Bulgaria saw its latest protests against purported plans for placement of refugees, this time in Varna and in the town of Kazanluk, while criticism among opposition parties of the government’s handling of the refugee situation in the country is mounting.
In Kazanluk, about 150 residents held a public protest after they heard that an Interior Ministry academy in the town was to be converted into a refugee centre. Mayor Galina Stoyanova said that Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev had not yet responded to her inquiry about the plans.
In the Black Sea city of Varna, residents protested against a supposed plan for a similar conversion of an Interior Ministry facility.
However, Deputy Interior Minister Yordan Gramov said that the possible conversions were “just ideas” and no firm decision had been taken.
In an interview with public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television (BNT) on October 18, Yovchev said of the influx of Syrian refugees that “we have not encountered such a severe challenge to national security in recent years”.
There were days that the number of refugees crossing into Bulgaria exceeded 200, Yovchev said.
He said that Bulgaria would push for the signing by Turkey of a readmission agreement with the European Union, whereby refugees who entered via Bulgaria’s neighbour could be returned.
Yovchev said that the situation was not a disaster but the public should understand that these are difficult times. It required the joint efforts of all institutions, he said.
The solution was multi-faceted, according to Yovchev, who said that there should be fences along the border, especially in the most difficult areas where the terrain did not allow for effective monitoring, and there should be improved communication with neighbouring countries. The process was underway of arranging joint patrols with Turkey.
Bulgaria already had received technical assistance from EU frontier agency Frontex and next week a decision on financial aid from the EU was expected, while individual EU countries had declared their support. “There is European solidarity, but it is not enough.”
He said that at political and expert level, work needed to be speeded up of a tripartite centre that would enable the exchange of information in real time with Turkey and Greece.
Referring to an earlier call by the government for the President to convene the Consultative Council on National Security, Yovchev said that this body was a “powerful tool” for seeking consensus in times of crisis.
Political consensus, however, for the time being seems highly unlikely.
Against a background of the continuing severe political tensions in Bulgaria, which recently also have included the Bulgarian Socialist Party government blaming its centre-right GERB predecessor for failing to make provision for the eventuality of a refugee crisis, GERB has indicated that the next in its series of motions of no confidence against the government could be on the refugee situation.
Senior GERB MP Dimitar Glavchev confirmed to local media that this possibility was being considered, while a day earlier, in a post on social network Facebook, GERB leader Boiko Borissov said that he had met EU humanitarian affairs commissioner Kristalina Georgieva and discussed the refugee situation.
Borissov said that the current government was incapable of dealing adequately with the refugee problem and this again was evidence of the inexperience of Plamen Oresharski, occupant of the prime minister’s chair in the Bulgarian Socialist Party cabinet.
“At the moment, total chaos reigns in the country and so we want early elections and the resignation of the government,” Borissov said.
Earlier, a call for the resignation of the government over the refugee issue came from the Reformist Bloc, a working alliance of a number of extra-parliamentary right-wing and centrists parties.
Ataka, the ultra-nationalist party which has acted several times to hold the current Bulgarian Socialist Party-Movement for Rights and Freedoms government in place, called not for the resignation of the government but for the resignation of Yovchev over the refugee issue. Going by opinion polls, if Ataka acted to help bring down the government, its current support is so low as to eclipse the possibility of Volen Siderov’s ultra-nationalists returning to the next parliament.
Speaking to BNT, Georgieva said that Bulgaria was doing the right thing by requesting co-operation from the EU to deal with a problem that was new to the country.
Georgieva said that European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, who is responsible for refugees within Europe, already had authorised the allocation of technical aid to Bulgaria.
This technical aid meant that there would be a team of professionals in Bulgaria to assist improving the activities of the State Agency for Refugees and to assist in the absorption of EU financial aid.
The third element of the assistance was materials such as beds, blankets and other necessities that she was working on delivering to Bulgaria as soon as possible at the request of the government, Georgieva said.
She said that there were three main tasks for Bulgaria to fulfil – the institutions working together, not keeping refugees isolated in centres but working towards integrating them, and for Bulgaria to bear in mind that a political solution to the crisis in Syria was not within sight at this point.
Meanwhile, on October 19, Bulgarian news agency BTA reported that 122 Syrian refugees, mostly young families with children, had been given accommodation in the national children’s ecological complex in Kovachevtsi, according to municipal mayor Vassil Stanimirov.
On October 19, doctors at Alexandrovska Hospital in Sofia examined children of refugees from Syria, currently accommodated in the Vrazhdebna residential area of Sofia. The initiative was held on Bulgaria’s Day of the Doctor and was organised by the “Do Good” project by the hospital and the Shalom Organisation of the Jews in Bulgaria.
The team of doctors included paediatricians, ophthalmologists, surgeons and specialists in emergency medical treatment. The team was joined by two Syrian doctors working at the hospital and who helped their colleagues with translations.
Children who have eyesight problems will get spectacles from the Shalom Organisation of the Jews in Bulgaria. Those who require serious medical attention will be admitted to the hospital.
After the check-ups at the hospital, medical experts will visit other refugee centres in the country.
On October 19, the Stage Agency for Refugees was to hold what was described as a “social and cultural integration programme” for refugee children at the Military Club in Sofia. During the “Charity Flash session”, performing and visual arts would be used to enable children with refugee status to develop and express their artistic and personal needs through workshops and studios. At the session, new music projects and premieres of videos of Bulgarian performers supporting the cause were to be presented.
And the same day, the Bulgarian Red Cross (BRC) served lunch to refugees in Sofia’s residential district of Voenna Rampa. The BRC covered the expenses on the lunch with funds collected through its fundraising campaign, which can be supported by sending an SMS or making a donation online or through a dedicated bank account (for details on how to donate, please click here).