By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of the Sofia Globe
Lawyers at Bulgaria’s State Agency for Refugees are preparing to approach the prosecution and the Commission for the Protection against Discrimination over alleged racism by Kovachevitsa mayor Vassil Stanimirov (photo) and the municipal council for opposing the admission of refugee children from Afghanistan and Somalia to a local school.
Stanimirov earlier denied that racism was behind the opposition to the admission of the children, who following protests by residents of the village of Kalishte were expected to be sent to school in Bulgaria’s capital city Sofia.
On September 15, the first day of the Bulgarian school year, Kalishte villagers protested against plans to admit the 12 children to a school that has, with all grades taken together, 18 children.
Soon after, the municipal council held an emergency meeting about the situation and issued a public call for the refugees to be removed from a local “childrens’ ecological park” where they have been housed since late 2013.
Earlier reports said that it was the placement of the refugees at the park that sparked an institutional “war” between the State Agency for Refugees and the local municipal authorities.
On September 17, public broadcaster Bulgarian Natioanl Television quoted the State Agency for Refugees as saying that the reason for the agency’s complaint against Stanimirov and the local councillors was that their actions caused a conflict on a xenophobic and racist basis, and so were violations of Bulgarian and international law on people with protected humanitarian status.
Stanimirov countered that the situation was not racism but desire to comply with the law.
Bulgarian law requires that refugee children, before being admitted to school, should have proof that they have completed a formal course in the Bulgarian language.
Earlier, it was reported that there were claims and counter-claims about whether the children had such certificates. However, at least one television report showed a child who had been barred from the village school speaking in Bulgarian.
On September 16, Bulgarian-language media said that the refugees were to be transferred on September 17 to the Ovcha Kupel refugee centre in Sofia. This meant that the children’s ecological park on Kovachevitsa would be emptied of the 79 migrants there.
The State Agency for Refugees was quoted as saying that it was negotiating with the regional education inspectorate in Sofia about which schools would be admitting the children.
It was expected that the refugee children who would be entering first grade would go to the same school while those in higher grades would be distributed among various schools in the capital city.
Stanimirov also has challenged whether the children really have refugee status, alleging that such status is pending.
Restating his opposition to the admission of the children, Stanimirov was quoted by daily 24 Chassa as saying that in the end, “our kids will learn Arabic”.
At the start of the protest, the Kalishte villagers said that unless the foreign children were prevented from coming to the village school, they would withdraw theirs.
One of the Bulgarian children was seen on television saying, “we will beat them up, what else? Anyway they are ill, they do not deserve to live”. Asked why he said that the children were ill, the boy replied, “the headmaster said that they are ill”.