I sleep at the refugee centre illegally. I was there when the police came for an early-morning raid last month [as shown in the video above], but managed to hide. They come every month or so, and throw out anyone who isn’t allowed to stay there. They seem to target blacks in particular, which is why the men who were kicked out rebelled and chanted ‘racists, racists’ at the police. [Editor’s Note: The majority of the people currently living at the refugee centre are Syrians; there are also people from other countries in the Middle East and Africa]. They were arrested, and I don’t know what’s become of them. [Editor’s Note: The Bulgarian State Agency for Refugees has not yet responded to requests for comment regarding the raid. When we receive a reply, we will publish it here.]
My African friends who are allowed to stay at the centre let me and some others stay with them in their rooms at night, on the floor. I have nowhere else to go, and it’s too cold to sleep outside. When the guards come for checks in the evening, I hide under a bed or in the showers. Most of the time, they don’t look there. But sometimes they do, and they turn those that they catch over to the police. I’m lucky – I’ve never been caught yet.
“It’s safer in the centre. People in the street call us ‘apes’”
I try to spend as much time as possible with my friends inside the refugee centre. It’s a tough place – it’s overcrowded and dirty
– but outside, it’s dangerous. Most Bulgarians don’t like us, and they often spit on us. I don’t know how to speak Bulgarian, but I know the word for “ape” because I’ve heard people in the street say it to me a lot. Some of my friends have gotten beaten up. We don’t understand why there’s so much hate. [Local media have reported several xenophobic attacks
in the last few months, including a case in which a Malian teenager was beaten up and another that left a Bulgarian man of Turkish origin in a coma. Far-right groups, which are on the rise
in Bulgaria, have organised several anti-immigrant protests over the past year.]
I have an appointment with the state refugee agency coming up in a few weeks – they told me they will take my fingerprints and I can then start the process of asking for asylum. [Until asylum seekers are officially registered, they don’t have access to housing or health care. The wait to get registered, according to Daskalova, can last for months, sometimes even a year]. But I don’t have much hope. Since I arrived here, no Africans I know of have been granted asylum. They’ll probably try to deport me, but I can’t go back home, so I’ll have to try to gather enough money to get into another European country.