A lorry from which a group of 30 migrants were rescued after it caught fire was “identical” to one owned by a company involved in the construction of the Bulgarian – Turkish border fence, television station bTV said on March 24.
On March 23, Bulgarian Border Police patrolling near the village of Rezovo saw a lorry from which flames were pouring out of the cabin.
Hearing shouting from inside the cargo area of the lorry, one of the Border Police officers – at the risk of his life – jumped into the cabin to pull out an instrument to use to open the rear compartment.
Inside, 27 people were found – 16 children and 11 adults. They had no identity documents and said that they were from Syrian, according to a Bulgarian Interior Ministry statement.
With everyone rescued and with the arrival of a fire engine to extinguish the blaze, no one was injured.
The District Prosecutor’s Office in Tsarevo instituted a pre-trial and 11 fast-track proceedings.
Border Police from Malko Turnovo initiated a search to try to find the people-traffickers who had fled the burning vehicle while leaving the passengers inside.
The people rescued are being accommodated at Bulgaria’s Harmanli refugee centre.
According to bTV, a company involved in the construction of the border fence had an identical lorry with the same registration number. The main activity of this company is road freight transport, according to the commercial register.
However, the company subsequently showed to the media a recording that at the time of the fire incident, the firm’s lorry was 500km away. The lorry involved in the fire, while the same make as that owned by the company, had a false number plate.
This brought to light a scheme by which people-smugglers used vehicles with false number plates, and resembling those used by the company building the fence. In this way, the vehicles being used for trafficking could move around the area with much less risk of being intercepted.
In April 2016, Bulgaria’s National Assembly voted its approval of the fence at the Turkish border being completed without following public procurement law on choosing a company through open competition.
Bulgaria’s caretaker Interior Minister Plamen Uzunov said on March 24 that the lorry had been deliberately modified to enable the secret transport of people.
Uzunov acknowledged that recent figures showing reduced trafficking of migrants may be because of people being transported secretly in vehicles.
(Photos: Bulgarian Interior Ministry press centre)