The pace of refugees entering Bulgaria is not only steady but growing and “our worst predictions are coming true,” Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev said after a special meeting of the Cabinet on October 21 to assess the refugee situation in the country.
Official figures are that there are now more than 6500 refugees in Bulgaria, about 40 per cent from Syria.
The three refugee shelters in Bulgaria’s capital city Sofia are full.
Coping with the influx of refugees would require about an additional 30 million leva (about 15 million euro) this year.
Yovchev told a news conference after the Cabinet meeting that there were a number of problems that could arise because of the refugee influx. These included risks coming from people linked to terrorist organisations, health and social risks, including tensions with the local population, intolerance and xenophobia.
There also could be pressure on Bulgaria’s welfare system, he said. People granted formal refugee status are entitled to the same benefits as those of Bulgarians.
No country has benefited from having refugees on its territory and no state has not failed to stop them, he said.
Yovchev said that the monitoring system at Bulgaria’s border was modern, operated very well, and he repeated earlier claims that he and other officials have made that close to 100 per cent of people crossing illegally into Bulgaria were detected and detained.
He said that he wanted to refute allegations about Bulgarian border monitoring and security which were made by “people who did not have any knowledge in the subject and by people who had knowledge, but used it improperly”.
People and equipment could be deployed to prevent people from crossing the border, but this would be very expensive and would not stop the influx completely, Yovchev said.
In its latest bulletin on figures of people entering Bulgaria illegally, customarily across the Turkish border, the Interior Ministry said on October 21 that between 6am on October 18 and 6am on October 21, a total of 398 people had been detained, of whom 245 were Syrians.
On October 21, Bulgaria received assistance from Slovakia in the form of equipment and blankets, enough for 256 asylum seekers, while a donation from Hungary was scheduled for October 22.
Bulgarian European Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva, whose portfolio embraces humanitarian aid and crisis response, said on October 20 that the EU would be granting “substantial” financial assistance to help the country cope with the refugee influx and would provide experts to help Bulgaria use the funds.
Yovchev said on October 21 that Bulgaria had requested six million euro financial assistance from the EU to cope with the refugee situation.
Georgieva also called for the refugee issue not to be politicised.
The current government has blamed its predecessors – the centre-right GERB government in power from 2009 to March 2013 and the caretaker government that had stewardship of the country before the May 2013 elections – while opposition and minority parties have lashed out at the current government’s incompetent performance in the face of the refugee situation.
GERB, now the opposition in Parliament, has said that it was considering tabling a motion of no confidence in the current government over the Bulgarian Socialist Party administration having fallen flat on its face in seeking to cope with the influx of refugees.
There has been a political complexity for ultra-nationalists Ataka, which since the May 2013 election has acted in one way or another to hold the current BSP-Movement for Rights and Freedoms government in place.
However, the refugee influx, which Ataka portrays – among other things – as part of a vast conspiracy to “Islamicise” Bulgaria, is something of a signature issue for Volen Siderov’s party.
Ataka MP Yavor Notev told Bulgarian National Radio that the party might support a GERB motion of no confidence in the BSP government on the grounds of the refugee situation. Observers noted that even if Ataka did, it would not necessarily bring down the BSP government, because together GERB and Ataka could muster 120 votes in the 240-seat National Assembly, one short of the majority needed for the motion to be carried. (A scenario that might even suit Ataka’s parliamentary group because it could be seen to be holding to its policy position while at the same time not risking the 100 per cent unemployment that a new election is almost certain to bring the party.)
Also on October 21, President Rossen Plevneliev criticised the current government for failing to implement a crisis management plan to deal with the influx of refugees.
Once there was a crisis management plan, why was it that refugees were sleeping on the floor, without water and electricity for weeks, Plevneliev said.
Amid other tensions between the head of state and the current government, the refugee issue also has been a bone of contention. Plevneliev has criticised the government’s performance before, and in turn, the BSP government has called on him to convene the Consultative Council on National Security, arguing that solving the problem requires the work of all institutions, not just the government.
Meanwhile, October 21 also saw protests, notably in Kazanluk, in response to rumours about state facilities being converted into refugee accommodation centres.