Bulgarian prosecutors probe refugee tent camp funding
Prosecutors in Bulgaria have started pre-trial proceedings in connection with the spending of money that had been intended for the building of a tent camp for 800 refugees.
This emerged from statements by Interior Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev on February 5, the same day that the Syrian refugee situation in Bulgaria was debated in the European Parliament.
Yovchev said that in 2013, in spite of every indication having been that Bulgaria was facing a refugee crisis, the country had “not managed to communicate well” with European Union institutions and had been allocated only 0.22 per cent of the planned sum.
The money received, although the sum was rather small, had been spent mostly on information campaigns, brochures, training course, seminars, specialised computers and software, instead of being invested in new shelters for refugees and improving the country’s capacity to process refugees’ documents, he said.
In late 2013, there were Bulgarian media reports saying that the State Agency for Refugees had spent large sums on high-end computers, monitors and printers, with comments that the high-tech equipment appeared to exceed the needs of agency staff.
Yovchev told reporters that there had been a plan to allocate money for the building of a tent camp but this had not happened and the matter was now being investigated by prosecutors.
In connection with an allocation of 200 000 leva (about 100 000 euro) for the building of a tent camp, he said that the district governor had signed a contract with the builder and the camp should have been constructed.
But it had been established that the terrain set aside for the tent camp was not suitable. Yovchev said that in the place of the tent camp, there were heated caravans, but in spite of the provisions of the contract, no electricity supply, water and sewerage systems had been put in place. He added that it was inappropriate to use a tent camp to shelter people in winter.
Yovchev said this was not the only case of misuse of resources allocated for refugees, and it was up to the Prosecutor’s Office to decide whether pre-trial proceedings would be initiated.
In 2013, as the influx of refugees into Bulgaria, mainly from Syria, got on to the national agenda, there were changes of personnel at the head of the State Agency for Refugees and in running individual refugee shelters.
Yovchev said that 2013 had seen the number of illegal migrants entering Bulgaria more than double, and the level of readiness of refugee centres and the administrative capacity of the State Agency for Refugees had “shown some lack of preparedness” and a shortage of places to accommodate refugees.
He said that in 2013, a total of 2462 people had been granted refugee status in Bulgaria. For 2011, the figure had been 192 and in 2012, a total of 177. In January 2014, a total of 833 people were given refugee status.
Yovchev said that he had ordered the setting up of a working group to monitor all public procurements regarding dealing with the refugee situation and to assess how the money had been spent.
He said that more than half of the people illegally entering Bulgaria had no reason to seek asylum and had left their home countries for economic reasons. Further, individuals connected to terrrorist and extremist organisations, as well as criminals, had entered Bulgaria along with other foreign migrants and this was a threat to Bulgarian and European citizens.
Bulgaria did not expect a significant increase in the number of people entering the country illegally, while he added that it was impossible to expect a solution would soon be found to the crisis in Syria, meaning that there would be a “strong inflow of migrants”, news agency Focus reported Yovchev as saying.
Meanwhile, the European Parliament and the European Commission said that they remained in solidarity with Bulgaria on the issue of Syrian refugees, public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television reported on February 6.
At a European Parliament plenary session in Strasbourg on February 5, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said that the achievements of the Bulgarian authorities in handling the refugee situation should be recognised, but that the situation still raises serious concerns. Malmström called on all EU countries to open their borders to refugees, so that “the weight is distributed more evenly,” BNT reported.
Greek foreign minister Evangelos Venizelos, whose country currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Council, said that those who bear the brunt of migration flows needed support .
Bulgaria is highly exposed to this pressure and we are ready to do everything in our power to help to deal with this obstacle , he said.
The centre-right European People’s Party declared financial solidarity with Bulgaria and urged EU countries to increase the quotas of refugees accepted.
The Group of Socialists and Democrats also called for solidarity with Bulgaria , noting that the number of refugees in the country repeatedly surpassed the capacity to receive them.
The liberal group in the EP said that Bulgaria’s capacity was limited and rapid financial support was needed.