Migrants coming through Bulgaria have faced beatings, threats and other abuses by police, a rights group reported on Friday, though the country's own refugee agency said it had received no such complaints.
Refugees from Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq reported extortion, robbery, violence, threats of deportation and police dog attacks, according to a survey by the Belgrade Center for Human Rights that was funded by Oxfam.
Bulgarian Interior Minister Rumiana Bachvarova said she would check the statements outlined in the report and expressed hope the Balkan country would be able to disprove them. "I can only say that this is not at all the policy of the border police and the interior ministry," Bachvarova, who is also deputy prime minister told reporters.
"We are setting the conditions, but we cannot control every officer. I hope that we will be able to disprove these facts. This is not our policy and I would not allow it," she said. Bulgaria is one of a number of central and eastern European countries struggling to handle the region's biggest influx of migrants and refugees since World War Two.
The EU member state, and two other countries on the migration route - Hungary and Slovenia - have erected fences to try and control the flow of people, many of them trying to pass through onto Austria and Germany.
The report said the majority of alleged abuses took place in southern areas bordering Turkey, at holding centres inside Bulgaria and at the northwestern border with Serbia. "Two Afghan men stated that (Bulgarian) police officers had shot at them ... wounding two," the report by the Serbia-based rights group said.
"A group of around 10 interviewees witnessed a police officer holding a gun to a refugee’s forehead ... Police caught up with the group, beat them, took their valuables, food and water," it said. An Afghan refugee was shot dead near the Turkey-Bulgaria border on Oct. 15, a killing condemned by the United Nations.
Nikolina Milic from the Belgrade centre said staff had also asked refugees about conditions in Turkey and Serbia, but they had only complained about the treatment in Bulgaria. Avgustina Videva, a spokeswoman for Bulgaria’s refugees agency, said it had no information about alleged abuses.
"None of those who are accommodated in the refugee centres have complained about mistreatment by Bulgarian authorities,” Videva told Reuters. Bulgaria expects to see around 15,000 refugees entering the country by the end of the year.
Last month, an Afghan asylum seeker was fatally wounded by Bulgarian border police when a warning shot ricocheted in what the United Nations said was the first incident of its kind in the current migration crisis.
By Aleksandar Vasovic and Angel Krasimirov