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‘They beat us and stripped us naked’: Asylum seekers ‘abused in cage’ by Bulgarian forces

It is also known as the “cage” and the “jail”. A crumbling outbuilding is located in Sredets, a small Bulgarian village. It’s just outside a compound that houses border forces.

The floor is often littered with litter and there aren’t any beds. On one side, you will find metal bars.

This squalid prison is not a normal one. People who claim they were held in this room deny that they are criminals.

They are actually asylum seekers who claim that they were held in a temporary jail by the Bulgarian border force before being returned to Turkey.

Image 15. October

“When they caught them, they beat us… stripped us naked… shaved the brows with Gillette razor,” Nackman, a 34 year-old refugee, said. He claims that he was held for several hours in a cage.

“Then, there was a wooden room that could hold 20 people but 60 people were forced to fit in it. Even an animal wouldn’t be able to survive in that room. You can’t even use the toilet in this room because it has the most unpleasant odour. They won’t even look at you with their human eyes.”

We filmed five times the outbuilding in October and November 2022 as part of a joint investigation by Sky News and Lighthouse Reports, Der Spiegel and Le Monde, Monitor and Domani, SRF, RFE/RL Bulgaria and Der Spiegel.

More information about Bulgaria

Each time, there were people in the room. One time, a Bulgarian border officer was recorded opening the door and leading people out.

Image: 24-October

The video was shown to refugees at the Turkish-Bulgarian border. Kenan, 31 years old, recognized it immediately.

“We slept here for three days. They insulted our feelings. They pushed us back and cursed us when we asked for bread. He recalled how they hit us.

Image 23 Nov

“They unleashed dogs”

Another witness claimed that he was detained there and then pushed over the border to Turkey.

“They put me in the container and then unleashed the dogs. It was me and a young boy. He was twelve years old. He said that he was also bitten by dogs.

There are many claims of abuse at the border by Bulgarian officials. Shaddi, a Syrian refugee, claimed that he was once stopped by authorities while trying to cross into Bulgaria from Serbia.

“They took our clothes off and put us in very cold water for about 10 minutes. They threw sticks at us, and then they shot us with a plastic revolver. He said, “It’s plastic shot.” It’s not human, I believe. We are human. We are not animals. We are not terrorists.”

Continue reading: Refugee shot at the Bulgarian border

Image November

Reports of abuse and illegal pushbacks at EU borders were also recorded as part of the investigation. Reports from Hungary claim that refugees were held in Hungary for hours, either outside or inside containers.

An anonymous source claimed that he was severely beaten by Hungarian police, and held for two days. Aid workers at Doctor Without Borders have received similar reports.

“We started to hear more about people being kept in such containers for up to 12 hours before they were forced to be returned to Serbia. A few times, 60 people were kept in such a small space, either in a standing or physical stressing position,” stated Alessandro Mangione of the medical NGO.

Image Common claims of abuse at the border by Bulgarian officials are

Hungary “utterly rejects all allegations”

He stated that aid workers treat refugees regularly for injuries sustained by officials.

The Hungarian authorities responded to the allegations by issuing a statement stating that their officials perform their duties legally, professionally, humanely, and proportionately.

“The government of Hungary rejects all allegations that seek to discredit personnel who are on duty at the border. It added that Hungarian soldiers and police officers are protecting Schengen’s borders legally and in compliance to EU and Hungarian regulations.”

The Bulgarian government denies any wrongdoing and stated that it complies with international and domestic laws. According to the government, officials are being subject to increasing pressure from illegal immigrants trying to enter Bulgaria.

The European Commission stated that it takes all allegations of wrongdoing at European External Borders seriously. It also said violence and death were unacceptable. It expects national authorities to investigate and follow up quickly and effectively.

The revelations are alarming: People seeking protection report abuse and detention at clandestine prisons, alleged black sites in Europe.


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