Located at the easternmost edge of the EU, Bulgaria – itself the union’s poorest country – has found itself at the coalface of the Syrian refugee crisis. Before the Syrian war Bulgaria typically received about 900 asylum seekers a year. Last year about 10,000 irregular migrants entered the country.
About 1,000 refugees, most of whom paid smugglers to secure their passage out of Syria through Turkey and into Bulgaria, live at the decrepit former military barracks of Harmanli as they await news of their refugee-application status.
Refugees were initially housed in tents, many of which flooded with freezing water when the first of Bulgaria’s winter snow began to melt in December, but the tents have been replaced by small prefabs. But conditions are still dire. Children light open fires to keep warm, there are no showers and temporary toilet facilities are frequently blocked.
Although conditions may be improving in Harmanli, the mood in Bulgaria is hardening against refugees. Staring down from huge black-and-red billboards along the country’s roads is the face of Volen Siderov, the leader of a far-right party, Ataka. The party slogan: “Give Bulgaria back to Bulgarians.”
Amidst all of this fear and uncertainty, a group of camp residents has started a make-shift school. Old mattresses are being used as desks, and children huddle on the concrete floor to keep warm as they try to figure out the language of their new life.
Under this sad picture, context must be drawn: while Bulgaria is now erecting a 32km fence along its border with Turkey due to the influx of asylum seekers, the rest of the EU has turned a blind eye to the situation, pledging only 12,000 of the 30,000 requested refugee places.
Ireland has pledged just 90.
I am traveling to Harmanli on 22 February for one week to film what every day life is like inside this locked compound. The film will portray, as much as possible, how the Syrian people are surviving, particularly the children who have already experienced so much. I have secured filming permission from the State Refugee Agency and already created links with the UNHCR on the ground.
Every penny contributed will go directly into making a film that highlights this crisis in a very human way- through the words and actions of the refugees themselves- and demands for fellow EU countries to change their stance on this issue.
I have paid for flights and accommodation myself so far. In order to complete the film to the highest possible standard, there are extra costs for equipment and post production, but more importantly promotion. The film's purpose is to start a discussion about what other countries can do to help, so the film will be entered into high profile international film festivals, which have costly entry fees. Any extra funds will go towards expanding the film and further filming in Harmanli.
Please get in touch if you have any questions about the project, and I'll be glad to chat about it.