18 February 2014
Last updated at 20:30 ET
In the final months of 2013, Bulgaria admitted approximately 6,500 refugees from Syria, a significant increase on previous years. The asylum-seekers now live in seven camps and two detention centres. Here, a new day begins at one of the largest refugee centres, a former military facility at Harmanli in southern Bulgaria. It serves as a temporary home for 1,800 people. (Pictures and text by Jacob Zocherman)
Among the Syrians calling Harmanli their temporary home are Kulstan Kalo (L) and her sister, Teshkitaf Abdalbaki. They have lived there with their families for two months since they fled Aleppo in late September 2013, some days after their son was murdered by the radical Islamist group ISIS.
Kulstan's husband Walet Kalo (sitting at the back on the left) owned a laundry business before they fled Syria. They have three surviving children (one of whom lives in Iraq) and now live together with Kulstan’s sister's family. Altogether 10 people share a small room.
Kulstan Kalo has been in a state of shock since her son died. She often looks at photos and cannot believe he is gone. She dreams of going to Belgium to join her other sister. But she says it is difficult to make plans.
A European Parliament delegation visits Harmanli to assess the conditions for Syrian asylum-seekers and refugees. But, seated left, Teshkitaf Abdalbaki complains: "They don’t even speak to us. How can they know about the conditions when they barely look at us?"
Not only is it prohibited for outsiders to visit the refugee camp in Harmanli, the Syrians may not leave the camp area unless they have a temporary ID card. Few refugees are given the card which takes three months to process because of a shortage of staff at the Bulgarian refugee agency. Police officers keep an eye on the area around the clock.
Daylight fades at the Harmanli refugee camp. Most people stay inside during the evenings. Living space is limited. It is not uncommon for 20 people to share tight quarters in the camp.
Dinner at Harmanli. The UN refugee agency supplies one meal a day. It is not enough for most of the camp's inhabitants and often they complain it is inedible. "We are lucky, having some money so we can buy some extra to add to the meal. Most people can’t afford that," says Teshkitaf Abdalbaki.
Even though Kulstan Kalo (bottom) takes sleeping pills, she manages no more than a few hours' sleep each night. She hyperventilates, has nightmares and suffers from anxiety. Next to her on the floor is her sister, Teshkitaf (top), who tries to comfort her when the lights are turned out.
Since the influx of Syrians started, Bulgaria has trebled the number of border police in place on the border with Turkey and an EU-funded surveillance system has been installed. Soon a 30km (18-mile) border fence will be in place where the terrain makes it difficult for surveillance.