By an overwhelming majority in a vote on October 9 2013, Bulgaria’s Parliament rejected a motion by Volen Siderov’s ultra-nationalist Ataka party to close the country’s borders to immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa.
The motion was tabled against the background of a large increase in refugees entering Bulgaria in recent weeks and months, mainly from war-torn Syria.
The vote in the National Assembly was 165 against, 18 four and with four Bulgarian Socialist Party MPs abstaining.
Official figures have it that more than 6000 illegal migrants have entered Bulgaria so far in 2013 and government estimates are that the figure could reach 11 000 by the end of this year.
There have been mixed signals in recent weeks from the current government about the option of closing the border with Turkey. It is this border that sees most of the influx of illegal migrants into Bulgaria.
Various ministers earlier spoke of closure of the border with Turkey as a last resort, but more lately, presumably acting on legal advice, members of the government have said that this not only would require a decision not by the government but by Parliament, but also would be in breach of Bulgaria’s international obligations as an EU member and a signatory to the international convention on refugees.
On October 9, Bulgaria’s Interior Ministry said that from 6am on October 8 to 6am on October 9, a total of 124 people, 91 of them Syrians, were detained after having crossed the border into Bulgaria illegally.
The current total accommodation capacity in State Agency for Refugees and Interior Ministry facilities is 3350 people, now exceeded by 137.
Interior Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev, attending a meeting of EU home affairs ministers in Luxembourg on October 8, said that Bulgaria would soon receive direct financial assistance to cope with the refugee influx.
In an interview published in mass-circulation daily 24 Chassa on October 9, Ognyan Zlatev, the head of the European Commission representation in Bulgaria, was quoted as saying that it was not true to allege that the EC was not helping Bulgaria as an external border country.
More than two million euro had been allocated to Bulgaria for dealing with the refugee situation, a sum set aside on the basis of 2012 refugee figures. The sum was part of an overall more than 15 million allocated to Bulgaria for improving its technical capacity, Zlatev was quoted as saying.
In an interview with local media, Bulgarian Red Cross chairman Hristo Grigorov expressed concern about the refugee issue polarising Bulgarian society.
He said that refugees in Bulgaria did not want handouts but wanted to work.
Some Bulgarian said that the country was helping others “while we are refugees in our own country,”, Grigorov said he had been told, but “on the other hand, these people have left their homes and come to Bulgaria to save their lives – not out of their own will. If we take a closer look, we will see that a large part of them are women and children, many with sandals and shorts.
“We have to reach out to these people. We should forget our own situation, stop saying that we are one of the poorest European countries,” Grigorov said.
He said that so far, the fundraising campaign by the Bulgarian Red Cross for assistance for the refugees had raised more than 30 000 leva (about 15 000 euro) since its September 18 launch. This sum did not include the amount raised through SMSes sent to the 1466 number set up for the purpose.
For details of how to donate to the campaign, please click here.
(Photo: Bulgaria’s European Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva, the bloc’s commissioner for crisis response and humanitarian aid, with Syrian refugee children in Lebanon)