Construction of a controversial 33-kilometre long, 3-metre tall fence has begun along the Bulgarian border with Turkey. The aim is to stop people entering Bulgaria illegally through the “green border” and to redirect them through proper border checkpoints.
At a joint press conference, Defence Minister, Angel Naidenov, and Interior Minister, Tsvetliv Yovchev, announced the end of the first part of improvement of the border region by building a 107 km long infrastructure of dirt roads.
“At the moment, with the current heightened police and army presence on the territory, the amount of people crossings through the Bulgarian border without permission has diminished significantly,” said Naidenov.
Bulgaria is struggling to cope with an influx of refugees. Over 10,000 so far this year have entered through Turkey, most fleeing the civil war in Syria.
Bulgaria is asking for help from the European Union and is counting on other countries’ solidarity, even in the relocation and acceptance of part of the migrants, Naidenov added.
He insisted that the Bulgarian government realises it has responsibilities to Bulgarian citizens above all.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has described the fence as “counterproductive.” The UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres announced at a press conference last Friday that UNHCR would launch a programme to help Bulgaria meet the needs of several thousand refugees. He called on other European Union countries to help shoulder more of the burden.
“We cannot forget that these people have suffered enormously and it’s totally unacceptable that they go on suffering once they reach the European Union,” Guterres said.
Speaking at the joint press conference with Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski, Guterres said European solidarity was vital in dealing with the growing refugee crisis – more than 2.2 million Syrians have fled their country, with most seeking shelter in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Growing numbers are now trying to reach Europe by sea or land routes.
“It is very important that European countries all over the continent keep their borders open and [provide] adequate assistance,” said the UNHCR chief, who also called on the Bulgarian media to show responsibility when reporting on the Syrians. “Refugees are not terrorists. They are the first victims of terror, the ones who suffered more because of terrorism,” he said.