Conflicting Stories After Refugee Shot Dead by Bulgarian Police

Troubling inconsistencies exist between witness statements and the government's account of the incident near the Bulgarian-Turkish border that left one asylum seeker dead.
On the night of October 15, at least two Bulgarian border guards and a police officer came upon a group of about 50 Afghan migrants hiding under a bridge near the village of Dyulevo, not far from the border with Turkey.

According to the statements made by authorities in the following days, including the chief secretary of the Ministry of the Interior, the migrants were aggressive and resisted arrest. This caused one of the officers to produce a warning shot in the air, which subsequently ricocheted into the group, killing a 56-year-old man.

Significant inconsistencies

On October 19, employees of the Refugee Program of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) met with 20 of the migrants from the group that night. Among them was the brother of the man who was killed.

During the interviews, held in the detention facility in Elhovo, the BHC found significant inconsistencies between their story and the Ministry of the Interior’s official version of the incident. The BHC believes it is important to share this information with the Bulgarian public.

How many policemen?

The killed Afghan citizen’s name was Ziahullah Vafa. He was, in fact, only 19 years old. His 17-year-old brother’s statement provided the BHC with detailed information about the incident, testimony that is supported by all other interviews with group members.

According to their testimonies, the migrants were unanimous in their insistence that they had been intercepted at the bridge not by three, but by four or five police officers. Nobody had resisted or behaved aggressively towards the officers. Upon seeing the police officers, they had dispersed in different directions.

Two shooters

Although it was announced in the media that only one officer fired a warning shot, the migrants were consistent in claiming that two officers fired two shots each. The members of the group had had their backs turned at that time, running away from the police officers, and were unable to say with certainty whether the shots were aimed at them or fired into the air.

When Ziahullah Vafa was hit by one of the shots and fell to the ground, everyone in the group stopped, laid on the ground and remained there until the arrival of police reinforcements and their formal arrest. They all agreed that in the subsequent search, the police did not find any firearms or other weapons. They found only personal belongings, clothes, phones and documents.

The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee is concerned about the substantial differences between the original version of events provided by the authorities and the claims of witnesses. This calls into question the objectivity of the information given to the media, as well as the intentions of the authorities to disclose to the public the actual circumstances of this tragic event.