Refugees – wanted, unwanted
Published on 12/11/13, Maria Dimitrova-Pichot, on the Bulgarian National Radio.
The massive inflow of Syrian refugees into Bulgaria over the past four months caught the authorities, engrossed in their political bickering by surprise and inflamed society. Soon there was talk of millions of leva that have to be allocated from the budget for these unbidden guests, now more than 11,000 in number. These figures reverberated painfully in the minds of Bulgarians, half of whom, according to a recent European Commission survey live on the threshold of the poverty line. Perfect conditions for xenophobia to run rife, expertly fanned up by different nationalistic formations – to them the wave of refugees was manna. Over two months the leading nationalistic party Ataka doubled its support, according to an Alpha Research survey. In that time xenophobic rhetoric sowed a great many fears. A survey conducted by another sociological agency – Sova Harris – indicates that two thirds of our compatriots do not want any more refugees coming to the country. The reason is not pure xenophobia – 65.2 percent of the respondents say that the authorities are unable to cope with the refugee crisis.
Radio Bulgaria conducted vox pop interviews in the centre of Sofia and the answers painted a controversial picture on the subject. Bulgarian pensioners, the people in the lowest income bracket, not counting the Roma community, are most jealous regarding the money and the attention the state is giving the incoming refugees. Though she is 68, Maya Bozhinova has to keep on working to support herself.
“Look here, I sympathize with these people from a purely human point of view,” she says. “But we Bulgarians are in a dire position. And is anyone out to take care of us? My daughter has three children, holds two jobs, so does her husband and still we can’t make ends meet. Bulgaria must not accept any more refugees. Why shouldn’t they be directed to other European countries where the standard of living is higher?”
70-year old Georgi Atanasov upholds a different view:
“We should have a humane attitude towards these people who have suffered and are not here of their own free will. Of course, there is always the risk of there being people among the refugees who are wanted for crimes in their own country. But we can’t stop them all. We should not forget there are Bulgarians in many European countries who have immigrated there are deserve to be treated well. “
Here is the opinion of Plamen Kolev, an elderly owner of a shop in Pirotska street in Sofia, until recently ill-famed for instances of aggression that goes both ways – by immigrants and against immigrants:
“We should accept refugees and offer them better living conditions. Because if there was to be a war here we too would expect to be helped, wouldn’t we? In this case we must help the people fleeing from the conflict in Syria.”
The opinion of 50-year old Kiril Peev is a more nuanced:
“The immigrant wave is certainly affecting our lives with thefts and other kinds of violence. That is why I think we should choose a compromise option. We must stop the inflow. And the refugees should be sent to other European countries and not be concentrated in Bulgaria.”
By and large, xenophobic rhetoric meets with the approval of many young people, but these sentiments are still an exception. Here is what schoolgoer Georgi Dimitrov says:
“Refugees have their place in Bulgaria, they are human too,” he says. “It is not their fault there is a war raging in their country and I think we should have more empathy for them. On the other hand they should not complain that we are not giving them enough support because we are a poor country.”
Unlike this young man, pensioner Ivo Petriov who lives close to the Voenna Rampa refugee camp wants a new “Berlin wall” to be put up along the border with Turkey where the refugees are coming from.
“Looking back at history, has anyone ever helped us, Bulgarians? No one. Not that I hate these people, but they shouldn’t enter the country, we have enough problems as it is. This is a European problem not a problem that only we have. We are part of Europe after all, aren’t we? If Western Europe had to endure this what would happen? From a purely geographic point of view, they are much better off, because you can’t rush in from the Atlantic, can you? They only come from the South – via Spain, Italy, Greece. We are at the end of our resources here.”
Konstantin Ivanov, a young man living in the aforementioned residential area of Sofia close to Pirotska street says that the problems connected with the refugees are being fanned up for political ends and this is a dangerous game to be playing.
“The country has huge problems, so the government is trying to bring other issues into the limelight. These refugees have proved to be so convenient for sidetracking public attention from the really important issues in the country. For example what is happening to democracy in the country, to political life, where is Bulgaria heading?