Bulgaria’s Parliament to debate toughened penalties for people-trafficking

Amendments to Bulgaria’s Penal Code providing for increased penalties for trafficking of refugees will be presented for a second reading in Parliament next week, the Speaker of the National Assembly, Tsetska Tsacheva, said on September 11 2015.

Speaking to public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television, Tsacheva said that because of the increasing number of cases of trafficking of refugees in the country, a parliamentary committee had prepared and adopted additional clauses to be debated by MPs.

On September 10, Deputy Prime Minister Meglena Kouneva, whose portfolio includes co-ordination of European policies, said that the large number of migrants entering Bulgaria should go hand-in-hand with heightened and guaranteed security for the country.

The same day, Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Roumyana Buchvarova said that Bulgaria should not just accept refugees but also provide them with proper living conditions and education for their children.

Buchvarova said that Bulgaria should not copy the example of Romania and bind entry into the EU’s Schengen visa zone with accepting refugees. Membership of Schengen and accepting refugees were two different issues, she said.

Speaking on September 11 at the opening of a security conference, Buchvarova said that migration pressure should be organised in the best possible way so as to avoid letting it out of control.

“The migration pressure on Bulgaria has increased four times in the past year but so far we manage to handle and tackle it,” Buchvarova said, according to local news agency Focus.

“I believe that the decreased pressure registered over the past couple of weeks is a result of the measures we took. The measures are very adequate. Some may describe them as excessive but in the end they bring results. There is a tendency of decrease in the number of attempts at illegal crossing of the Bulgarian border,” Buchvarova said.

“When there are clear rules and when we follow the right policies, we achieve results. We try to tackle the illegal migration and legalise those entering on our territory as much as possible,” Buchvarova said.

She said that Bulgaria deserved to be in Schengen because it fulfilled the technical requirements, because it citizens were equal with other citizens and also because entry to Schengen was provided for in Bulgaria’s EU accession.

However, in contrast to Buchvarova, Kouneva had seen a link between the two issues.

Kouneva said that Bulgaria’s entry into Schengen, or at least partially, would give the country more access to information and Bulgaria also would be able to submit more information.

This would address concerns about the influx of refugees, to distinguish between those genuinely seeking asylum and those trying to enter the country with hidden intentions, who should be prevented from doing so.

Kouneva said that the measures on migration put forward by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker largely coincided with the position of the Bulgarian government – both Bulgaria and the European Commission were demanding a reassessment of the Dublin agreement, strengthening of Frontex and protection of external borders, and strengthening the capacity of migration services.

“The fact that the European Commission will also work towards a common migration policy is very important because the Union will not be able to achieve a real solution to the crisis with 28 different systems of asylum and migration.”

She welcomed Juncker’s statements on distinguishing between refugees and economic migrants and on creating a list of safe countries, meaning countries to which asylum-seekers from them would be fast-tracked back.

On the proposed quotas for reallocation of refugees, Kouneva said that Bulgaria defended the principle of solidarity, but was adamant that the detailed figures will be analysed and assessed as to whether they are fair to the different criteria for determining them, including GDP, unemployment rate, proportion of immigrants. The assessment should also include the integration capacity of the country.

Kouneva was adamant that quotas should apply to all EU countries, since the problem is common throughout the EU.

Meanwhile, reports on September 11 said that 700 refugees had been detained in the northwestern Turkish area of Edirne, close to the Bulgarian border.

Authorities in Edirne said that the area normally saw about 100 to 150 refugees a day, but on September 10, a record number – 712 people – had been detained. They rushed to cross the border once they heard that European countries were willing to accept 160 000 people, Edirne’s regional governor said, according to a report by Focus.

Dursun Ali Sahin told reporters, “I have heard that this wave of migration will keep getting larger. If we let things get out of hand, the number could be high as 400 000. That’s why, as of yesterday, we started round-the-clock checks at the border,” Sahin said, referring to the Kapikule Border Gate, a crossing point between Turkey and Bulgaria.

The refugees were sent to Istanbul. Turkish security forces were working to prevent the entry of refugees into Europe not just in Edirne, but in many other border regions, Sahin said.

(Photo: Bulgarian Interior Ministry press centre)



The Sofia Globe staff

The Sofia Globe - the Sofia-based fully independent English-language news and features website, covering Bulgaria, the Balkans and the EU. Sign up to subscribe to sofiaglobe.com's daily bulletin through the form on our homepage. https://www.patreon.com/user?u=32709292