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maandag 9 juli 2012

short report from the newly opened camp in Pastrogor‏

On July 5th a group of activists from Sofia went to Pastrogor, a small village close to the Bulgarian-Turkish border, where the newly opened transit center for foreigners is situated. The center is also known as an “open camp,” which is provoked by the somewhat free regime of movement, namely the fact that the foreigners who are being accommodated in the camp can go out of it between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. At first glance the open camp is a state of art in the complex of reception and transit centers that have been spreading like a wild mushroom all around Europe and beyond in the past decades. When one looks closer however, a hybrid between alleged humanitarian assistance and strict security handling has taken shape. The so called open camp provides the foreigners with brand new bulk beds, clean bathrooms, a library, praying rooms, and quite a lot of green space, where the people can rest and enjoy the fact that they are out of Lyubimets – a detention center nearby.  Beyond these “humanitarian” conditions however, one can also see strict security control at the gate of the center, bars on the windows, and barbed wire on the walls of the camp. Those on the inside but also those on the outside are constantly reminded that behind the gate of the camp lies a “problem” that requires strict security measures. The people who are held there have committed a crime: they have escaped political persecutions, bombs, gun fire, and poverty. The crime is amplified by their decision to cross an external border of the European Union.

The idea behind visiting Pastrogor was to meet with the local to the village people and the immigrants themselves. An interest provoked by perhaps an unhealthy understanding and desire to extend solidarity and ease the situation of those who cross the Bulgarian border but to also support and hear the people that have lost their children and loved ones in emigration that was provoked by stir de-industrialization and privatization in the last 22 years. Nothing much can be done. Both processes are the symptoms of the larger system that reigns over the world today.

As of right now there are around 80 people accommodated in the center (including families with children and unaccompanied minors) who come mostly from Palestine, Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. We were told by the security guards in Lyubimets that around 10 people are being transferred from the detention center to Patrogor each week. This was confirmed by those staying in the open camp in Pastrogor. Many in Lyubimets are being returned “voluntarily.”

A persisting problem in Pastrogor is the lack of translators and lack of information provided for the immigrants. They have no idea what is happening to them and what will happen to them. As many see Bulgaria only as a transit country they naively believe that they could go elsewhere in order to apply for asylum. They do not have any understanding of how the asylum system works in Europe and that this is not possible. Once they re-cross the Bulgarian border and caught in Western Europe they will be immediately returned back to Bulgaria. If they are caught to “illegally” cross the border again they will not have the “luxury” to be detained in Lyubimets: they are sent straight to a Bulgarian prison, where they could be held for five years. We tried to break through this myth but it is quite hard. Most of the people have seen a lawyer only once (some of them for 2 minutes only, literally). A migrant told us that the human rights organizations that come to visit the center do not talk to them but only monitor the conditions in the center itself. An informational campaign is much needed.

Reaction from the locals

People in Pastrogor complain that nobody asked them if they wanted such center or not. They also complain because despite the promises for employment, such was never provided to them. They are as poor as they were yesterday. Not only that permanent employment is not an option but also many of those who have worked during the construction of the center never received their salaries for the last three months of employment. Despite these however, their attitude towards the migrants is good. To a certain degree, one could say that mistrust exists but in general people understand the reasons why the migrants cross the border. The fear comes mostly from the uncertainty of what might happen (e.g. violence, stealing) and from the very genuine realization that the migrants have nothing to do in this small village, they are bored and this might very well lead to negative consequences (such fear exists among the migrants themselves).

The mayor of the village told us that the local people often refer to the migrants as “the Talibans.” We heard it ourselves. She talks to her co-villagers and explains to them that this is in fact offensive but it seems like there is not much receptivity on part of the locals. The latter is not surprising as even the local media refers to the migrants as “talibans.” No media has gone to talk to the migrants or the local people. Absolute invisibility is being imposed.

The situation of the migrants

The open center is in the middle of nowhere. It is 8 km away from Svilengrad and 1 km away from the village itself. The migrants have to walk in order to reach any of these places. This is not helped by the extreme heat that is in the region as of right now and it will be a pretty big challenge once the cold weather comes (last winter the region was hit pretty badly by snow storms). The migrants receive 65 leva (around 33 Euros) monthly and this is hardly enough for food let alone transportation. The center does not provide provisions for them. They are not allowed to cook in the center either and there is no kitchen. Usage of electric appliances for cooking is strictly prohibited.

Sometimes there is no electricity in the center as they “fix” it 2 or 3 times weekly.

There is a nurse in the center but the medical services provided are under question at best. People need to pay for medicines and if they seek medical help elsewhere. There is no psychological help for those “accommodated” and some shared that they are in a daring need to see a psychologist.

There are many snakes in the region and already an Iraqi man was bitten. He was forced to sleep in front of the gates of the center as he came back after 11 p.m. The man was unfortunate to lie down next to a snake. The security guard called an ambulance immediately however, and he was taken to Svilengrad. The man had to pay for the medical service (11 leva; approximately 5 Euros).

Some of the migrants are afraid to walk around the forest (which is behind the center) and to go to the river because of the snakes and other animals. In addition, mosquitoes and bugs put in extra pressure. Many among the migrants complain that the center is bug infested to such an extent that they cannot sleep at night.

There are no Bulgarian lessons provided, which further complicates the communication between them and the locals. There is a library in the center but the books are in Bulgarian. We bought English - Bulgarian phrasebooks, dictionaries, textbooks for learning Bulgarian, notebooks, and pens. As we could not find Arabic – Bulgarian and Farsi – Bulgarian phrasebooks in Svilengrad we will have to buy them from Sofia and mail them to the center.

There is no internet anywhere in the village. Even if we buy internet flashcards this won’t help as the mayor have been told that internet will be provided for the village in two years. This adds to the great pressure that migrants have to go through. They cannot communicate with the outside world in any way.

We want to buy bikes so the migrants can go to Svilengrad. We are not sure just of yet how we are going to achieve this 1) because it is quite costly 2) because going to Pastrogor is a complicated issue.

The paradox

Some of the migrants told us that they felt much better in Lyubimets (detention center) as compared to Pastrogor. This comes mainly from the impossibility to afford food.

. . .

We organized two events in Pastrogor: movie screening (July 6th) and a dinner (July 7th). The dinner took place in the local pub and it went really well. The local choir sang traditional Bulgarian songs in order to extend their welcome to the immigrants. This was taken quite well and hopefully it broke through some of the fear, mistrust, and uncertainty that have been taking place ever since May.

Bron : No Border  Bulgarian