Refugees clash with police, set fire to Bulgaria’s largest camp

Bulgarian riot police stand near garbage cans as smoke rises during clashes in the refugee reception center in the town of Harmanli, November 24, 2016. (Photo by AFP)
Some 2,000 asylum seekers have set Bulgaria’s largest refugee camp on fire and clashed with police after the facility was sealed off over reports of a disease outbreak.
The Bulgarian Interior Ministry said police fired water cannon and rubber bullets to quell a riot by refugees angered at being confined to their refugee camp in the town of Harmanli near the Turkish border.
“We used a water cannon, blanks and rubber bullets as well as physical force,” Interior Ministry Chief Secretary Georgi Kostov told reporters.
The camp is home to 3,000 people, mostly Afghans.
Refugees threw rocks and other objects at police, leaving several officers injured.
Prime Minister Boyko Borissov visited the camp in the early hours of Friday. He said later that two dozen police officers and two refugees had been injured during the violent clashes.
Borissov also said that the fierce clashes prompted arrests. “Around 300 migrants, six of them considered a threat to national security, have been arrested,” the prime minister said.
The clashes reportedly broke out after authorities sealed off the camp and prevented people from leaving the premises due to reports of a disease outbreak.
However, the state refugee agency said there was no medical reason to quarantine the camp. Police said they were negotiating with the camp’s inhabitants.
The camp was also the scene of another protest in October when several hundred refugees demanded that they be allowed to continue their journey toward West Europe.
Nearly 13,000 refugees are still stranded in Bulgaria, the European Union (EU)’s poorest country.
Last year, over a million refugees entered Europe through Turkey and Greece and then made their way through the Balkans to Germany and other northern member states of the European Union.
Hundreds of thousands of refugees have been fleeing conflict-ridden zones in Africa and the Middle East, particularly Syria.