General political situation:
Following the EU eastward expansion, countries like Bulgaria and Romania
are progressively cracking down on those that try to cross their borders
and rampantly working against freedom of movement. Next on their foreign policy agenda is joining the Schengen agreement area. The Bulgarian government’s current target date for becoming a member of Schengen is 2012. The decision is to be taken in the summer of 2011.
Strengthening of the border control, building new detention centers, increasing the quality and the quantity of the border equipment, and the new migrant and visa legislation are only part of the measures that are already underway. The border control between Bulgaria and Turkey is cited as the biggest problem Bulgaria is faced with in order for the country to join Schengen. Following the participation of Bulgarian border police in FRONTEX operations along the Greek-Turkish border, there is a talk of extending the agency’s operations to the border between Bulgaria and Turkey.
Beyond these general political circumstances migrants and refugees in Bulgaria are confronted with rather non-transparent, unsocial and truly confusing administrative system of regulation. An ignorant and/or uninformed local institutions and society are also to be kept in mind. It is expected that the number of migrants will rise rapidly after Bulgaria’s joining the Schengen area.
These developments, coupled with the deterioration of the migrants’ situation in neighbouring Greece, are the two immediate reasons for organizing a No Border camp at the border between Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey in the coming summer. The camp will be also used as a reminder of the 60 year anniversary of the signing of the UN convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951).
The No border camp Bulgaria will be organized as a non-violent civil form of protest and resistance. The plan is to have a camp with low levels of confrontation, as there is lack of activist infrastructure in Bulgaria: there is no developed culture of direct action, we lack lawyers, and the local group’s possibilities to legally defend people are limited. We do understand the importance of diversity of tactics; nevertheless, we do need to take into account the local context. That is why the plan is to have the camp within the framework of non-violence.
Problems to be addressed:
- militarization of the borders: A great deal of cameras, new helicopters, border police cars patrolling around, refined computer systems, new detention camps, increased cooperation with international police agents and other forms of expensive military border control are being currently installed and/or improved along the Bulgarian borders. As a result, a sense of “enemy” threatening us from the outside is being re/produced, military solutions are being aggressively implemented when dealing with complex social issues, and the military industry is thriving. In reality, a new frontline of modern warfare is being built.
- deteriorating freedom of movement across the Balkan borders: Freedom of movement, which is a natural characteristic of human existence and a right guaranteed under the international law is severely threatened under the current border tendencies, including the new biometric visa procedure and the Schengen information system. People from the Balkan region and beyond are being discriminated as Schengen and non-Schengen passport holders. Their ability to know and understand each other, to abolish prejudices, to develop socially and economically and to organize politically is being gravely damaged.
- criminalization of the situation of the migrants and refugees in Bulgaria: Beside being one-sidedly labelled “illegal”, it is a common practice to put refugees and migrants that have crossed the Bulgarian borders directly into a detention center on accusations of “committing a crime” without further explanation. Issuing a Bulgarian visa requires biometric data. A public discourse about migrants or refugees (sometimes without even differentiating between the two groups) that frames migrants as people endangering the existence of the people in Bulgaria is being subtlety or openly waged.
- better human, social, legal and economic treatment of the refugees and migrants in Bulgaria: Bulgaria has been sued successfully several times in the European court of justice for not applying the respective legal norms concerning migrants in a proper way. Refugees and migrants are being kept under extremely bad social and economic conditions. Generally, their problems are not even known by the public and the media. A year ago the director of the State Agency for Refugees was released on accusations of corruption. These are only some of the aspects of the everyday migrants’ and refugees’ lives in the country.
- exploitation of the cheap migrant labour: Generally, refugees and migrants are not allowed to work legally in Bulgaria. If hired they are being paid “under the table” without social or health insurance.
- local nationalism: Immigrants’ situation in Bulgaria is further complicated by racism, xenophobia, and the populist rhetoric of far-right political parties in Bulgaria. Treating the refugees and migrants as a “threat” is further nurturing the aggravating nationalistic trends in Bulgaria. For example, just two days after Greece announced its intentions to build a wall along the Greek-Turkish border as a protection against the migrants entering its territory, a Bulgarian political party called “Society for a new Bulgaria” raised the same demand in relation to the Bulgarian-Turkish border.
- economic, political and social situation in the countries of origin of the refugees and on global scale: When raising awareness about the hardships and uncertainties of living like a refugee/immigrant, it is of utmost importance to address the core reasons behind one’s decision to flee their country. Namely, this is the situation in the countries of origin of these people as well as the global economic and political conditions which directly or indirectly forces many of them to take such decisions. Unjust political and economic choices around the world have consequences and should be dealt with in a preventive manner.
- Freedom of movement for all
- Status for all refugees now
- Legalization of all immigrants now
- Decriminalization of migrants
- End to the militarization of the borders
- Equal rights for all
- Closure of all detention centers
- Replacement of the detention centers with coordination centers that will support migrants’ social, political, and economic emancipation (run with the support of migrants, grassroots initiatives, and the local communities; where decisions are taken by migrants themselves)
- Wide visibility of migrants in our societies
- We declare ourselves against the Schengen Area and the continuous building of Fortress Europe
- Interpreters provided for all migrants that cross the border
- Information concerning migrants’ rights to be distributed to them as soon as they cross the border (in their respective languages)
- Independent observers to be present during the procedures for asylum as well as during examinations
- Transparent asylum procedure
- Social, medical and reasonable financial support in the course of the duration of the procedure and after that
Expected contributions of the camp:
1. Attracting the attention of the local people, the media, and the international community towards the problems mentioned above.
2. Expanding the NoBorder network on the Balkans and throughout Europe
3. To rise and deepen local solidarity
4. Monitoring of specific migrants’ cases