A voluntary militia armed with machetes has stationed itself at the Turkish border to prevent migrants from reaching Europe. The group has taken to social media to urge others to join them. “Take active participation!!!” the militia posted Thursday alongside a video on Facebook. “Our country is under threat!!!”
The force is composed of two different groups, the Vasil Levski Military Union and the Shipka Bulgarian National Movement, France 24 reported. Some videos released by the militia show its members calling migrants “invaders,” “vandals,” and “rapists,” and show them conducting military exercises and wearing military fatigues. In other videos, the men are wearing balaclavas and shooting at targets.
“When we find migrants, we tell them that they have committed a crime by crossing the border illegally. We ask them to go back to Turkey to avoid criminal prosecution and to go immediately to the nearest official border posts,” Vladimir Rusey, the commander in chief of the Vasil Levski Military Union, told France 24. “We take those who refuse to return to Turkey to the border police, but that’s all.”
Rusey went on to defend the actions of the militia. “Apart from the Syrians, most of them are either fighters from the Islamic State Group or radical Islamists,” he said. “Violence, theft, murder, rape, terrorism: that’s all they bring with them. Their aim is to destroy our social system.”
Though the militia is not backed by the Bulgarian government, officials in the country have been accused of mistreating refugees in the past. “The groups that are coming during the last couple of weeks are coming from Bulgaria – they are in much worse shape than people coming from Macedonia, not just physically but emotionally,” Tajana Zadravec, operations assistant and volunteer manager at Refugee Aid Serbia told Al Jazeera in 2015.
A 2015 to 2016 annual report released by Amnesty International revealed poor conditions faced by those crossing the border into Bulgaria from Turkey. “Allegations of push-backs of refugees and migrants by border police persisted, the reception conditions of asylum-seekers remained poor, and there was no integration plan for recognized refugees,” the report stated. The report also noted that hate crime legislation in Bulgaria had stalled, with such incidents being prosecuted laxly as “hooliganism” instead of the more serious charge of “racist and xenophobic hate crime.”