Comment: Bulgaria and polarisation over the Syrian refugees

In a country that the autumn of 2013 finds quite as deeply divided over almost every issue, perhaps it is hardly surprising – if deeply disappointing – that the question of the influx of Syrian refugees is proving divisive too.

According to the most recent Interior Ministry figures, as of this writing Bulgaria is now the unbidden host to more than 7000 refugees.

That figure takes in those who have entered, mostly illegally, from a range of countries also including Afghanistan, Iraq and other troubled states in the Middle East and North Africa. But the story of the day is about those fleeing Syria, and the vastly fatal violence wrought by the Assad regime and those who oppose it.

Globally, the figures coming out of the Syrian crisis are mind-boggling to most, even those who recall the tragically awful numbers of the disruption to human lives in recent memory, in the former Yugoslavia and the sickening slaughterhouse that was Rwanda; and that is not to delve further deep into 20th century history, not only the unimaginable crime of the Holocaust but also the aftermath of World War 2, for which the term “displaced person” was invented in Europe.

Arguably, in the grand scheme of things, the Syrian refugee impact on Bulgaria is not that extensive. Certainly, not compared to that on Syria’s immediate neighbours, and probably, not in comparison to those places that for years have been – literally – on the receiving end of large numbers of refugees, notably Greece and Italy.

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(Syrian asylum-seekers waiting to be registered with border police at Elhovo, near Bulgaria’s border with Turkey. Photo: UNHCR/D.Kashavelov)