Citizen's arrest of migrants sparks protest in Bulgaria

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Migrants and refugees stage a protest at a makeshift camp at the Greek-Macedonian border near the village of Idomeni, Greece, April 6, 2016.

SOFIA - A citizen&39;s arrest of three illegal migrants sparked controversy in Bulgaria on Monday, with rights groups protesting while the government refrained from condemning the practice.

Amateur video footage broadcast on several Bulgarian television channels and social media showed three men lying on the ground, their hands tied behind their backs as someone shouts: "Go back to Turkey!"

Border police who arrived at the scene found the three unhurt and with their hands free.

Such arrests have happened increasingly in recent weeks, targeting migrants arriving through the border with Turkey in a move denounced by the Bulgarian branch of the Helsinki Committee (BHC) rights group.

"These images [show] the most brutal citizen&39;s arrest so far in Bulgaria. The prosecution must open a probe immediately," BHC president Krasimir Kanev said, warning that a failure to act by the authorities would only encourage such acts.

But the authorities&39; reaction has been ambiguous.

"This is ... illegal," border police chief Antonio Angelov told private bTV television in comments a week after he handed out certificates of appreciation to another vigilante group for intercepting some 20 migrants near the border with Turkey.

 

Prime Minister Boyko Borisov also expressed his thanks to the group&39;s leader in a telephone call. "The state belongs to all of us, whoever wants to help [protecting it] is welcome," he said on Monday.

But the BHC denounced such rewards as "unacceptable", warning that Bulgaria risked turning "into a cradle of Balkan fascism".

Bulgaria, which has so far remained on the sidelines of Europe&39;s worst migration crisis since World War II, is concerned that the closure of the western Balkans migrant route could lead to increasing numbers of people trying to cross its territory.

To prevent an influx, it has sped up construction of a 132km fence along the Turkish border and holds regular army and border police training sessions along the frontier in a show of force.

According to a survey published last week, 60 percent of Bulgarians see migrants as "a threat to national security" and 51 percent would not like to work with or live next door to a migrant in a country that is the poorest in the EU.