BULGARIAN 'HOSPITALITY'

by Anthony Georgieff

Bulgaria's "proverbial" hospitality has taken an ominous turn in April as the residents of a village in Central Bulgaria rallied and threatened civil disobedience to protest against... 17 Syrians, including six children, taking up residence in their village.

Rozovo, which translates as either "Village of Roses" or "Pink Village," is just a few kilometres southeast of Kazanlak. The Syrians, who had been granted refugee status in Bulgaria, had paid a property agent to find rented accommodation for them. They had spent some time in the refugee camp in Harmanli.

The villagers were "stressed," according to media reports, the moment the Syrians arrived in their village. They started rallying on the following day, and they organised a petition to get the refugees expelled. Over 500 of the village's 1,000 inhabitants signed to it.

In response to questions why they wanted the Syrians out, the villagers said they feared for their property and lives. Elderly Bulgarian women said they feared sexual violence.

The mayor of Rozovo said no one had warned her refugees would be taking up residence in her village.

Media reports suggest that the villagers had lived "in peace and harmony" before the refugees arrived. Their landlord took 400 leva per family in monthly rent. Asked whether he had returned the money, he said: "Not to them directly. I have no further comment."

Some locals said they preferred refugees from Ukraine rather than Syrians. "How can we talk to them as they don't speak Bulgarian?" they intoned.

The authorities, including the police, the local government and the Orthodox Church, did nothing to prevent the Syrians from being expelled. The refugees' whereabouts are at the moment being kept secret.

Bulgaria has been a member of the EU since 2007 and as such has all the legal obligations of an EU member state over asylum and refugee rights.

Prior to the Rozovo events, Human Rights Watch criticised the Bulgarian Government for failing to live up to its international commitments over refugees, mainly from Syria. Human Rights Watch cited 44 instances involving a total of 519 of asylum-seekers being beaten by Bulgarian border police and then kicked out of the country.

Tsvetlin Yovchev, the current interior minister, rejected the charges and implied they were yet another conspiracy against Bulgaria, possibly funded by "certain organisations within Bulgaria."

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