Bulgaria’s Cabinet will hold a special sitting on October 21 to discuss the refugee issue as the country faces a large increase in the number of refugees, mainly from Syria.
This emerged from statements to reporters by Deputy Interior Minister Vassil Marinov after a scheduled Cabinet meeting on October 16.
He said that at the meeting, ministers had discussed a report on the allocation of additional funding to deal with the refugee situation, which proposes granting a further total of 27 million leva (about 18.5 million euro) to all institutions dealing with refugees. Most of this sum would go to the Interior Ministry.
While there were no objections among the ministers, no formal decision was taken and this was left for the October 21 meeting, Marinov said.
The Cabinet, at its October 16 meeting, had decided to build a 30km-long barrier fence on the border with Elhovo in the areas where it was easiest for illegal migrants to cross into Bulgaria from Turkey.
“These are areas where our border patrols have no visibility. About 85 per cent of intruders enter through the territory of Elhovo. The border fence will run at about five million leva. This is the same amount of money Greek authorities have spent to build their 10km-long fence. These fences do not aim at bringing back the refugees, it is for better protection of the border,” Marinov said.
All refugee children under the age of 15 years were to be immunized, with the National Health Insurance Fund paying for this. People who apply for protection will be insured by the National Health Insurance Fund, Marinov said.
Meanwhile, it also became clear on October 16 that the Interior Ministry has no precise idea of the cost a head of refugees to Bulgaria and that the much-quoted figure of 1084 leva a month was based on “provisional analysis” by the ministry.
Earlier, media reports attacked the basis of the calculation, saying that it was likely that the true sum was lower.
At the same time, Bulgaria’s government has been making repeated calls for financial assistance from the European Union, but so far has not made clear how much money it wants.
In early September, the government talked about a sum of 10 million leva needed by the end of the year, but more recently said that 30 million would be needed on the basis of an estimate that there would be 11 000 refugees in Bulgaria by the end of 2013, Mediapool said.
Marinov said that the 1084 leva was based on estimates from “experts from different departments” made in August.
On October 15, the recently-appointed head of the State Agency for Refugees, Nikolai Chirpanliev, gave the real monthly allowance for spending on an individual refugee as 385 leva.
Marinov said that the earlier estimated amount included, for example, 200 leva for hospital treatment, but this sum had proved to be an inaccurate estimate.
So far, he said, 104 people had been treated in hospital and the cost of this was 105 000 leva. Speaking to bTV about the issue, Marinov did not indicate the time period he was talking about.
Chirpanliev, speaking on October 15 to public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television, said that the process of granting refugee status was being sped up and applications would be processed within 21 days, instead of five months as has been the timeframe up to now. The agency wanted to achieve a processing rate of 60 a day.
Marinov said that that Interior Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev had ordered Chirpanliev to fix the problems at the refugee centres in Sofia as soon as possible.
The appalling conditions at these centres have been exposed in a hidden-camera report by BNT and in reports by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee and the UNHCR.
Chirpanliev also accused some refugees of vandalism, saying that some sewerage channels at the centre had become blocked because refugees had stuffed nappies and sanitary napkins into them to “show that they want more attention”.
As to scenes of refugees sleeping on the ground at the centres, he said that some refugees tore off the canvas, put it on the ground and lay on it. “Apparently it is their way of life,” Chirpanliev, a retired colonel handed control of the agency on October 2, said. “We cannot put a bed on the floor and say, ‘sleep here’, it is their decision.” He underlined that those that he alleged were committing acts of vandalism were very few in number.
Those who violated the laws of the country would be expelled by the Migration Directorate, he said.
As reported by BNT on October 16, Chirpanliev said that dissatisfaction was growing among district mayors and they did not want to accept refugees in their areas.
He said that district mayors were saying that the poor living conditions in the centres would create additional tensions, in turn affecting local residents.
On October 16, Vice President Margarita Popova told a conference in Sofia: “We must enable refugees to advance our economy through their knowledge, abilities and qualifications,” Bulgarian news agency BTA said.
(Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)