Earlier today, I read a report about three Syrian families (17 people, including several small children) in Bulgaria who had been granted refugee status and living in the village of Rozovo. The families had been renting a house there for a few DAYS but this morning were forced to leave after growing pressure by the locals, who did not want them there. The reasons given by the locals are so insanely disturbing, I am really embarrassed to repeat what has been said but here it is. These have been given as reasons why these people should not be allowed to stay:
- „Bulgaria is for Bulgarians.“
- They (Syrians) are dirtier than gypsies.
- They might damage locals’ properties.
- Locals are worried about sexual violence.
- Rozovo is a „clean“ village, there are not even gypsies there (!!!)
- „We are afraid of foreigners, we don’t know what sort of people they are. We want our village to remain peaceful. We haven’t used violence against them.“
- They must leave, or else!
This is disturbing for so many reasons, it’s really hard to figure out where to begin but what has been especially infuriating about this is the total lack of involvement or engagement by local law-enforcement. Granted, I wasn’t there… so I may be giving an inaccurate account of what actually transpired on the ground, but from the various news reports that I read and cross-referenced, it appears to me that there were police officers present at the various protests staged by the locals but what they did was stand around. It sounds like there were there to stop people from physically attacking the refugees but they did not disperse what was clearly a crowd motivated by ethnic hatred and prejudice and clearly focused on intimidating the refugee families to the point where they would decide to leave. (Mission accomplished).
All of this is happening as Human Rights Watch (HRW) is getting ready to present TOMORROW a report on the treatment of refugees by Bulgarian Border Police. According to the report, which has been vehemently disputed by the Bulgarian Minister of Interior, Bulgarian border policemen are forcing Syrian, Afghan and other refugees. According to HRW, Bulgarian refugee policies are appallingly inadequate. The living conditions in the refugee settlements are awful, children without parents are not taken care of in any way and there is absolutely no effort being made into supporting refugees in getting integrated or having an iota of chance to normal life while in Bulgaria.
What makes me sick about the case of the Rozovo families is that it absolutely demonstrates how hopeless the situation is. Bulgaria’s half-assed refugee program is not a legal problem, it is a cultural problem. People who hold racist beliefs can’t create policies that are not racists. Syrian (and other) refugees are becoming victims of unexamined prejudices and stereotypes and no push from the EU (or the US or whoever) can have any actual impact until these prejudices truly become a topic of discussion and national dialogue. What could any policy solve the Rozovo case when some guy is posting a Bulgarian flag in front of the refugee’s house, yelling „Bulgaria is for Bulgarians“ and still maintains that his protest has „nothing to do with ethnicity“. These people don’t think they are being racist. They are doing what they’ve got to do for „for their children.“
So, my question to you: how do you change a culture that is in desperate need of changing and FAST.