Bulgaria’s ministers of defence and interior disagree on how to secure the country’s borders in the face of an expected increase in illegal migrants, with the defence minister reluctant to deploy military personnel.
This emerged from statements by the two ministers on January 5, as a group of cabinet ministers was to meet to discuss how to cope with the expected increase in illegal migrants, already said to be 150 a day and projected to increase further in the spring.
Interior Minister Vesselin Vuchkov, pushing a plan favoured by the ministry for several months, wants the fence which covers part of the Bulgarian-Turkish border to be extended.
Vuchkov told reporters that while this work was in progress, there would be “no problem” to deploy a small number of military personnel temporarily to help secure the border in the coming months.
He said that no changes to the law would be required to enable this deployment, a comment made against a background of earlier reports suggesting that Bulgaria’s cabinet might come up with amendments enabling the military to take part in border security.
But Vuchkov said that he had been assured by Interior Ministry lawyers that no such amendments would be needed.
The military could help out while the fence was extended and new roads built, and this would take nothing away from the responsibility of the Border Police to guard the state border, Vuchkov said.
He said that if military personnel were not made available to help at the border, he wanted an additional 600 people immediately appointed to the Border Police on a temporary basis.
Defence Minister Nikolai Nenchev countered that there were no legal grounds to propose deploying military personnel to guard the Bulgarian-Turkish border.
The Defence Ministry was prepared to provide logistical support and equipment.
The Defence Ministry holds that military personnel may be deployed at the border only in time or war or other threats to national security such as terrorism or the use of weapons of mass destruction.
On January 5, Interior Ministry chief secretary Svetozar Lazarov – an appointee of the now-departed administration that build the controversial and costly border fence in 2013/14 – said that the only effective way to deal with a stepped-up influx of migrants was by building infrastructure.
But the Defence Ministry also has refused to be involved in a new fence project, saying that instead this should be handled by the interior and regional development ministries and if not by them, then by regional governors.
In late 2014, the head of the Border Police resigned after a border policeman died in a lorry accident while travelling in a heavily-loaded old vehicle on a road that was in poor condition. The fatal accident, which led to protests from Interior Ministry unions about dangerous working conditions for Border Police, was followed by pledges that the Defence Ministry would assist with transporting border policemen using special vehicles.
The end of last year also saw the departure from office of the head of the State Agency for Refugees, who had been appointed about a year previously as Bulgaria struggled to cope with a significant increase in refugees, mainly from the Middle East and North Africa.