The refugee situation in Bulgaria is not yet under control, Interior Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev said on September 19 2013, speaking after a meeting with eight mayors to discuss steps to cope with the large increase in refugees prompted by the Syria crisis.
Bulgaria has been taking urgent steps after the influx of refugees fleeing the Assad regime resulted in existing shelters for asylum-seekers overflowing, prompting tensions.
Reactions among mayors to temporary shelters for refugees being placed in their municipalities has been mixed.
Of the refugee situation in Bulgaria, Yovchev said, “We have positive scenarios, as well as very unpleasant variations that may develop. I thing, however that at this stage we are able to deal with the risks properly.
“I want to thank mayors for the constructive dialogue and the suggestions they made. Many of them are reasonable and we accepted them, as well as we accepted the recommendation for more active direct dialog with municipal mayors,” Yovchev said.
On September 19, a delegation from the European Parliament visited Bulgaria’s refugee centre at Pastrogor.
The visit by the MEPs was planned in June, to inspect the Pastrogor facilities and those at the Kapitan Andreevo border checkpoint with Turkey, financed with EU funds.
The inspection took on a new immediacy because of the stepped-up daily flow of refugees across the Turkish border into Bulgaria.
Public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television said that Bulgarian MEPs wanted Brussels to pressure Turkey to sign the EU readmissions agreement approved in 2012 to allow the EU to return at least some of those who crossed from Turkey into EU member states.
Local television station bTV said that there was unhappiness in the town of Harmanli where a former military facility had been set aside to accommodate 1000 Syrian refugees.
This would increase the town’s population by five per cent and townspeople feared for their safety, according to the bTV report.
Mayor Mihail Liskov said that most people in the town did not accept the refugee facility because it was in the town centre. Residents were worried about infections, disease and crime, while Liskov said that he was concerned that the facility did not have adequate sanitation and catering facilities, while it was unclear who would pay for waste collection and transportation for medical care.
Local media also reported that the mayor the Kremikovtsi municipality in Sofia, Ivailo Panev, also was complaining, saying that it was “not normal” to have a refugee camp at the entrance to a country’s capital. Panev expressed concern that the money to be spent on the refugees was minimal and supplies of food and medicines were inadequate.
Separately, the district administration in Kurdjali, in southern Bulgaria near the Turkish border, said that an inspection of unused buildings had found them to be unsuitable for resettlement of refugees.
However, other reports have said that some municipalities have expressed willingness to co-operate in making facilities available, while on September 18, Bulgarian Orthodox Church clergy in the Danubian city of Vidin in northern Bulgaria said that they were willing to host refugees in monasteries.
So far this year, Bulgaria has received about 3000 asylum applications, mainly from the Middle East and Africa. This is three times the yearly average of the past decade. August saw a sharp rise to about 50 new arrivals (mainly Syrian families) a day compared to four a month a year earlier.
“Although overall numbers are low relative to some other European countries Bulgaria’s asylum system cannot keep pace with the new arrivals,” UNHCR’s chief spokesperson, Melissa Fleming said on Tuesday, while adding that the three existing accommodation centres operated by the government were overcrowded and conditions were both unsafe and dire.
But she added that the refugee agency welcomed assurances from the Bulgarian government of quick action to fix the dire conditions for Syrian and other asylum-seekers.
(Photo: Syrian asylum-seekers waiting to be registered with border police at Elhovo, near Bulgaria’s border with Turkey: UNHCR/D.Kashavelov)