Sofia mayor expects further increase in influx of Syrian refugees

Sofia mayor Yordanka Fandukova is awaiting a response to her request to Social Policy Minister Hassen Ademov for a meeting to discuss options for better conditions and assistance for refugees during the winter.

Already, the Bulgarian capital was under great pressure from the influx of refugees, mainly from Syria, and should not accept more refugees when the capacity to host them was exhausted, Fandukova said.

She said that the centre in the city’s residential area of Ovcha Kupel was housing more than 1200 people when the intended capacity was 800. At another centre, with a capacity for 400 people, there were 650.

She said that she had requested the setting up of closed-circuit television cameras at the school near the refugee centre in Ovcha Kupel to provide greater security for children.

Interviewed on October 7 by public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television, Fandukova said that she was deeply concerned about what would happen in the coming winter months.

While the State Agency for Refugees and the government were responsible for conditions in the refugee centres, after people obtained refugee status, they could seek work “and many will not find it”.

The fact that some would not be in a position to cope would mean a need for more accommodation centres and more soup kitchens, she said.

Separately, Defence Minister Angel Naidenov said on October 7 that the refugee flow into Bulgaria was increasing rather than decreasing.

He said that there were risks to national security and it would make sense to convene a meeting of the Consultative Council on National Security.

This body, convened by the President as head of state and commander-in-chief, brings together heads of ministries and state agencies with security and intelligence portfolios, as well as the leaders of parties represented in Parliament.

“There is a risk that refugees bring to national security. These are the risks of a humanitarian point of view, risks of economic and social tensions in areas where refugees are housed, risks associated with the health and epidemiological factors, risks associated with potential infiltration of radical elements among the refugees.”

At the same time, Naidenov said, “let’s not get hysterical around refugees and consider only the threat to Bulgaria. We have our international commitments, that we cannot disregard or ignore.”

He said that there was no basis for a parliamentary vote of no confidence in the government because of the refugee situation in Bulgaria.

This past weekend, an MP for Volen Siderov’s ultra-nationalist party Ataka said that Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev should resign over the government’s handling of the refugee situation, and if he did not, Ataka would table a motion of no confidence in the cabinet.

Observers, however, noted that it was improbable that Ataka really would risk the government falling and subsequent new elections, given a succession of opinion polls showing Siderov’s party of having no chance of returning to a new parliament.

Meanwhile, it emerged on October 7 that the new centre for refugees in Elhovo, near the Bulgarian-Turkish border, would be ready by October 15 at the latest.

Renovation work on the accommodation that is to be used was proceeding as fast as possible, BNT reported.

The repairs and alterations are being overseen by the Interior Ministry’s Migration Directorate which will be in charge of the building.

Yambol governor Nikolai Penev said that basic work such as painting, the placing of bars on the windows and the delivery of bed frames was complete while fixes of electrical, heating and plumbing systems were being completed.

The report said that resident of Elhovo had “calmed down” after they realised that refugees would be confined within the centre and would not be able to walk freely in the town.

“Their concern now is whether the fence will be solid or wire mesh, because in the same yard is the secondary school where 34 children are taught,” the report said.

Elhovo mayor Petar Kirov said that, at first, people working at the school had been strongly opposed to the centre, but there would be no contact between the refugees and the children.

Various aspects of the Syrian crisis, with particular focus on the situation of the Syrian refugees and the European Union’s response, will be on the agenda of a meeting of EU justice and home affairs ministers in Luxembourg on October 8.

About two million people who had fled Syria had registered or were awaiting registration in neighbouring countries and this continues to cause deep worry in the EU, according to Lithuanian interior minister Dailis Alfonsas Barakauskas, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU and who is chairing the October 7 and 8 meeting of justice and home affairs ministers.

The Voice of America reported that a day after international inspectors began destroying Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, United State secretary of state John Kerry praised the Syrian government for complying with the U.N. Security Council so quickly.

Kerry said on October 7 that it is “extremely significant” that the first weapons were destroyed a week after the Security Council passed a resolution.

“I’m not going to vouch today for what happens months down the road, but it’s a good beginning. And we should welcome a good beginning,” Kerry said.

Kerry met on October 7 in Indonesia with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, who said Russia – a Syrian ally – will do everything it can to ensure President Bashar al-Assad’s government co-operates.

Kerry told reporters that both he and Lavrov agreed to meet with UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to urge a date be set for a Syrian peace conference in November. The diplomats have been trying for months to convene the conference, but the effort has been repeatedly delayed.

On October 6, Brahimi urged Syria’s warring parties to hold talks “without preconditions.” He said that he hopes negotiations can take place in Geneva in late November. He also expressed frustration with the stalled peace process, acknowledging that he feels like resigning from his post.

(Photo: UNHCR/D.Kashavelov)



The Sofia Globe staff

The Sofia Globe - the Sofia-based fully independent English-language news and features website, covering Bulgaria, the Balkans and the EU. Sign up to subscribe to's daily bulletin through the form on our homepage.