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Bulgarian Civilian Vigilante Groups Hunting Migrants

Civilians in Bulgaria have taken to hunting down migrants and handing them to police on so-called “healthy walks.”

A group of men in Bulgaria roam the countryside helping plant trees, participating in torch light parades on national holidays and tracking down illegal migrants to turn into the Bulgarian authorities. The group call themselves the  “organization for the protection of Bulgarian citizens,” and were founded by Hristo Atanasov, a cook and self described patriot, Die Welt reports.

Atanasov leads the group who go out on weekends donning military fatigues to go on what they call “healthy walks” through the nearby beaches and mountains close to his home in the coastal town of Burgas. Atanasov claims that the group likes to go to the area because of the natural beauty but also because it is a major hotspot for migrants who have come across the border from neighbouring Turkey.

The self styled patriot describes the process saying that the group often spots the people smugglers first, “they run 200 to 300 metres ahead to see if the coast is clear,” he said. If the migrants see him and his men they often run away, “they think we are the police,” Atanasov remarked.

The patrol leader said that he is usually joined by around 30 more men at any given weekend. The group has so far managed to capture more than 50 migrants crossing the Bulgarian-Greek border and they bring them all directly to Bulgarian police.

The group believes they are the first line of defence from what they call the “migrant invasion,” and regard themselves as merely doing their duty to their country as self appointed border protectors. Their work is reminiscent of protests by the hipster-right Identitarians who built their own fences  along the Austrian-Slovenian border when the government refused to control the migrant flow last year.

Another Bulgarian vigilante is Dinko Valev, who has done similar work to the group, and was lauded as a “super hero” for capturing 20 migrants single handed.

Yet Atanasov claims he is a bit different to the quad-bike riding patrolman saying, “we are a registered association and coordinate our activities with the police.” Some migrants have claimed that they were robbed and beaten by Bulgarians after coming across the border but Atanasov denies that his group has ever participated in any such actions.

Vigilante groups have sprung up all across Europe in the wake of the migrant crisis as many citizens feel that their governments and police can’t handle the situation. This week in Germany a migrant attempted to steal a bottle of wine and vigilantes brought the confrontation between the man and the shop keeper to a quick end, hauling him from the premises and tying him to a nearby tree until police could arrive.

Some vigilante groups have grown so rapidly that police have found themselves having to crack down on their activities. One vigilante group in Germany claimed to have 13,000 members in only eight days of its founding.  Even in the early days of the migrant crisis last year vigilante groups were being formed in places like the Czech Republic to, in their words, protect civilians from migrants. The rise of vigilante organizations has so far shown little signs of slowing down.

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