Bulgaria’s refugee centres are currently accommodating 6969 people, exceeding their combined capacity of 5510 people, going by a regular report by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
At the “open facilities”, those accommodated are mainly Afghan (48 per cent), Syrian (22 per cent), Iraqi (20 per cent) and Pakistani (seven per cent) nationals, according to the IOM report, giving figures as October 13.
At the “closed”, meaning gated, reception centres at Harmanli and that run by the Interior Ministry in Sofia, as well as Elhovo, the figures were similar – mainly Afghan (48 per cent), Syrian (16 per cent), Iraqi (14 per cent) and Pakistani (3 per cent) nationals.
IOM said that between October 13 and 19, a total of 796 migrants and refugees arrived in Bulgaria, an increase of 60 per cent over the number of arrivals, 496, between October 6 and 12.
The report said that from the start of 2016 until October 13, the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior had apprehended a total of 15 906 migrants who were attempting to enter, exit or reside in the country irregularly.
Of this figure, 4221 have been apprehended on entry, 4297 on exit and 7388 inside the country.
Of the 734 people apprehended between October 6 and 13, a total of 129 were apprehended on entry (all near the border with Turkey), 144 were detected on exit (most on the exit toward Serbia, one person on the border with Romania and one near the Bulgarian– Turkish border) and 461 within the country.
Additionally, 394 migrants who were previously registered by the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior, were apprehended while trying to irregularly leave the country towards Serbia.
A total number of apprehensions on exit for this week represents a 22 per cent decrease compared to the previous week.
On October 5, during a parliamentary hearing, Bulgarian Interior Minister Roumyana Buchvarova announced a plan for establishing additional three reception centres near the border with Turkey in case of sudden increase of migration flow to Bulgaria. These are envisaged as closed-type reception facilities built out of removable containers which will be set in place according to the detected needs, the IOM report said.
On October 21, speaking after an inspection tour of the Malko Turnovo area, Bulgaria’s Defence Minister Nikolai Nenchev said: “The refugee crisis is a problem jeopardizing the national security of Bulgaria directly. We shall commit ourselves to protecting our state borders most earnestly,” Nenchev said, adding that the information coming in from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Libya was “not optimistic”.
“If the need arises, close to 2000 military personnel, ready to perform their border security duties, can be deployed along the border within hours,” Nenchev said.
The same day, the second level of the action plan for emergency situations regarding the possible strengthening of migrant flows on the Bulgarian-Turkish border was triggered, with Interior Minister Roumyana Buchvarova explaining that the goal of the preventative measures was for Bulgaria to be ready in the event of an emergency.
Bulgaria’s national plan for emergency situations provides for three levels of danger.
Declaring the second level means more military at the border, extra patrols and other additional measures of border security.
The measures include the willingness to create conditions for “seamless” temporary accommodation of migrants. All these measures are being taken to enable the country to quickly respond to any mass influx of refugees, according to the Interior Minister.
Buchvarova said that every week the national operational headquarters analysed and judged the level of risk, “based on which we act”.
On the night of October 21, there were anti-refugee protests by extra-parliamentary ultra-nationalist movements in Sofia, Varna and Yambol, with participants claiming that Bulgaria’s government was taking insufficient measures against illegal migration. They called for the closure of refugee centres and the country’s borders.
Reporters at the scene estimated turnout for the anti-refugee protest in Sofia at 400, in a city of about 1.1 million, while in Varna, Bulgaria’s main Black Sea city, protesters added up to about two or three dozen.
(Archive photo of a refugee centre in Sofia in 2013: Ben Melrose/V Photo Agency)