A Catholic priest in Bulgaria has been subjected to a hate campaign for helping a Syrian refugee family.
Paolo Cortesi offered lodging to a Syria refugee family but a municipal councillor in Belene, northern Bulgaria, has launched a campaign against his actions.
The Syrians, who have been granted refugee status, are considering leaving because they fear for their lives.
The family arrived in Belene after a long period of coordination between the State Agency for Refugees in Bulgaria and the Catholic community of Belene. They arrived voluntarily, under the relocation scheme launched in 2015.
The Catholic Church offered them lodging and help to begin life in Bulgaria. But Krasimir Todorov, a councillor who represents a local nationalist coalition, has gathered some locals to protest against the actions.
Bulgarian English-language news provider, Novinite, reported that a late-night demonstration took place in Belene with locals repeating that they wanted no refugees in their town.
“The problem is not with the refugees per se, but rather the priest’s decision to act without asking locals if they agree,” Todorov says. “People are afraid that if one family comes, 50 more will come.”
Cortesi argues the position does not reflect attitudes in Belene, only the view of the councillor and 20 of his friends, adding that he has acted in accordance with the law. “It is as if someone went to Pleven [a northern Bulgarian city] to rent an apartment [and] sign a contract – one will not ask all residents of Pleven if they agree to let him live in the city,” he told Bulgarian news station bTV.