By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of the Sofia Globe
Free-of-charge education in the Koran is being offered at unregistered Muslim boarding schools in Bulgaria, according to a hidden-camera investigation by Nova Televizia, one of the country’s biggest television stations.
Children are given shelter, food, clothing and religious courses, with an offer to parents to send the children on for further training in Turkey, also free-of-charge, the television station said.
All of this is going on without the knowledge of state institutions, including Bulgaria’s State Agency for National Security and the State Agency for Child Protection.
It is illegal to shelter and educate children in Bulgaria without formal registration and permission under various laws.
A report on September 7, which Nova Televizia would be the first over three days, identified an allegedly illegal Muslim hostel for children in the town of Aitos, in the province of Bourgas in eastern Bulgaria about 30km from the Black Sea coast.
The children who had been involved in the courses in the Koran were from poor families, the report said.
Hidden-camera footage showed a man explaining how the system worked, but the investigative team encountered some difficulties when wanting the see the facility, because the man insisted that he wanted to meet the child first.
When interviewed formally by Nova Televizia, with the team at that stage identifying themselves as reporters from the television station, the man – working as an imam, an Islamic religious teacher – denied that the activity was illegal.
Reporter Veronika Dimitrova, appearing on the morning programme of Nova Televizia on September 8, said that it had taken several months preparing the report.
She said that the team had confirmed that the boarding schools were operating without licences and that the State Agency for Child Protection did not know of their existence.
Nova Televizia said on September 8 that over the coming two days, there would be further reports about the locations of other such allegedly illegal operations.