This is not the safe heaven Ali was expecting. Chased from his hometown of Aleppo by the horrors of the Syrian civil war, he and his extended family of 17 relatives arrived in Bulgaria, attracted by promises of a well-functioning European Union state, quick asylum procedures and a good economy. The reality, he says, couldn’t be more different.
Shortly after arriving here in the capital, Sofia, on November 4, Ali was stabbed in the back while waiting to enter one of the three camps for asylum seekers. He is still in hospital though the immediate threat to his life has passed. Witnesses told Al Jazeera he was attacked by a muscular white male.
“He was stabbed by a Bulgarian,” said a resident of the Voenna rampa refugee camp, where the attack occurred. The resident asked to remain anonymous, fearing his asylum procedure may be delayed if he were identified.
“The investigation is ongoing,” a spokeswoman from the Ministry of Interior told Al Jazeera. She refused to comment on the ethnicity of the suspected attacker.
‘A permanent crisis’
The incident highlights the rising tensions in the poorest member of the European Union. The country does not seem ready to face the growing number of immigrants from Syria and elsewhere. “We have a serious problem,” Interior Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev told the NovaTV morning show on November 6. “This is not only a spike, but a permanent crisis, caused by the increased migration pressure on our country.”
There are 9,567 refugees in the country, according to the November 6 figures from the ministry of interior. Around 70 percent are Syrian. The migrant number may be small, taken in light of the huge Syrian humanitarian crisis, but Bulgaria is not prepared to deal with it. This has resulted in overcrowded housing facilities for asylum seekers.
“We have no water, no medical help. No help from government, nothing,” 18-year old Hussain from Qamishli told Al Jazeera. “People in Syria told me Bulgaria is good. This is not true,” said the young man, who is planning to continue his journey to Germany.
The growing number of Syrians in Bulgaria has not resulted in an increased number of crimes, Yovchev assured a parliamentary briefing. Instead, he said, “we have a problem with people coming from North Africa”.