Bulgaria’s Deputy PM apologises for language about Ukrainian refugees

Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister Kalina Konstantinova, who chairs the national operational HQ on Ukrainians who have temporary protection in Bulgaria, apologised in Parliament on June 2 for the words she had used in a video address about the Ukrainians.

On May 30, announcing the suspension of the initial version of the operation to relocate Ukrainians in Bulgaria, Konstantinova used scathing language about the Ukrainians, implying that they were capricious and did not want to suffer a lack of health care and delayed social benefits, as Bulgarians do.

That statement, and the overall handling by the government of the Ukrainians refugee situation in Bulgaria, led to calls from some quarters for her resignation, and her summoning to Parliament for a hearing.

“I would like to apologise to those Bulgarian and Ukrainian citizens who have felt affected by my words. That was not my goal,” Konstantinova told Parliament.

She defended the handling of the situation, listing the actions taken by the authorities to resettle the Ukrainian refugees.

Konstantinova said that in the past two days, about 500 people from vulnerable groups and their families had been accommodated in special facilities that met the required conditions.

More than 4000 Ukrainians already had jobs in Bulgaria, more than 300 Ukrainian children were attending school and more than 1500 had applied for the new school year, she said.

Three thousand Ukrainian refugees had been accommodated in state facilities and a further 12 000 were in hotels under the state’s new programme, by which the hotels are paid either 10 or 15 leva a day, depending on whether food is provided, Konstantinova said.

During her address to Parliament, MPs from the opposition GERB-UDF group held up signs calling on her to resign.

Bulgarian media reported on June 2 that the “buffer centre” at Elhovo – scene of chaos and a lack of communication the previous day – was closing, as the few hundred people there were being sent to facilities and hotels ahead of schedule.

The ‘buffer centre’ at Elhovo. Screenshot via bTV.

Media also reported that there were still problems, such as at a facility in Kiten on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast, where Ukrainians complained that for a third day, they had not received any food.

After the government’s information portal was contacted, those at the facility – numbering about 450 – received a promise that they would start receiving food on Friday.

Meanwhile, on June 2 the European Commission published a regulation allowing for an internal redistribution of the EU aid under the EU school scheme to cater for displaced Ukrainian children enrolled in EU schools.

The EU school scheme aims at promoting healthy eating and balanced diets through the distribution of fruit, vegetables and milk products to schoolchildren, while also proposing educational programmes on agriculture and good nutrition.

For 2020-2021, around 15 million schoolchildren benefited from it in the EU. 

The total EU budget for the scheme amounts to 220.8 million euro per school year, consisting of up to 130.6 million euro for fruit and vegetables and up to 90.1 million euro for milk.

The June 2 regulation invites EU countries to review their requests for EU aid for the next school year, running from August 1 2022 to July 31 2023, in the light of the unprecedented situation calling for solidarity to ease the burden on those in the frontline for action to cater for the displaced Ukrainian children.

Member states can submit by June 15 the additional amount requested or the amount of their allocation not requested, the Commission said.

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