Traces of migration flow at the Bulgarian-Turkish border

Yesterday, on the 20th of October 2017 the Defence Minister of Bulgaria Krassimir Karakachanov stated that ladders had been used to climb the fence at the Bulgarian-Turkish border. On the same day the minister said to BGNews that the fence is 100% finished and has to be “upgraded with relevant sensors [and] cameras“. Days before, photos were circulating in the Bulgarian media showing a large hole underneath the fence, which were leading to a bigger discussion in the Bulgarian parliament and the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) has called for the resignation of the Deputy Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov. In 2016, the Bulgarian parliament voted for using the army at the Bulgarian borders to guard it, but since then it was used only partly.

Since weeks the migration flow at the Turkish-Bulgarian border is increasing again. The UNHCR came out with a report in August 2017 which added together the numbers of interceptions at the Turkish-Greek and the Turkish-Bulgarian land borders from January-August 2017 and mentioned a quantity of 17,067 people. Only in August 2017 a number of 464 was intercepted at the Bulgarian-Turkish border by Turkish land forces. In September and October 2017 Turkish authorities reported about several attempts of crossing the Bulgarian border, which were reported broadly in the Turkish media. As opposed to this a number of 586 intercepted people was mentioned in the last report of the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior for September 2017.

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Bulgaria restricts Freedom of Movement for asylum seekers

On the 21st of September 2017 the Bulgarian government released a regulation about the restriction of the freedom of movement for registered asylum seekers in Bulgaria. The imposed limits are defined in perimeters for the asylum seekers who are registered in the refugee centers of Sofia (Voenna Rampa, Vrazhdebna, Ovcha Kupel), Harmanli, Pastrogor and Banya. Another rule was already approved one year ago to restrict the movement of asylum seekers within the open centers of the State Agency for Refugees (SAR).

The new statement imposes that asylum seekers who live in the refugee centers of Harmanli and Pastrogor are not allowed to leave the territory of the Haskovo district (without the border area), asylum seekers who live in Banya are not allowed to leave the Sliven district and asylum seekers who are registered in Sofia are not allowed to leave the territory of the city of Sofia.

The aim of the new rule is to gain more „administrative control“, one could read in the published statement of the Bulgarian government. Obviously this new rule was made to stop registered asylum seekers to leave the country. In the first seven month of 2017 a number of 2,140 foreigners was caught while trying to leave the country, mostly in the direction to Serbia. Bordermonitoring Bulgaria (BMB) assumes that the new rule will likely lead to more unregistered migration within and to Bulgaria in the future, if the situation for the asylum seekers inside the country itself won’t change.

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Is a new deadly route being (re-)established in the Black Sea?

The escape route from Turkey via the black sea was rarely used in 2013 and 2014 before the so called refugee crisis in Europe reached its peak. Since the recent crackdown on the Aegean Sea route in the last months, more and more people are again trying to travel from Turkey via the Black Sea to reach Bulgaria or Romania. Since the beginning of 2017, already 649 migrants were caught, while they tried to cross via Black Sea. In addition, the case of 12 migrants, locked on a merchant vessel traveling back and forth between Istanbul and Odessa came to light.

This old new deadly route could establish itself even more, since today the Greek Council of State Plenary ruled Turkey as a safe third country, which might increase deportations from the Greek islands. Also today, a vessel with 49 migrants, supposedly traveling towards Bulgaria or Romania, capsized in front of the Turkish coast of Kocaeli. 19 people were killed, some people are still missing.

Update: The other 5 missing people were dead by the time they were found.

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10 people die on Bulgaria’s road because of the European border regime

On Sunday, the 4th of June a van crashed into a tree on the Trakia motorway between Plovdiv and Sofia, near the town of Pazardzhik. The result of this road crash are 9 dead people from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria plus the 16-year old Bulgarian teenager, who drove the car without a driving license. Until today, two migrants are still in critical condition. Additionally four other migrants have to stay in hospital. The border police  Commissioner Svetlan Kichikov stated that, the border police registered “2054 illegal attempts to cross the border“ in 2017 so far.

Every year migrants are dying in Bulgaria, because they seek for security and shelter in the EU. Many are risking their lives, which are already in danger in their home countries. The smuggling business in Bulgaria is flourishing, this year already 53 people were arrested for transporting people ‚illegally‘. Some of them are even accused of trafficking people via the airport of Sofia.

