Dumping grounds for people
Reform is coming too slowly to institutions for adults with intellectual and mental health disabilities in Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia, where chronic neglect, filthy conditions, and the use of physical restraints and high-dosage drugs to control behaviour remain routine.

This investigation, mostly conducted undercover in institutions for adults with intellectual and mental health disabilities in Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia, uncovered evidence of human rights abuses, inhuman and degrading treatment and appalling neglect. It showed that reform in this field remains patchy and slow, and too often leaves the most vulnerable behind.

Bulgaria and Romania, both EU members since 2007, and Serbia, which seeks the same status, have a grim track record when it comes to institutional care. This investigation suggests that they are still failing to meet international standards.

Much is at stake for these counties if they do not improve things. The European Commission has said it may suspend payments under the European Social Fund in case of serious irregularities in Bulgarian and Romanian institutions. As for Serbia, many important voices insist that the EU must demand a better human rights track record from future candidate countries. However, in practice, Brussels has been turning a blind eye to such abuses for years.


All photos by Yana Buhrer Tavanier (apart from n49 and 50 - archive)

This project was produced with the support of the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence, an initiative of the Robert Bosch Stiftung and ERSTE Foundation, in cooperation with the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN.
50 photos · 7,216 views