French lawyers will today (26 June) bring a complaint against Bulgaria and will ask the European Commission to start and infringement proceeding for inhuman treatment of asylum seekers by this country’s authorities, the Green/EFA group announced. Georgi Gotev has the story.
In the presence of the Green/EFA group co-chair Ska Keller, the lawyers presented a 20-page report, based on shocking testimony by Afghan asylum-seekers, and answered journalistic questions.
Chloé Gerbert Cahuzac who represents the 14 Afghan claimants who are currently asylum seekers in France said they were in a state of anxiety aid groups had “never seen before”.
She quoted them as repeating the same sentence: “We prefer to go back to Kabul than to Sofia. In Afghanistan people kill you right away with one bullet, in Bulgaria they let you die slowly”.
She explained that under the current Dublin asylum system, the claimants risk being returned to Bulgaria, where they were first registered as refugees. In France, in the last months some administrative courts have annulled Dublin transfers to Bulgaria, recognising the deficiencies of the Bulgarian system, as well as reports and evidence of ill-treatment suffered by asylum seekers. But some other courts in France validate the transfers, since the EU hasn’t addressed the issue.
The European Commission and the European Court of justice are the only institutions that can clearly state that there are systemic deficiencies in the Bulgarian asylum system, thus stopping transfers to Bulgaria.
Gerbert Cahuzac quoted from one of the asylum seekers (their names are withheld) who said he was part of a group of 21 people who were stopped by the police, beaten, all their belongings were taken, and dogs were sent on them. As he was with his children, he said the kids didn’t want to see dogs any more.
Then reportedly the group was taken to a house where they were kept without food, until the refugees gave money to the police. The man said the Talibans in Afghanistan had another tactic: instead of killing their enemies, they were cutting their legs.
“He was seriously thinking of returning to Afghanistan to have his legs cut, instead of going back to Sofia, I think it is quite telling”, Gerbert Cahuzac said. She quoted another Afghan asylum seeker who said he had lost his entire family in Afghanistan, but still his nightmares were about Bulgaria. “It is as if Bulgaria had erased everything they had lived before”, she said.
She also said there had been a “serious” suicide attempt in a French detention centre of an Afghan asylum-seeker who was about to be sent to Bulgaria.
Gerbert Cahuzac also said many French judges didn’t understand why Afghan refugees thought their life would be at risk in Bulgaria.
“If they would really listen, I think they should cancel the Dublin transfers, by recognising the deficiencies of the Bulgarian asylum system”, she said, deploring that “right now, the statement of a refugee has no value”.
She also related reports about asylum-seekers being beaten in Busmantsi, a detention centre near Sofia. She said there were cameras everywhere at Busmantsi, paid by EU money, but not in the bathrooms, and this is where asylum-seekers were beaten.
French lawyer at the Paris Bar Clément Père, one the authors of the report, said the request is first of all the Commission “to investigate the serious violation of European standards by the Bulgarian state”. He said that Bulgarian criminal law considers the illegal entry and exit through its borders as a crime, which in his words violates the principles of international law of non-criminalisation of illegal crossborder movement, reaffirmed by the declaration of New York of 16 September 2016.
Secondly, he said that the Bulgarian state is failing to respect the principle of individual examination of asylum applications, which is also enshrined in EU legislation, by denying en masse asylum to nationals of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Shri Lanka. In his words, Afghans should be considered as manifestly eligible to apply for asylum.
This practice, he said, was denounced by the director for migration and protection in the European Commission, in a letter to the Bulgarian state agency for refugees dated 6 July 2017. Based on the Eurostat data of 2017, the rate of granted international protection to Afghan nationals in Bulgaria was only 1.5%, meaning that out of 1287 there were 22 positive decisions. In France, the figure was 90% for Afghans, he said.
The modus operandi in Bulgaria of sending asylum seekers directly to detention centres after crossing the border has been denounced by the Special Representative of the Secretary General on migration and refugees of the Council of Europe, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Père said. He added that the UN Committee against Torture in his last report has urged Bulgaria to prevent the ill-treatment of asylum-seekers by law-enforcement officials, and urged to provide appropriate training how to deal with migrants and other vulnerable persons.
‘Commission perfectly knows’
French lawyer Olfa Ouled, the other author of the report, said that the Commission perfectly knew what was happening in Bulgaria, but didn’t want to act.
In her words, the Commission cannot say “from the political point of view, we have a member state which is clearly violating Article 4 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, the prohibition of inhumane treatment.
“We will not hesitate to address the issue to the UN Committee against torture, if we see that [other options] are not working”, she said.
This website asked Ska Keller to comment on the timing of this communication, just ahead of the 28-29 June EU summit when migration is expected to feature high in the agenda. The summit is also the final event for the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU.
Keller said that the Bulgarian Presidency was a lot about trying to create a good impression by holding big summits, adding: “but we don’t see a lot of stories what is actually happening in Bulgaria, neither about the refugees, nor about environment”.
She said that a delegation of the European Parliament’s LIBE Committee visited the Bulgarian government some time ago, and the hosts tied to show a high degree of cooperation with the Turkish border guards, which in fact amounted to push-backs of asylum-seekers, which is prohibited by EU law.
“In terms of what is happening in Bulgaria, we are really not happy”, Keller said, adding that she was going to raise the issues when the Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov will come to debrief about the Presidency next week.
Keller also said that recent ideas about setting “disembarkation platforms” in Africa would possibly look like the horror of the Bulgarian asylum system.
“If they [EU leaders] are going to agree on something [at the 28-29 June summit], it will be something horrible”, she said.
The Green leader also said that it was “amazing” that in the Bulgarian media there were so few reports about what is really happening, and that this was clearly a proof of the country’s serious deficit in terms of press freedom.
Asked to comment, Commission spokesperson Natasha Bertaud said today that the EU executive was not aware of ill-treatment of asylum seekers in Bulgaria.