Petar Nizamov hunts through the Strandja mountains on an Autumn afternoon. But he is not searching for animals. He is looking for refugees.
A self-procaimed “migrant hunter”, Nizamov believes he is carrying out a noble mission by finding those who are trying to enter Bulgaria irregularly via Turkey, and persuading them to turn back around. He claims that authorities support his endeavours.
He has, though, previously been placed under house arrest and been condemned by rights groups. Pushing people back over the border without processing them is illegal under EU law.
“They’re [refugees] coming like an army and they don’t respect our society,” he told Al Jazeera. “They don’t respect our women and they want to make a Syria here.”
The 249-kilometre border between Bulgaria and Turkey is largely unfenced. Since the Balkans route was shut earlier this year, the journey to Bulgaria is viewed as an alternative to those fleeing war, persecution and poverty.
Between 200 and 300 hundred people are found each week trying to cross the border – some by police, others by vigilantes.
Asked what he expected of refugees if they managed to safely arrive in Bulgaria, Nizamov said: “Just slavery, rapes, mass rapes, robberies of people.”
Petar claims he only stops illegal economic migrants, not legitimate refugees. He also says his does not use weapons, but Al Jazeera saw he was armed with a machete on his travels.
In mobile phone footage seen by Al Jazeera, Nizamov can be seen ordering three Afghan nationals who are restrained in handcuffs to “go back Turkey now, now”, in broken English.
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borrisov has been criticised by other EU states for failing to condemn vigilantism. Migration is a sensitive topic in Bulgaria, with increasing intolerance of hosting asylum seekers.
Ahead of presidential elections, few politicians want to be seen supporting refugees.
“Our prime minister said that every day there are around 100 cases of people who are caught and immediately brought back to Turkey without being able to access any formal procedure,” Krassimir Kanev, director of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, told Al Jazeera.
The UN says attacks and abuse against migrants and refugees are an “alarming trend”.
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Source: Al Jazeera News