Vesselin Dimitrov: This guy became the hero and the media star, catching refugees with his bare hands. And when I asked him for an interview, first he asked for money and then he said I had to contact his PR manager. So he has a PR now! But there are at least four groups now of people hunting refugees I the forest and I have written about two of them. They were quite easy to approach because obviously they think they have a cause. That’s the big problem – they think they are protecting Europe, and Bulgaria especially, from… they call them “invaders”.
What happened when the foreign media picked up the story?
How they are shown here in the local media is that they are heroes, which is totally weird and strange. And then the foreign media came and started criticising them and I suppose the Prime Minister must have gotten a call from Berlin or maybe Brussels because he suddenly changed his whole mindset. He says “On no, this is not right.” And someone from the government must have called up all the groups because from that point on they weren’t that keen on media attention. But they still continue to do their shifts at the weekends in the mountains.
And what do they do with the people they catch?
The ones who I interviewed said they’ve caught hundreds. But I seriously doubt that. They say that they treat them normally, they try to send them back to Turkey. If they don’t want to, then they call the border police. But they don’t do anything to them. There is a video that shows a group of three migrants where they tied their hands. But they claim that they were attacked by the migrants and that’s why they had to tie them.
So there was positive coverage in the Bulgarian media and that changed when international crews came here?
Of course you have some decent media outlets here that question what they are doing and state that it has lot of illegal aspects. You are not allowed to kick someone out. As soon as he comes here within the EU and says “I’m a refugee” then the case has to be decided by a court, not by some guys in a forest with camouflage clothes. It’s illegal to arrest people. But still Bulgarian media tend to say that’s OK.
You say they wear camouflage clothes. What about weapons? Are they paramilitaries?
In a way, yes. You could check the photos we made for Bild ( German newspaper). One guy is holding a knife and two of the others are holding sticks. They say that they use these for self-protection, they use the knives to cut the trees because these are deep forests. So they have machete knives to cut their way, apparently. I don’t think anyone has killed a refugee, but what these knives are used for - I don’t know.
What’s your impression – are they just young kids who’s been brainwashed, or is there something more?
This is one thing. They are patriotic and they don’t have anything else to do. They are lost people in a way, without any other hobbies. They have lost belief that something here could change for the better. They are people with low level jobs. One of them told me he earns two hundred euros a month. He’s completely lost hope and this moves him to hate the system and the world. It’s a mixture of plenty of aspects.