The reason (among others) why people are still being ’smuggled‘ through Bulgaria is the official closing of the, so called, humanitarian corridor (also known as „balkan-route“) in March 2016, which was forced by the governments of several European countries. Without a legal corridor and being denied safe traveling such provoked ‚accidents‘ will happen again and again.

Photo credit: Bulgarian National Television (BNT)

Update: The UNHCR came out with a report in August which added together the numbers of interceptions at the Turkish-Greek and the Turkish-Bulgarian land borders from January-August 2017 and mentioned a quantity of 17,067 people. Only in August a number of 464 was intercepted at the Bulgarian-Turkish border by Turkish land forces.

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Only 13 refugees in Bulgaria receive social assistance from the state

In March 2017, it came out to be known that only 13 refugees in Bulgaria receive social money as a social help from the Bulgarian state, because of their disabilities. Apart from that, no other refugee in Bulgaria gets cash in some form of subsistence. The 65 Leva (33EUR)  a month were already taken away in 2015, two years ago.

The deportations from other countries to Bulgaria went on in March, but in small numbers. Until the end of March 2017, Bulgaria accepted 146 people back: from Germany 53, from Austria 38 and 19 from Hungary. To the 30th of March 2017, the State Agency for Refugees (SAR) accommodated 5,190 people its centers. In April 2017, Bulgaria was criticized of not fulfilling the quota for resettlement of refugees from other European countries.

The Ministry of Interior (MoI) announced that they have arrested 790 “illegal“ migrants from January until mid-April 2017 with a current number of having 569 migrants in its closed centers. But that doesn’t mean at all that there is not more migration movement through the country, many people cross without registration and therefore they are only visible when they are being caught by the authorities: Already in March, 28 migrants were found in a burning lorry at the near of the Bulgarian-Turkish border and at the end of April 2017 53 migrants were caught, while they wanted to cross a danubian bridge in Ruse, near Romania. Some days later the police arrested five people while trying to smuggle themselves with a van through the same region.

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A huge number of migrants leave Bulgaria

Recently, the State Agency for Refugee (SAR) and the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior (MoI) stated in a report that already thousands of people had left Bulgaria, this year. In January 2017, more than 2210 migrants had already left the country and in February 903 people were reported to be ‚disappeared‘. In March more than 400 people left Bulgaria. By the end of February, Bulgarian authorities stopped 1022 migrants at the Bulgarian-Serbian border. For 2016, the SAR granted a lot less the refugee status for asylum seekers than 2015. Nevertheless, the applications for asylum in 2016 were only 5% less than 2016. Until the end of January 2017, the SAR recorded 421 new asylum applications.

The trend outlined above might go on at the moment. A spokesperson of the Serbian Defence Ministry announced, that there is more “migrant pressure“ in the last days from Bulgaria and Macedonia. The institution registered more attempts of crossing the Serbian border ‚illegally‘ from both countries. Bordermonitoring Bulgaria (BMB) predicts that, if the conditions for migrants won’t get better in Bulgaria, such a trend will definitely go on in the near future.

Update: Meanwhile the UNHCR Serbia reported about a collective deportation, of 25 Afghan migrants (mainly families), from Serbia back to Bulgaria in February.

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Refugee family with a status has to leave Belene

Some days ago, a Syrian family, who already received a status, was welcomed by the Catholic church in Belene in the north of Bulgaria. But this was a problem for Krasimir Todorov, a municipal councilor, who organized some locals to protest against the family and the priest Paolo Cortesi, who helped the family.

Last year, the Syrian family came originally via Greece within the relocation sheme and was coordinated from the State Agency for Refugees in Bulgaria (SAR) to the Catholic community of Belene. Now the family has to leave again, because of the tensions in the city of Belene. Fr. Cortesi announced, the church is going to stop its charity-activity in the town.

As of today, 07.03.2017,

every [charity] activities of the church are on hold. If you need anything contact the mayor of Belene whose duties are to take care of the citizens in need.

Father Paolo Cortesi


Recently, a Syrian family with a humanitarian status wasn’t given their documents by the mayor of Elin Pelin and several Bulgarian municipalities refused to accommodate two Afghan boys. The European Commission recently criticized Bulgaria for not fulfilling the quotes of the EU-relocation scheme. After Fr. Cortesi received several death threats and unknown people had announced to burn down the church, the Catholic Church decided to withdraw him from Belene. Some weeks later, the church burned actually and parts got nearly destroyed.

