Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights: urgent action needed to end pushback at Bulgarian border

The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, published today her letter to the Prime Minister, Galab Donev, and the Deputy Prime Minister for Public Order and Security and Minister of Interior of Bulgaria, Ivan Demerzhiev, in which she expresses concern about recent media reports regarding pushbacks at Bulgaria’s land borders.

The Commissioner requests information on the investigations launched by the Bulgarian authorities into allegations of unlawful detention and ill-treatment of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, and of situations which have led to the death or injury of some of those trying to cross the border into Bulgaria.

Referring to her Recommendation on urgent action to end pushbacks and the human rights violations that they entail, the Commissioner calls on the Bulgarian authorities to safeguard the right to life of asylum seekers and migrants, protect them from ill-treatment, and ensure that they are not being forced back across borders without an individual assessment of their human rights protection needs.

Commissioner Mijatovic also expresses concern about the reported anti-immigrant rhetoric used by politicians, including those in government positions in Bulgaria, and points out that such rhetoric fuels negative sentiment against those trying to enter Bulgaria and increases the risk of xenophobic violence, including among law enforcement officials. The Commissioner calls for refraining from stigmatizing statements and generalizations about refugees, asylum seekers, migrants and persons belonging to minorities and marginalized or vulnerable groups.

In response, Minister Demerdzhiev pointed out that all border control measures are applied while guaranteeing the fundamental rights and freedoms of all persons, including the right to asylum. Minister Demerdzhiev states that "there are no reports of illegal detention and ill-treatment, as well as of pushbacks, bodily harm or other incidents against refugees, asylum seekers and migrants" and points out that the Ombudsman of the Republic of Bulgaria monitors prisons and detention facilities. He further notes that "no anti-migrant rhetoric has been observed in recent years". The letter does not mention any investigations.

The concerns expressed by the Commissioner for Human Rights have also been concerns of the BHC for many years. They are reflected in our border monitoring reports, to which her letter also refers.