Refugees in Bulgaria camp demand passage to Western Europe

Bulgarian riot policemen stand guard in front of the Harmanli refugee center during a protest in the town of Harmanli near the Bulgarian border with Turkey on September 4, 2016. (Photo by AFP)
Hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers have staged a protest at a camp in Bulgaria, demanding permission to continue their journey toward Western Europe, a rights group says.
According to the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, some 300 people demonstrated on Monday at the Harmanli reception center, Bulgaria's largest refugee camp near the Turkish border.
"They are protesting the fact that they're being held in Bulgaria against their will and want to continue to Serbia and from there to (Western) Europe," said Iliana Savova, the spokeswoman for the rights group.
The Bulgarian Interior Ministry also confirmed there were "tensions" inside the reception center, which is home to 3,800 refugees.
The protester refugees were reportedly from Afghanistan. Officials noted that negotiations with the Afghans were ongoing.
Thousands of refugees have remained stranded inside Bulgaria, after other key transit countries along the western Balkan route closed their borders earlier this year.
Around 70 percent are Afghans and 12 percent Syrians, according to government data.
Some 13,000 refugees have been registered in Bulgaria since the beginning of 2016, authorities say. The number registered in August doubled compared to the two previous months.
Refugees wait for security check after crossing the Macedonian border into Serbia on January 29, 2016. (Photo by AFP)
The route beginning from the Turkish territory and reaching the EU area via the Bulgarian land is one of the main ways to enter the bloc for refugees fleeing from conflicts in the Middle East, especially Syria.
Cross-Mediterranean sea journeys to either Greece or Italy are other routes chosen by refugees.
Europe has been facing an unprecedented influx of refugees, most of whom are fleeing conflict zones in North Africa and the Middle East, particularly Syria. Last year alone, over a million refugees made their way into the continent. Many blame Western policies for the exodus of refugees from their home countries.
In March, the European Union signed a controversial deal with Turkey aimed at stemming the flow of refugees into Europe by forcing those deported from the EU to either be allocated in Turkey or go back to the original conflict zones.