SOFIA (Reuters) - Migrants clashed with police and set fire to furniture and tires at a refugee camp in Bulgaria's southern town of Harmanli on Thursday, two days after the facility was sealed off following reports alleging outbreaks of disease among residents.
Last week Harmanli townspeople staged a protest calling for the camp's closure after local media alleged that migrants there carried communicable skin diseases. Home to 3,000 mostly Afghan refugees, the camp is the largest in Bulgaria.
The head of the Bulgarian Refugee Agency, which runs the camp and took the decision to close it to allow health authorities to investigate, told Bulgarian National Radio that these reports were false.
"An artificially created tension led to this, following misleading reports that the center is a hearth of infection," Petya Parvanova said. She was on her way to Harmanli, she said.
Migrants threw stones and other missiles at riot police, who deployed water cannon to disperse them. The crowd briefly broke through a barrier at the camp but were quickly pushed back.
The protesters damaged several buildings, including the camp's cantine, and set fire to tires, mattresses and broken furniture. Firefighters were deployed to the scene, along with additional police forces.
"The riot had started at noon but the situation has been already brought under control," the interior ministry's spokeswoman told Reuters. "Negotiations between the authorities and the protesters are underway."
There were no reports of arrests or of any injuries.
Bulgaria has built a fence on its border with Turkey and has bolstered its border controls to prevent inflows of illegal migrants. Some 17,000 migrants were detained in the first ten months of the year, over a third less than a year ago.
Despite the decreasing numbers, Bulgarian nationalists staged several protests in recent months calling for the immediate closure of all refugee centers in Bulgaria, and for migrants to be returned to Turkey or their countries of origin.
They say Bulgaria, the EU's poorest member state, cannot afford to support them in such numbers.
(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)