Bordermonitoring Bulgaria (BMB) insists that hate speech against refugees and their supporters shall be taken very seriously by the Bulgarian authorities. They shall ensure that refugees are treated in a humane, non-discriminatory and respectful manner. The everyday racism, which exists in large parts of the Bulgarian society, has to be opposed by the administrative bodies. The responsibility for sheltering people in need should not only be outsourced to the church or other organizations.

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Mayor of Elin Pelin tells Syrian family with humanitarian status to leave

The mayor, Ivaylo Simeonov, of the Bulgarian town of Elin Pelin has told a Syrian family with a humanitarian status (for Bulgaria) to leave and is refusing to issue them ID documents. The Syrian family, who has arrived with their six years old sun in the country, stated that leaving the town is no option, because the same problems would occur somewhere else. The eldest son of the family, who already lived and worked three years in Bulgaria, had organized the accommodation in Elin Pelin. In the following days Bulgarian media echoed xenophobic, racist and anti-humanitarian statements from different persons, without opposing it.

Certainly, this case cannot be seen as an isolated one. Recently, the mayor of the village Shiroka Laka, stated that two unaccompanied Afghans should not live in a municipal institution. Afterwards the adolescents were not accepted in Haskovo and Plovdiv, too. Already in April 2014, 17 Syrian holders of humanitarian status, six children among them, were chased out of Rozovo. Their presence in the village sparked protests on the part of the local population and after three days protest, the Syrian families were chased out of the village.

In numerous cases in Bulgaria xenophobia and racism is very visible and not criticized by many people publicly. But, In the case of Elin Pelin, some locals organized a protest to show their solidarity with the Syrian family. Furthermore, they demanded an explanation from the mayor of the city for his behavior.

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Human Rights are still negotiable in Bulgaria

According to the State Agency for Refugees (SAR), 19,418 asylum applications were registered in Bulgaria (mainly by Afghan, Syrians and Iraqi nationals) last year. From all Afghan asylum seekers, 2,5% of them got a positive decision. Currently, the SAR suggests that 3,728 asylum seekers are accommodated in the open centers and the Migration Directorate of the Ministry of Interior stated that 984 are living in “closed-type“ centers. Now, two reception centers, managed by the SAR, are existing as closed centers: One part of the center in the outskirt of Harmanli, which opened after the riot in November 2016 and another one opened in the same center already in August.

At the beginning of this month, the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) published an update of their Bulgarian report, which was done by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC). In terms of integration support, the published report speaks about 2016 as a third “zero integration“ year. Bordermonitoring Bulgaria (BMB) asked the Bulgarian Red Cross recently about a pilot project which was in force between August 2015 and June 2016. It was created to support housing for refugees. During this time only seven refugees profited from that program. In December 2016, the Human Rights Committee ruled out that a Syrian family, currently living in Denmark with a Bulgarian residence permit, would not be protected concerning “accessing health care, or risks of destitution and hardship“ in Bulgaria. In the paper, a report of BMB was cited.

Until today, the situation regarding to access to territory has not changed, too. The Bulgarian police still continues to „apprehend irregular arrivals, to fingerprint and detain them for deportation“, one could read in the report of ECRE. In addition, the BHC registered an increasing number of violent push-backs in 2016.

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Two more migrants die in Bulgaria’s Borderland

On the 6th of January, the Bulgarian Border Police made the case of two more dead people public, who were found by villagers near the village of Izvor in the region of Burgas near the Strandzha mountain massif. They had died of exposure to low temperatures. It was reported that the two Iraqi men were 28 and 35 years old. Only four days ago a Somali woman died in the same region.

Every year several migrants die in Bulgaria on their way to cross Bulgaria’s borderland – especially in the winter period. Actually nobody knows how many people died all in all in Bulgaria’s borderlands in the last years, because there is no statistics available. Often migrants who passed through the region report about corpses, which they had seen in the woods. The migrants try to cross in the mountain region where there is no fence blocking the way. Bordermonitoring Bulgaria (BMB) calls the Bulgarian authorities to rethink their politics towards refugees as a whole and asks them additionally to collect statistics about the various deaths which happen in the border region.

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