New arrests of Syrians in Bulgaria after warning of increasing refugee pressure

Bulgarian police arrested eight Syrian citizens found hiding in a building next to a sheep-pen in the village of Yamino in the district of Kurdjali in the southern part of the country, local media said on October 3 2012, just two days after the Interior Minister said that there had been a significant increase in the number of Syrian refugees crossing into Bulgaria.

The Syrians found hiding in the village were aged 16 to 29, local news agency Focus said. Arrested along with them was a 41-year-old Bulgarian who provided transportation to the group.

According to a report by television station bTV, the transit centre in the village of Pustrogor had a capacity of 300 people and was currently 70 per cent full, with Syrians making up most of this number.

This included 40 Syrians who had illegally crossed the border into Bulgaria in the past two weeks.

The report quoted the centre’s director, Anton Iliev, as saying that Bulgaria could cope with a stronger flow of Syrian refugees. He said that an increase of refugee flow from Syria to Bulgaria was possible but added that it was impossible to predict numbers.

Three Syrians who spoke to a journalist for the report said that they had fled their country to escape either being pressed into the army or the opposition forces. They had paid between $4000 and $5000 to embark on the trip.

Reports on October 2 said in the previous 10 days, 26 Syrian nationals had been caught in the area close to the Bulgarian – Turkish border.

Turkey currently is host to a reported 100 000 Syrian refugees.

Migration pressure on Bulgaria’s border with Turkey, mainly from refugees fleeing the violent conflict in Syria, has increased by 50 per cent in the past two months, Bulgarian Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said on October 1.

Tsvetanov said that the ministry’s strategy envisaged a revision of the action plan in the face of increased migration flow. Bulgaria and Turkey had discussed joint patrols and a new control centre at the Kapitan Andreevo checkpoint, he said.

He said that one of the measures being considered was the deployment of additional Border Police units.

According to Tsvetanov, the European Commission was considering whether the allocation of resources to zones where migration pressure was “enormous” could be strengthened.

As The Sofia Globe reported previously, Bulgarian border police arrested a total of 14 would-be illegal immigrants in the space of 24 hours on September 22 2012, the latest in a series of arrests in more than a month, mainly of people from Syria and other Middle Eastern or Asian states. Most of the arrests took place along Bulgaria’s border with Turkey.

On October 2, the spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Adrian Edwards, said that more than 300 000 Syrians had fled to neighbouring countries, with numbers tripling over the past three months.

“The continuing rapid growth in refugee numbers underscores the urgency of last week’s revised Syria regional response plan seeking $487.9 million in support of up to 710 000 Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries by the end of this year,” Edwards said.

“The generosity and hospitality shown by these countries as they struggle to cope with growing numbers of refugees make it essential that the international community provide as much support as possible,” he said, as quoted by the UN News Centre. “Many refugees and the communities hosting them are already running out of resources.”

According to UNHCR, a total of 311 500 Syrians are currently registered or awaiting registration as refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq.

Edwards warned that humanitarian agencies now face a race against time with the onset of winter temperatures across the region as many refugees are living in tents, and underscored the need to put a plan in place over the next 10 weeks.

“In Jordan, for example, where thousands are living in tents, the average low temperature between mid-November and mid-March is two degrees Celsius. A winterization plan is being developed, but it too requires support and funding,” he said.

About 65 per cent of Syrian refugees currently receiving or seeking assistance in Jordan are in urban areas, while the remaining 35 per cent are in the new camp at Za’atri, located in the country’s north, and other smaller facilities. Since it opened just two months ago, Za’atri has received more than 30 000 people, the UN News Centre said.

Edwards said UNHCR has various programmes in place to assist urban refugees in need, who are finding it increasingly difficult to live on the local economy as their resources dwindle. The programmes, which have reached more than 55 000 Syrians, include cash assistance and the provision of a package of household items ranging from kitchen sets and mattresses to sanitation items.


In Lebanon, UNHCR said it is rolling out a winterization programme along with its partners to provide refugee families and vulnerable Lebanese with fuel for heating, mattresses, blankets and clothes as well as needed refurbishment to accommodations in preparation for the colder months. However, the agency said that the scattered nature of the Syrian refugee population in Lebanon is posing challenges in providing assistance in remote areas.

In addition to the influx of Syrians in Turkey, which currently has 13 refugee camps, there has been an increase in Iraqis, Iranians and Afghans seeking protection also due to the crisis in Syria, Edwards said, adding that estimates suggest Turkey could be hosting up to 280 000 refugees by the end of the year.

In Iraq, the agency has registered an increase in the number of Syrians of Kurdish origin who have arrived in the Kurdistan region, noting that while initially many of those fleeing were single refugees, there has recently been a growing proportion of families seeking refuge.

More than 18 000 people, mostly civilians, have died since the uprising against the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad began last year. A further 2.5 million Syrians urgently need humanitarian aid, according to UN estimates.




The Sofia Globe staff

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