Bulgaria to begin accepting refugees from Turkey, caretaker cabinet decides – report

Bulgaria will begin accepting refugees from Turkey, the caretaker cabinet agreed in a decision not made public, a report on March 30 said.

The decision by caretaker Prime Minister Ognyan Gerdzhikov’s cabinet was made at a scheduled meeting on March 29 2017, Bulgarian-language daily Sega said, on the basis of a March 2016 agreement between the European Union and Turkey.

This agreement was not recognised by the General Court of the EU and a number of EU countries.

The Gerdzhikov cabinet decision did not specify the number of people who would be received by Bulgaria, but a source said that it was about 50 people.

Bulgaria has a separate commitment to accept refugees transferred from Greece and Italy.

In October 2016, the then-interior minister in Bulgaria’s centre-right government of the time, Roumyana Buchvarova, said that Bulgaria – in a commitment similar in principle to that of other countries party to the refugee relocation mechanism – to receive 1300 to 1400 refugees and 100 people via the resettlement machism from Turkey.

According to European Commission records, so far 29 refugees had been transferred from Greece to Bulgaria. These included the Syrian family who were in the headlines when municipal authorities in Belene refused to process their residence documents.

Refugees to be relocated from Turkey to Bulgaria will be processed by Bulgarian teams posted in that country. The teams will be included representatives of Bulgaria’s State Agency for Refugees, the State Agency for Refugees, the Interior Ministry and translators.

The documents of the refugees to be transferred will be prepared by officials from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The Bulgarian teams will check the authenticity of the passports and fingerprint records of the people involved. They will compile files about the refugees to be admitted under the resettlement scheme.

These files will contain personal data and other information on the basis of which an assessment will be made whether the foreigner could represent a threat to the public order or national security of Bulgaria.

On the basis of information provided by the UNHCR, the teams will prepare written reports with recommendations on the acceptance of people by Bulgaria under the resettlement scheme.

The media report noted that Bulgaria’s acceptance of the deal came against a background of the General Court of the EU having said that the EU-Turkey deal of March 2016 was informal, because the decision to accept it had not been taken by the European Council or any other EU institution.

The decision by the Gerdzhikov caretaker cabinet also happened to be taken on the day that the countries of the Visegrad Group – Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland – said that they would not accept the plan for the redistribution of migrants drawn up by the EU. “This plan is pure blackmail and we will not accept it,” the group said.

Brussels has warned that EU countries that decline to participate in the plan may face financial penalties.

In Bulgaria, formal negotiations are to begin on attempts to form an elected government after the country held early parliamentary elections on March 26.

These elections handed the largest share of votes to Boiko Borissov’s centre-right GERB party. Its most likely coalition partner, which on its own would give it a very slim majority in the National Assembly, is the nationalist United Patriots, which in the course of its election campaign made a tough line against informal migration a signature issue.

The Bulgarian nationalists want a shutdown of the country’s borders, notably with Turkey, against informal migration, a stronger security force presence at the frontier, and the shifting of all refugees to closed camps away from urban centres.

(Photo, from a UNHCR refugee camp in Turkey: UNHCR)




Clive Leviev-Sawyer

Clive Leviev-Sawyer is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Globe. He is the author of the book Bulgaria: Politics and Protests in the 21st Century (Riva Publishers, 2015), and co-author of the book Bulgarian Jews: Living History (The Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria 'Shalom', 2018). He is also the author of Power: A Political Novel, available via amazon.com, and, on the lighter side, Whiskers And Other Short Tales of Cats (2021), also available via Amazon. He has translated books and numerous texts from Bulgarian into English.