Today on the the 24th of May 2023, more than 100 members of the religious minority, the Ahmadi Religion of Peace and Light, gathered at the Turkish-Bulgarian border. The group, including women, children and old people, asked there to cross the border to apply for asylum on the Bulgarian side. Turkish authorities did not led them pass and brutally pulled them back with batons, also gun shots were fired.
In a letter, which was signed by Bulgarian and other international humanitarian organizations, and sent to FRONTEX as well as the Bulgarian Border police one day before, the situation of the group and the planned border crossing attempt was described and announced. In the letter the group mentioned, that even before it wrote to “UNHCR in Bulgaria, the State Agency for Refugees (SAR), and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs „to request a visa on humanitarian grounds“. However, the Bulgarian Border Police or other Bulgarian authorities were not seen at the whole scenery on the Turkish side of the Turkish-Bulgarian border today.
„I heard a lot of testimonies from people who weren’t allowed to apply for asylum. They were pushed back before they could ask for asylum. […]The system works as follows: people caught at the border are immediately pushed back to Turkey, and those caught inland are taken to places like the one in Sredets described. They will be held there for a few hours until their pushback is organized.„
Push Back is the term for the practice of pushing back refugees without a residence permit at the national border and from behind the national border. The practice is illegal in the EU, but was taking place for months in Sredets. Bordermonitoring Bulgaria is very concerned about the deadly violence at the Bulgarian-Turkish border and the ongoing Push Backs, which have to be stopped immediately.
While discussions emerged in the European parliament and in the European council weather Bulgaria and Romania should join the Schengen Area, the Bulgarian English-language based webpage Novinite reported recently about unclaimed dead bodies of refugees in several hospitals of Burgas. The province Burgas (Oblast Burgas) is bordering Turkey in the South and the Black Sea in the West. In the report Bulgaria’s chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev claimes the identities of the dead bodies cannot be established. And the only forensic doctor in the district, Dr. Galina Mileva, is cited as follows:
In the interviews and statements Bordermonitoring Bulgaria conducted in Bulgaria, Serbia, Turkey, Greece and Germany, refugees during the last years refugees are frequently referring to dead bodies in the Bulgarian-Turkish border area. Bordermonitoring Bulgaria is concerned about violent practices in the border region carried out by Bulgarian authorities and asks for immediate safe passages for refugees.
Interior Minister Ivan Demerdzhiev spoke publicly of a „declaration of war by the trafficking gangs“ and did assume that Bulgarian border officials could be involved in the illegal transit of refugees. Also he said, that the border fence could be easily overclimbed with a ladder, which was also mentiones by Chief Commissioner Stanimir Stanev. He announced that he would have all refugee accommodation checked in the next few days, which was carried out e.g. in Sofia and told the Bulgarian National Radio that almost 1,000 migrants are currently being stopped every day. From the 27th of August 2022, the army is increasing its protection at the state border of Bulgaria. This will lead probably to a new escalation of violence in the border area. Already in May 2022 the organization Human Rights Watch had published a report about the ongoing violence and push backs at the Bulgarian border. In October 2022 the organization Info Park, which is located in Serbia, published a post to address violent cases and push-backs within the Bulgarian border area.
In 2021 the recognition rate was 61% at first instance. But the recognition rate of non-Syrian applicants remained below 8%. Turkish and Afghan nationals had very low recognition rates, (10% for Afghan nationals and 8% for Turkish nationals), which were described as unfair and discriminatory by the BHC. Since 2016, the biggest group of asylum seekers in Bulgaria are Afghan refugees. Bei the end of the year their recognition rates got a bit better, with the Taliban regaining power in Afghanistan, but in total the rejection rate was still 90%.