofia, Bulgaria
Every day a large group of men stands in front of the Embassy of Algeria waiting for transit papers. These are just a few of the over 100 Algerian migrants who recently signed deportation papers in Bulgaria demanding voluntary return to their country. A fifth of them are likely to fly back this spring. For the rest, the only certainty is the street. The Bulgarian authorities say no money is available for the deportation of Algerians until at least the summer of 2013. The Algerian consul in Sofia says he cannot help these men. Transit countries like Italy and Spain refuse to accept Algerian deportees on their territory for even half an hour to change planes.
When migrants like these men enter Bulgaria without documents, they are caught by border police and placed in the so-called migrant detention centers in Liubimets, Svilengrad and Busmantsi, Sofia. These prison houses starkly differ from what migrants expect to find in Europe. Breakfast there consists of two slices of bread and police beatings are regular occurrence. “This is really prison, like I’ve seen on TV,” says one of the men who wants to return to Algeria.
When they went to the Algerian embassy to ask for transit documents so that they can go back to Algeria, the consul closed the door and called the police.“You came here alone, you go back alone,” the consul said. If, however, a man was to leave Bulgaria and is caught by border police, he would be returned to prison. At least 24 migrants from Algeria are currently locked up in the Central Prison in Sofia. A car of the Bulgarian gendarme parks in front of the embassy when Algerian citizens gather outside asking to be received.
These Algerians gave up their rights to asylum in Bulgaria but at the same time are not allowed to leave this country. They spent weeks and months in migrant centers where many were placed in isolation and beaten by police. One man was placed in a mental institution and injected with tranquilizers even though he was not mentally ill. Another was hit repeatedly in the kidneys for smoking at the detention center. A third man, who developed kidney inflammation from sleeping in the cold, was prescribed medicine and left to sleep in the cold every day. Many who are ill do not have money for medicine and cannot use the Bulgarian healthcare system. Those who do have money for a return ticket are not allowed to fly because they are not given the right to transit through another EU country.
With no right to asylum, these men cannot rent hotel rooms either, even when they have money for hotel. Some hotel owners call police to check their documents and when they see the deportation letters, police takes the men back to the prison-like detention center or to the local arrest. Most sleep outside in the park and sometimes in the metro station to keep dry from the rain and wind. “But it is not possible to sleep at night, it is too cold,” one man said. And police come and make them go or arrest them for sleeping in the park.
All these men ask for is to be allowed to return to their country. Some have sick parents, or they have families and children. They paid a lot of money to be able to come to the EU and look for work and a better life. Instead, they are being treated like criminals and like dogs. They are not criminals. They are not animals. They ask for respect for their human dignity and for their civil rights as citizens of Algeria.
We insist on the immediate implementation of the demands for return of the Algerian citizens on the part of the Bulgarian and Algerian authorities and the ending of their current unbearable form of existence!
Initiative for Solidarity with Migrants in Sofia