Migrants, police clash in Bulgaria refugee camp

Bulgarian riot police stand near garbarge bins during clashes in the migrants reception centre in the town of Harmanli on Nov 24, 2016.
Bulgarian riot police stand near garbarge bins during clashes in the migrants reception centre in the town of Harmanli on Nov 24, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

SOFIA, Bulgaria (AFP) - Around 1,500 migrants rioted on Thursday (Nov 24) in Bulgaria’s largest refugee camp, triggering clashes that left 14 police officers injured and prompted the arrest of at least 200 protesters, officials said.

“The number of injured police officers has risen to fourteen,” Bulgaria’s interior ministry chief of staff Georgy Kostov told public BNT television late Thursday.

“Over 200 migrants have been detained so far,” he said, adding that more arrests were likely.

Angry migrants – mostly Afghans – set car tyres on fire and threw stones at around 250 police officers, members of the gendarmerie and firefighters at the Harmanli reception centre near the Turkish border earlier on Thursday to protest a recently imposed ban on migrants leaving the centre pending medical checks.

Local police chief Nina Nikolova told AFP earlier on Thursday that the situation was under control and that the migrants were in talks with the state refugee agency.

But tensions flared up again in the evening when police had to use two water cannons to push the rioting group of migrants back into the buildings and prevent them from leaving the camp.

The centre, which houses just over 3,000 migrants, was the scene of another protest in October when several hundred Afghans demanded they be allowed to continue their journey towards western Europe.

With a fence along the Turkish border, Bulgaria has largely remained on the sidelines of Europe’s worst migration crisis since 1945.

Nonetheless around 13,000 migrants, mostly from Afghanistan, are currently trapped in the European Union’s poorest country.

Although the so-called Balkan migrant trail was effectively shut down in March, migrants have continued to cross the region in smaller numbers.

Tensions have been rising particularly in Greece where tens of thousands of people remain stranded.

Neo-Nazis launched last week attacked a migrant camp on the eastern Greek island of Chios.

A number of people were injured in the violence, which also left dozens of refugees stranded without tents.