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Bulgarian Police Rob, Abuse Migrants At EU Border, Says Watchdog

File photo of the Bulgarian border with Turkey.
File photo of the Bulgarian border with Turkey.

Migrants and refugees have reported being attacked and robbed by Bulgarian police, before being forcefully returned to Turkey, according to a January 20 statement from the Human Rights Watch group.

Incidents of robbery, violence, and forceful returns over the border were reported by almost all of the 45 refugees, from Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq, surveyed by the group in six countries between October and December last year.

"All but one said they were stripped of their possessions, in some cases at gunpoint by people they described as Bulgarian law enforcement officials, then pushed back across the border to Turkey," the group stated.

Those surveyed reported 59 incidents of forceful returns from Bulgaria to Turkey between March and November last year. 26 refugees also reported being beaten by police or attacked by police dogs.

This comes after the Belgrade Center for Human Rights reported testimonies for beatings, threats and other police abuse of migrants coming through Bulgaria last year.

A spokesperson for Bulgaria's interior ministry said forceful returns were not part of the Balkan country's policy towards migrants, Reuters reported.

"We do no have such a policy and we do not tolerate it. Every signal we receive of abuse we do investigate," the spokeswoman said.

Bulgaria is one of many EU countries struggling to cope after more than one million refugees and migrants entered the bloc in 2015 alone.

With reporting by Reuters