As a steady stream of refugees from Syria continued to enter Bulgaria, which is striving to come up with additional accommodation and funding to cope, hundreds of people from Iran and Syria protested at a shelter in Sofia against their long wait for asylum.
Local media reports on September 13 that the refugees held their protest overnight, with their shouts keeping people in the Ovcha Kupel residential district awake.
The refugees reportedly had been waiting “for years”, they said, for a decision on asylum status.
Earlier reports said that the process of deciding on asylum applications in Bulgaria took about six months. Authorities said that they were working on cutting down the time taken, especially because of the sharp increase in refugees from Syria.
On September 13, Bulgaria’s Interior Ministry said that in the past 24 hours, 41 people had been held after illegally crossing the border from Turkey. Of the 41, a total of 31 were citizens of Syria.
Since September 5, 368 Syrians had entered Bulgaria, the ministry said. Currently, accommodation for refugees was exceeded by 335 places, according to the Interior Ministry.
Interior Minister Tsvetlin Yochev said that measures would be taken to avoid an escalation of problems in refugee camps in the country.
He said that within a few days, additional accommodation would be made available to “create normal conditions for resettlement”.
The influx of refugees has raised concern around the question of whether hostile individuals might try to infiltrate the country among legitimate refugees.
Atanas Atanasov, deputy leader of the right-wing Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria, said that there were discrepancies in messages about whether there was a threat of terrorism on the territory of Bulgaria because of the Syria crisis.
Yovchev said that at the moment, he saw no real terrorist threat to Bulgaria, but added that there was information about risks and threats to the country, but nothing specific.
He said that an application had been made to the European Commission for financial assistance in coping with the influx of refugees. It was “possible” that such help would be given but no final decision had been made, and if aid was granted, it would not be much but would be of some assistance, he said.
Yovchev repeated earlier statements that Bulgaria was expecting to get technical and expert assistance from the EU and was discussing further stepping up border security in co-operation with border protection agency Frontex.
He said that he hoped next week to meet representatives of the UN High Commission for Refugees, to ask for technical assistance.
Discussions were being held about the Bulgarian Red Cross starting a fund-raising campaign.
(Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)