Bulgaria is confirming its readiness to accept 500 newly-arrived refugees, Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Roumyana Buchvarova said on September 8 after a meeting with Prime Minister and senior cabinet colleagues.
The meeting was attended by three deputy prime ministers – Buchvarova, Ivailo Kalfin (labour and social policy) and Meglena Kouneva (European Policies Coordination and Institutional Affairs), as well as Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov.
The meeting agreed that Bulgaria was performing impressively in coping with the refugee and migrant situation, reporters were told. Bulgaria wants action stepped up to achieve an overall European policy and a fair approach to reallocation of refugees, which also meets the wishes of the refugees themselves.
Buchvarova told reporters that Bulgaria was continuing to insist on the signing of a tripartite agreement with Greece and Turkey regarding the refugee problem.
She said that maintaining a close relationship with Europol in investigations into Bulgarians involved in people-trafficking was also related to the issue.
Buchvarova said that Bulgaria shared the view of the European Union that a solution to be found so as to bring to an end the conflicts in the countries that the refugees were coming from, and also held that an option should be found so that refugees could be accommodated in countries close to the conflict zones, and not only be registered in refugee centres in Greece and Italy.
Bulgaria was insisting on a single refugee status system across the EU, she said.
“Bulgaria welcomes the efforts to update the measures to stop migration flows and towards a new common European policy on the distribution and reception of refugees,” she told reporters.
“We share the opinion that it is first necessary to be unceasing in efforts to find a solution to the crisis in countries that are the source of migration flows. The European Union must find a solution that would lead to the suspension of the conflicts that threaten the lives of the citizens of these countries,” Buchvarova said.
Kouneva said that Bulgaria had a unified political position on the issue and one that reflected largely the thinking of Bulgaria society.
She said that “solidarity means responding” but with a sharing of responsibility and with “very good organisation by the European Union” and on the part of Bulgaria.
“We cannot continue in the European Union with 28 different policies on migration and refugees,” Kouneva said.
Kalfin said that “European solidarity cannot be limited to quotas”.
He said that this meant that when it comes to accommodation of refugees, account should be taken of social and economic conditions in the countries concerned.
Mitov reiterated his previous statements, that more attention to rapid resolution of conflicts in places that were the source of refugees.
It was expected that on September 8, the European Commission would formally approve new proposals for mandatory intakes of refugees.
The plan to deal with migration will be presented on September 9 to MEPs by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
Ahead of the European Commission meeting, a final plan for how many refugees EU countries should accept had not yet been finalised.
There were separate versions, one an emergency scheme for urgent allocation of 120 000 people who have already entered the European territory. This is a supplement to the previous proposal by the Juncker Commission, based on the principle of quotas for resettlement of 40 000 refugees from Italy and Greece. Only that the new will be moved and people come across the border into Hungary.
The second initiative is the creation of a permanent mechanism for internal distribution of refugees to be automatically activated when the number in one of the peripheral countries with external borders significantly increases.
It is expected that Juncker will insist on future quotas being binding, regardless of the number of refugees who will be transferred.
Unofficially, there have been claims that consideration is being given that countries that refuse to fill their quotas would have to pay a certain sum with which to compensate other countries for support of refugees.
The refugee quota plan would, on principle, extend to all EU countries, with the exception of the UK, Ireland and Denmark, which have opt-out clauses in their treaties with the EU.
The program on migration is also expected to include specific ideas to strengthen the border agency Frontex and to get more power from sovereign governments to return illegal immigrants back to their countries of origin.
Some of the main Commission proposals need approval from MEPs, while others would only be a matter of consultation. A compulsory quota system must be adopted by a qualified majority of EU interior ministers on September 14.
According to unofficial estimates in the media on September 8, Bulgaria would have to accept a further 1600 people in addition to the 600 already agreed to.
A number of EU countries, including Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, oppose mandatory quotas.
European Parliament President Martin Schulz, in a speech to MEPs on September 7, said that migrants who make it to Europe are “setting it an historic test”.
“Hundreds of thousands look to it for protection from war and persecution. The right response to this global challenge is not walls or deterrence, national selfishness or national measures, but a common asylum and refugee policy,” Schulz said.
“It is sheer desperation that drives families with young children to cross the Mediterranean in rafts, camp in stations, squeeze through barbed wire or hide in refrigerated lorries,” Schulz said, noting that many died.
These people were fleeing criminal or terrorist groups such as the so-called Islamic State, which not only destroyed irreplaceable cultural heritage in Palmyra, but beheaded its museum director in public, he said.
The real question that Europe must answer is whether it wants to be a “Union against all”, or a “Union of solidarity”, Schulz said, urging politicians, in all their debates on figures, not to forget that migrants are people, who come to Europe because they share its values.
“The humanity shown by those who give exhausted migrants water, food, clothes and toys for their children, or help out in refugee centres, must guide our response to the challenge, so that the image of the drowned little boy Aylan Kurdi, which was burned into all our memories, will never again be repeated,” he said.
(Photo: Ben Melrose/V Photo Agency)