Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov, disturbed by the danger of a wave of migrants and refugees crossing from Turkey into his country and Greece, has called on European Union leaders to remove visa requirements for Turkish citizens.
Borissov made the call during an August 26 visit to Istanbul, during which he held talks with his Turkish counterpart Binali Yildirim and that country’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Speaking after meeting Yildirim, Borissov said “at the moment what the colleagues (in Turkey) are doing is to prevent a new more than two million wave of migrants from the area of Aleppo. Add more than three million here in Turkey, a significant part in Istanbul, actually we here in Europe need to make a clear assessment – if the accepted agreement is unsupported by votes in the European Council…how long will Turkey manage to stop them?”
Visa-free travel in the Schengen area was one of the key conditions put by Ankara at the signing of an agreement in March 2016 with the EU on readmission of migrants who had crossed the borders illegally. However, in turn the EU put certain conditions to Turkey, including amending anti-terrorism laws to ensure respect for human rights.
The crackdown that followed the failed coup attempt against Erdogan practically froze negotiations on the abolition of visas.
Yildirim’s message to the EU was clear. He said: “Our European friends must know that the time has come to understand that they need to take more responsibility with regard to migrants”.
He said that it was vital that in late October, the visa liberalisation agreement should enter into force. Should the agreement regarding readmission and visa liberalisation did not go ahead, “this would put Europe at a huge risk”.
The Turkish prime minister said that “I trust that he (Borissov) will deliver (the message) to our European partners”.
“Leaving aside the problems with the EU, we will do everything in our power to reduce the load on the back of Bulgaria,” Yildirim said.
In response, Borissov said that he had written down the message of the Turkish prime minister, to deliver it to his counterparts in the EU.
“I have a lot of messages to share with my colleagues. To be precise, I have written them down. Because Bulgaria and Greece are the first highly vulnerable countries. This is about real European solidarity. Solidarity with our neighbors and the EU,” said Borissov, who is on the eve of a meeting with German chancellor Angela Merkel.
Borissov said that he understood that in Europe, it was “very convenient as a political cause” to highlight the fight against migrants, “and very convenient to know that they will be returned to where they came from, but I cannot imagine how we will begin to receive at the airport in Sofia tens of thousands of migrants that we are returning from Europe. Neither will I accept the scenario that Bulgaria is the buffer between Turkey and Europe”.
He said that Turkey had not put forward to Bulgaria any conditions for solving the migration problem.
“If we guarantee that with Turkey, who will guarantee to us the Greek, Macedonia, Serbian border? I hope that reason will prevail over nationalism and populism. I hope that with the EU we will find sufficient will to protect every state,” Borissov said.