At the Bulgarian border they die
De Groene Amsterdammer, 4 November 2015

For a few minutes it was world news: Bulgarian border police had shot dead an asylum seeker from Afghanistan. Prime Minister Boyko Borisov hurriedly left a Eurotop meeting in Brussels. The attention has now dwindled, but more and more questions arise.

The official version is that three border patrol officers were dispatched after a signal from the so-called Integrated Information System, a network of remote-controlled infrared camera's that can see 25 kilometers around them. Judging from the images some ten persons tried to cross the border from Turkey. Arriving on the scene however the officers stumbled on a group of over fifty people, all Afghans and predominantly young men in 'good physical condition'. The officers felt threatened and one of them fired a warning shot. The bullet ricocheted from a bridge and fatally hit a 56-year old Afghan male.

So far the official version.

The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee managed to conduct interviews with twenty members of the group, among them the brother of the victim, who as it turned out was not 56, but 19. All the interviewed said that as soon as they saw the border patrol officers, they fled. They also mentioned that there were four or five officers, instead of three, and that two of them fired four shots in total. Whether these were indeed warning shots remains unclear, but the Helsinki Committee stresses that they were fired in violation of regulations, that only allow for the use of guns to prevent direct bodily harm.

The Public Prosecutor's Office was due to present the results of the ballistic investigation already two weeks ago, but still has not done this. The cause of death also remains officially unestablished. But there is more. The Afghans were over 30 kilometers from the border, which means they were well out of reach of the cameras of the Integrated Information System. And as can be read in the notes of last Friday?s meeting of the Council of Ministers: the system is not active at this particular stretch of the border.

This raises the question what those border police officers were doing there in the first place. It is a question that most likely will remain unanswered. The Helsinki Committee reminds us of the death of an Iraqi male at the border, in 2000. Just like now, the authorities concluded beforehand that he had been killed by the ricocheted bullet from a warning shot. According to Human Rights Watch, Bulgarian border patrol officers regularly take aim at asylum seekers and migrants in order to push them back into Turkey. And in 2013, an Afghan male was reportedly shot in his buttocks. Twice. Bulgaria has a bad reputation in prosecuting police violence, and none of these instances have been properly investigated.