Amnesty International on Bulgaria: Ill Treatment of Vulnerable Groups, Intensifying Xenophobia, Media Controlled by Parties and Oligarchs

Amnesty International on Bulgaria: Ill Treatment of Vulnerable Groups, Intensifying Xenophobia, Media Controlled by Parties and Oligarchs

Sofia, February 22 (BTA) - An Amnesty International report on the state of the human rights across the world in 2017/18 identifies persistent weaknesses in several vulnerable areas in Bulgaria: the rights of migrants, the Roma, children and other vulnerable groups, and the news media. It speaks of a sharply intensifying climate of xenophobia and intolerance.

The number of refugees and migrants entering Bulgaria declined, but reports of frequent pushbacks, excessive use of force and theft by border police continued, the report says adding that human rights organizations have documented numerous allegations of ill-treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers and substandard conditions in detention facilities.

According to Amnesty, the government, despite legislative efforts, has failed to provide an effective mechanism for integration of migrants.

It mentions that the government even issued an order restricting the freedom of movement for registered asylum-seekers.

The report points out that Bulgaria had committed to accept 1,302 asylum-seekers from Greece and Italy under the EU emergency relocation scheme but has so far only resettled 50 people from Greece by the end of 2017 and had not received any Syrian refugees from Turkey under the EU-Turkey "one-for-one" resettlement deal although it had originally committed to accept 100 people.

Reception conditions for unaccompanied refugee and migrant children remained inadequate, and children were routinely denied adequate access to legal representation, translation, health services and psychosocial support. Also, the authorities lacked systems for early identification, assessment and referral mechanisms for unaccompanied children, says the report.

According to Amnesty, hate speech and hate crimes continued in Bulgaria, directed at minority groups, including Turks and Roma, and refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants remained vulnerable to violence and harassment.

The report notes that discriminatory or xenophobic statements were heard during the campaign for parliamentary elections in March 2017, made by candidates and political parties, including the nationalist Patriotic Front coalition, which become a partner in the government coalition.

Amnesty also speaks of persistent marginalization and widespread discrimination against Roma, and says that they faced "systemic obstacles in all aspects of life, including education, health care, housing and employment".

Another vulnerable group - people with disabilities, particularly children - continued to face discrimination and systemic social exclusion, including limited access to education, health services and employment.

The report notes that despite numerous threats and counter-demonstrations organized by far-right groups, the Sofia Gay Pride took place in June.

In the media sector, a pattern of threats, political pressure and attacks against journalists continued, says the report. It also concludes also that "a significant portion of the media remained under the tight control of political parties and local oligarchs".

Source: Sofia