Closing Bulgaria’s border with Turkey ‘will not solve Syrian refugee problem’

The Bulgarian government has not discussed closing the country’s border with Turkey because of the increased influx of Syrian refugees, Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski said on September 23, the same day that the Interior Ministry said that more than 220 Syrians had entered Bulgaria in the past three days.

According to the ministry, 386 had crossed into the country during that time. The accommodation capacity of Bulgaria’s refugee centres run by the State Agency for Refugees and the Interior Ministry, which totals 2230 people, has been exceeded by 302 people, the ministry said.

Oresharski said that in any case, closing the border with Turkey would not solve the problem of Syrian refugees.

Echoing what has been said by a number of cabinet ministers in the current government, Oresharski said that closing the Bulgarian – Turkish border would be considered only as a last resort.

On September 20, Interior Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev, accompanied by a delegation including Border Police head Zaharin Penov, visited Ankara where he was given an assurance by his Turkish counterpart Muammer Güler that Turkey would step up control and surveillance on the common border.

The Turkish and Bulgarian officials discussed the draft agreement which will regulate the establishment of a trilateral contact centre between Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece. At the request of the Bulgarian delegation Turkey agreed to speed up the procedure for this, Bulgaria’s Interior Ministry said.

At the meeting, it was agreed to quicken the pace on a proposal to set up joint patrols.

“Urgently, until the implementation of the Bulgarian initiative for the trilateral centre and the establishment of the joint patrols, contact points were specified in the border police structures of the two countries. In this way, information will be exchanged in real time which will facilitate the communication and accelerate the response during detection of attempts at illegal border crossing,” the Interior Ministry said.

On September 23, local media quoted Deputy Interior Minister Vassil Marinov as saying that so far checks had not found any security risks among the Syrian refugees in Bulgaria.

The same day, Sofia mayor Yordanka Fandukova said that she would ask Yovchev to strengthen control in areas where there were refugee centres.

“Minister Yovchev promised to increase the capacity of Sofia District Police Directorate if needed. The police have already increased the security in the area of the refugee centre in Vrazdebna living district, and today I will speak to him to do so in the Ovcha Kupel residential area,” Fandukova said.

Last week, emotions ran high at the centre in the Ovcha Kupel area when a Syrian refugee woman who had fallen ill, died in hospital after being taken there by private car when there was a delayed response to a call to emergency number 112 requesting an ambulance.

On September 23, it also emerged that a joint crisis team from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the Bulgarian Red Cross would assess the situation of the refugees in Bulgaria.

The inspection visit, from September 23 to 27, would include checks at temporary accommodation for refugees in Sofia, Haskovo and Yambol. The team would meet representatives of state institutions involved in dealing with the Syrian refugee crisis, the Bulgarian Red Cross said.

Earlier, the Bulgarian Red Cross initiated a charity fund-raising campaign to provide essentials to the Syrian refugees in Bulgaria.

Bulgarian Red Cross official Olia Al-Ahmed said that the refugees needed “absolutely everything” necessary for starting a new life in a foreign country, most of all shelter and financial assistance. The refugees first had to overcome the stress that they had experienced “and only afterwards can we think about their further integration,” she told local media.

Oresharski said that Bulgaria intended asking for financial help from the EU to cope with the refugee flow from Syria. He said that there would be pressure on the public purse as the number of refugees increased. The State Agency for Refugees had not yet asked for more money but “I am afraid they will need it,” he said.

Representatives of European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom are expected to arrive in Bulgaria on October 1 to inspect the situation.

Currently, media reports said, each refugee cost the Bulgarian state about 1100 leva (about 550 euro) a month for medical services, sanitary needs, transport and basic necessities.

(Photo: UNHCR/D.Kashavelov)



The Sofia Globe staff

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