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In Europe, refugees caged under the gaze of Frontex agents

In a small town in southern Bulgaria, between the nursery school, the municipal stadium and rows of quiet little houses, a “cage” sheltered in a shed is used by Bulgarian border guards to detain candidates for migration. This is shown by images revealed by The world, in partnership with Lighthouse Reports, Monitor, Der Spiegel, DomaniRFE/RL Bulgaria and Sky News.

Made up of iron bars and strewn with rubbish, it is visible from the street. On five occasions, between October 15 and November 25, the partners of the World were able to film it. Each time, a dozen or so men were detained there.

The shelter used as an informal prison was filmed five times, with a total of at least 34 people locked up between October 15 and November 25, 2022.

In one of the videos, some men are challenged by the guards with a reference to their country of origin: “Afghans? », ” Morocco ? “. Four men – Syrians and Afghans – whom we interviewed told us that they had been detained following their attempt to enter Bulgaria.

This cage is not an official place intended for the detention of people who have entered illegally. The country thus escapes all control, and in particular the regular inspections carried out by NGOs such as the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee Where the defender of rights. The cage is however located in a police complex lent by the town hall of Sredets (south-eastern Bulgaria) to the border police, which depends on the Ministry of the Interior.

Bulgaria has two official centers for the detention of migrants, equivalent to the French administrative detention centres: the centers of Bousmantsi and Lioubimets.  Those who do not wish to seek asylum are detained there before being sent back to their country of origin.

Frontex agents based on the scene

A few meters from the cage, on three occasions, a car from the European agency Frontex, responsible for controlling the external borders of the Schengen area, is visible on images filmed by The world and its partners.

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There is a logo on the body of this Volvo XC60, of which the European agency Frontex has received a hundred models, in the form of rental.  It is clearly the Frontex logo, with the words: “European Border and Coast Guards”.

An internal Frontex document, which we were able to consult, underlines that this presence is not occasional: ten of its agents have been permanently deployed in Srédéts since the end of March 2022. A collaboration between Frontex and the Bulgarian border guards, confirmed in this local press article. It says that a joint patrol of Frontex agents and Bulgarian border guards from Srédéts arrested 33 would-be migrants on 13 September. The latter were then taken into custody in the Srédéts police complex.

Requested by The world, Frontex claims that its agents are confined to border surveillance operations, together with the Bulgarian border guards. She did not specify the details of her activities in Srédéts.

“We asked for water, food, they gave us nothing”

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