243% Funded


Target: €600


€1,460 Raised


21 Funders

Harmanli: on the Fringe of Freedom

By SwanSong Films


Located at the easternmost edge of the EU, Bulgaria – itself the union’s poorest country – has found itself at the coalface of the Syrian refugee crisis. Before the Syrian war Bulgaria typically received about 900 asylum seekers a year. Last year about 10,000 irregular migrants entered the country.

About 1,000 refugees, most of whom paid smugglers to secure their passage out of Syria through Turkey and into Bulgaria, live at the decrepit former military barracks of Harmanli as they await news of their refugee-application status.

Refugees were initially housed in tents, many of which flooded with freezing water when the first of Bulgaria’s winter snow began to melt in December, but the tents have been replaced by small prefabs. But conditions are still dire. Children light open fires to keep warm, there are no showers and temporary toilet facilities are frequently blocked.

Although conditions may be improving in Harmanli, the mood in Bulgaria is hardening against refugees. Staring down from huge black-and-red billboards along the country’s roads is the face of Volen Siderov, the leader of a far-right party, Ataka. The party slogan: “Give Bulgaria back to Bulgarians.”

Amidst all of this fear and uncertainty, a group of camp residents has started a make-shift school. Old mattresses are being used as desks, and children huddle on the concrete floor to keep warm as they try to figure out the language of their new life.

Under this sad picture, context must be drawn: while Bulgaria is now erecting a 32km fence along its border with Turkey due to the influx of asylum seekers, the rest of the EU has turned a blind eye to the situation, pledging only 12,000 of the 30,000 requested refugee places.

Ireland has pledged just 90.

I am traveling to Harmanli on 22 February for one week to film what every day life is like inside this locked compound. The film will portray, as much as possible, how the Syrian people are surviving, particularly the children who have already experienced so much. I have secured filming permission from the State Refugee Agency and already created links with the UNHCR on the ground.

Every penny contributed will go directly into making a film that highlights this crisis in a very human way- through the words and actions of the refugees themselves- and demands for fellow EU countries to change their stance on this issue.

I have paid for flights and accommodation myself so far. In order to complete the film to the highest possible standard, there are extra costs for equipment and post production, but more importantly promotion. The film's purpose is to start a discussion about what other countries can do to help, so the film will be entered into high profile international film festivals, which have costly entry fees. Any extra funds will go towards expanding the film and further filming in Harmanli.

Please get in touch if you have any questions about the project, and I'll be glad to chat about it.

Thank you!



So many stories, one hope

I've been filming in Harmanli for the last three days and have been overwhelmed by the warmth of the Syrian people who are stuck in the camp. They have welcomed me into their small container (prefab-like) homes and cramped rooms in the ex-army base, offered me tea and gave their time to tell me their stories of how they fled their country in search of asylum. Some came by foot, some by cargo ship, some by bus and some by car. Paying smugglers or traveling alone by the GPS on their phones, they arrived in Bulgaria with the hope of passing through into the more wealthier European countries. Each story I have been told has been different. These people have left family behind, lost family members and had their homes, schools, universities destroyed. But the one thing they all have in common is the want to get out of Harmanli, gain refugee status and move to a country where they can contribute to society, make a life for themselves and hope to one day return and help rebuild Syria. At the moment this is not happening. A queue forms every day at a white plastic prefab. Here, the people await the coveted 'second interview', where they get to be assessed for refugee status and if approved, given a passport that will allow them to move freely and work within Bulgaria. Only 12 out of around 1000 people in Harmanli so far have left with this. The rest of them are left in the dark, for the last five months, as to when this interview will take place and when the result of that interview will be known. What is also unclear to the residents of Harmanli is whether or not they can move to another country (most commonly wished for is Germany) and try to live and work there. At the moment the Dublin Convention states that once your fingerprint is taken in the first country you present yourself as a refugee in, if you try to get refugee status in another EU country they can deport you back to the first. The people in Harmanli recognise that Bulgaria cannot cope with the influx, it does not have the jobs or economy to support them. Very few of them wish to live here. But at the moment they have no choice. The camp has a population of 900 Syrians, 450 of which are under 18. They are eager to learn.Today I gave the volunteer English teachers - themselves university students from Damascus- a batch of copies, whiteboards, stationary and children's English picture books to help aid learning. I would not have been able to do this without your generosity. If you have not seen the facebook page where I have posted photos and stories, please check it out. You do not need to be signed up to Facebook as it is a public page. There you can see the work I have been doing, that has been made possible by the money donated here. THANK YOU! More updates here: http://on.fb.me/1ekIjU6

Facebook Page link - corrected


Facebook Page link

Here's where I'll be posting updates from Bulgaria: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Harmanli-Trapped-on-the-Fringe-of-Freedom

Almost Ready!

I fly out tomorrow to begin filming for a week in Harmanli. I've spent the last two days getting ready and learning as much Arabic as I can to help communication with the Syrian refugees. I've had two intensive one-on-one lessons with Mohammed, a fantastic Arabic teacher who donated fours hours of his time to me for free! We've been working on getting the pronunciation right for phrases that are specific to the situation, so a very applied approach- vocab related to filming issues, the conflict in Syria and the conditions inside the camp. Mohammed also translated a long list of questions into Arabic for me so that people without English in the camp can still take part in filming. I've just spoken to the head of communications for the State Agency for Refugees in Bulgaria, who has assured me access to the Refugee Centre, and has called the head of the centre to let him know to expect me first thing on Monday morning, so everything is in place. I hope to be able to provide updates during my week filming via the project's Facebook page, so please 'Like' it and you'll hear more there. Once again thank you to everyone who has donated. The successful funding mechanism for this project stands as proof that Irish people do not want to see the Syrians treated in this way, forgotten and left on the edge of Europe with no hope. Niamh

Thank you!

Thank you so much to everyone who has funded the project so far! I am really bowled over by people's generosity and willingness to help out. From chatting to some of you I know that this issue touches a nerve, so I'm sure the film will too. The money donated will ensure that it gets the proper exposure it deserves. Also, now I will be able to afford qualified help in translating different languages that will feature in the hours of footage I get from inside Harmanli, which guarantees that personal accounts from refugees will be interpreted with the same dignity and truth as they were told. Pre-production continues at pace, and I am busy picking up last minute bits of equipment, getting travel insurance and visas sorted (I'll be entering through Istanbul so a Turkish visa is required) and organising a Bulgarian driver/interpreter for when I get to Harmanli. More to follow. In the meantime here is Euronews latest report from the area, featuring a member of the far-right Ataka party lambasting the government for taking in Syrian asylum seekers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZYGAZKFbQEw

funders (21)

There are 17 public funders of this project

There are 4 anonymous funders of this project