Against a background of a rising tide of refugees coming to Bulgaria, many fleeing conflict-torn Syria, Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov has called for a “change of approach”, urging officials to bear in mind that people are fleeing persecution in search of a normal life.
He called on prosecutors and the judiciary to consider cases of illegal border crossings on the basis of individual circumstances.
The increase in illegal border crossings has seen a concomitant increase in convictions in the district courts in Elhovo and Svilengrad, which are in areas where the number of illicit entries into Bulgaria from the Turkish border area have been at their highest.
The statements by Tsatsarov appeared to signal a change of approach on the part of the Prosecutor-General himself. Some days ago, Tsatsarov deployed prosecutors from elsewhere in Bulgaria to the area near the Turkish border to process prosecutions of people who had crossed the border illegally. This led to criticism from human rights groups who pointed out that asylum seekers were exempt from prosecution for illegal border crossings.
Tsatsarov, visiting the Elhovo area on September 17, criticised the State Agency for Refugees, saying that it should take on a much more active role in working with refugees than it had in the past.
This had left the Interior Ministry to take on the brunt of the task. Staff of the State Agency for Refugees should be on the spot, rather than remaining in Sofia to deal with asylum requests remotely.
Tsatsarov is a member of the task team on refugees, headed by Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev, whom the Prosecutor-General accompanied on the visit to Elhovo.
Tsatsarov and Yovchev visited the town to discuss organizational arrangements for setting up a reception centre for refugees.
This centre, to be set up in a local school, initially would be able to accommodate 150 people and the capacity would then be increased to 300, Yovchev said. Plans are for this centre to be set up in the next 10 days.
The idea is that the centre would host refugees for two to five days, during which they would undergo medical check-ups, confirmation of their identities and be properly fed while awaiting registration and transportation to places where they will stay while their asylum applications are dealt with.
Yovchev, repeating an announcement that he made the previous day, said that the government had secured additional places for 1250 people but this would be used up within 10 days given the rate at which people were arriving in Bulgaria.
The idea was to find a place for a further 1000 people.
He reiterated that Bulgaria was approaching the “critical point” at which it would not be able to continue to accept refugees, but also reiterated his frequent statement that the country would consider border closure only as a last resort.
According to Yovchev, the government was looking to increase the number of staff of the State Agency for Refugees and would consider seconding staff from other institutions.
He said that within two to three days, the Bulgarian Red Cross would announce a national campaign to collect donations to assist the refugees.
Meanwhile, in the latest set of statistics on the refugee flow into Bulgaria, the Interior Ministry said on September 17 that in the past 24 hours, Bulgarian Border Police had detained 57 illegal migrants who had attempted to cross the Bulgarian-Turkish border. Of the 57, a total of 30 were refugees from Syria.
(Photo, of Tsatsarov, left, and Yovchev: Interior Ministry)