During recent years, in spite of the fact that Afghan asylum seekers were among the main portion of people seeking protection in Bulgaria, their recognition was indeed lower in comparison to average rates in other EU member states. At the same time returns to Afghanistan have been leading in numbers.
Bordermonitoring Bulgaria (BMB) is worried about Bulgaria’s military at the border and the possible resulting of disregarding the principle of non-refoulement for people who fled from the horrible situation in Afghanistan and who seek protection in the European Union. Furthermore Bulgaria should overthink and put an end to the discriminatory determination concerning the people from Afghanistan.
In the last months the official numbers raised significantly: In May 2021, there were 2,500 attempts for illegal crossing into Bulgaria and 113 people were caught after crossing the border. In June 2021, there were 4,504 registered attempts and 61 people were caught caught. In July 2021 the numbers were 5% less, probably due to the hot temperature, but the Border Violence Monitoring network reported also about several push-backs in the same month (e.g. in Vaysal, Golyam Dervent/Küçünlü and Elhovo/Küçünlü). The rise of the numbers comes right after the end of the 20-year NATO-Mission in Afghanistan and the recent increase of Afghan refugees in Turkey.
The European Court Of Human Rights (ECtHR) decided on the 20th of July that Bulgaria’s pushback practice violates human rights. The Hand-over of a persecuted Turkish journalist back to Turkey was unlawful. The case was handed in by the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) A detailed summary of the reports on push-backs from Bulgaria, also mentioned in the press release by the ECCHR, can be found on our website.
Meanwhile the reports about Push-Backs from Bulgaria go on. In the AIDA 2020 report published by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), Push-backs affected more than 15,000 individuals in 2020 according to statistics collected by the national border monitoring network. In a report from March 2021, done by the Dutch VPRO-Program Frontline, 75-90 mostly Afghan people were involved in a Push-Back from Bulgaria to Greece. The group entered Greece on on May 29th near the village of Dikea at the Greek-Turkish-Bulgarian border.
The Serbian border police brought them back to the Serbian-Bulgarian border in the middle of the night below-freezing temperatures. Afterwards the group felt that it had no choice and returned to Bulgaria, where they came from a day earlier. To the group of Afghan refugees where also children were belonging.
After the Push-Back to Bulgaria some of the refugees stayed there in camps for some days, before some of them made it it back to Serbia again and moved on towards Western Europe. The documentation of the Push-Back was done by lawyers and the group was represented by the lawyer Nikola Kovacevic in front of the Serbian court.
Two days ago another Turkish citizen had been expelled from Bulgaria to Turkey. This time it was the 39-year-old Selahattin Ürün, a political refugee and activist for the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and a former mayoral candidate of the city of Uludere. He was driven on the 18th of September 2020 from Kazichene prison in Sofia suburbs (a part of Sofia central prison where he has spent 9 month) in a car of the Bulgarian border police to the Bulgarian-Turkish border and handed over to the Turkish authorities just before he was able to appear in front of the administrative court for the trial about his refugee application. On the very same day the EU Commission approved a sum of 12.8 million euro extra funding to Bulgaria which should support additional border guards participating in operations at its southern external borders.
The group that supported Mr. Ürün in Bulgaria reported that he has several charges in Turkey, all of which are based on the accusations of “spreading terrorist propaganda”. Already last year, on the 18th of December 2019, Mr. Ürün was caught at Bulgarian-Romanian border of Russe-Djurdju/Danube bridge during his attempt to cross to in Western Europe. He was detained in Russe police station and after 20 days moved to Kazichene prison. Afterwards he was charged for “illegal crossing the border“ and became a nine months sentence. Mr. Ürün had asked for asylum in Bulgaria and regarding to that he was awaiting a trial which was scheduled for the 29th of September 2020.
The supporters group reported that Mr. Ürün was sure that he was not threatened by any deportation and that he will be released on the 18th of September 2020 to be brought to the immigration prison in Lyubimets at the Bulgarian-Turkish border. On that day around 12 o`clock Selahattin Ürün was released from Sofia Central Prison, but instead to be fully liberated or transferred to Lyubimets detention center (until his court session on the 29th of September), he was taken by a car of the Migration border police department and around 4 o`clock p.m. to the Bulgarian-Turkish border where he was handed over to the Turkish authorities. The supporters were not informed by the authorities about the deportation. Later on the very same day Mr. Ürün’s wife informed the supporters group that Mr. Ürün is already in Turkey in the Edirne police station. Before this information was finally revealed Ürün’s lawyer, the well-known Bulgarian migration lawyer Valeria Ilareva, was not allowed to talk to the Migration Directorate about her client.
At the beginning of this week, the German magazine SPIEGEL published an investigation, citing secret documents from the Turkish embassy in Sofia. According to the article, the Bulgarian premier Boyko Borissov, the Bulgarian secret service and the former special attorney of Bulgaria, General Sotir Tsatsarov, have helped Turkey to prosecute several Turkish opposition members in Bulgaria. BMB claims that such legally unratified procedures are violating the Non-refoulement principle and the responsible EU authorities should immediately start an investigation concerning this matter.
Together with Bordermonitoring.eu we published a new report in June 2020 on the situation of people on the move in Bulgaria. The report, which is available in German language, is an update to the report from 2014. For many years now, Bulgaria has been using massive violence in order to stop people from crossing the border from Turkey. The practice of violent and illegal push-backs, including robbery of money, mobile phones and even food, can be found all over Europe today. Bulgaria was one of the first countries to massively rely on this practice. Many human rights organizations and official EU representatives have warned about this situation for years.
Since 2016 a new tactic is being conducted, that relies on the cooperation between the Turkish and the Bulgarian border authorities. In so called Pull-backs, people are being prevented from getting close to the border and eventually cross it already in Turkey by Turkish border authorities. According to Turkish authorities, some 90,000 people were stopped in the Turkish border region Edirne in 2019. The report assumes that, after the failed coup in 2016, Turkey’s interested to stop those in opposition to the government from crossing the border lead to the cooperation in the pull-back actions. In turn, Bulgaria is very willing in returning Turkish citizens back to Turkey. Asylum requests by Turks in Bulgaria had a disapproval rate of 100% in 2018 and 2019. While the Greek-Turkish land border was soon the hotspot of the growing tension between Turkey and the EU the situation at the Bulgarian-Turkish border remained calm.
Our report also speaks about extreme-right vigilante groups who patrol in the border region in Bulgaria and about the deaths of people on the move, often in direct connection with previous push-backs. We report about detention, which is the norm for most people who get arrested and then file an asylum application while in detention. Furthermore we speak discuss the failure to provide access to remedy.
The current situation at the Greek-Turkish border’s camp at Pazarkule / Kastanies is unbearable. On March 13, 2020, 19 Bulgarian civil society organizations and activists sent an open letter to Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and EC Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson, calling for the Bulgarian government and the European Commission to take steps so that Bulgaria uses according to its purpose the already built with European funds infrastructure for the reception of asylum seekers, by receiving on its territory asylum seekers.
In the letter the organizations mention that they are astonished to hear the Prime Minister’s statement from the 10th of March 2020, that Bulgaria is requesting from the EC an additional 130 million euro to handle a (non-existant) migration crisis. The letter also mentions that since 2015 to this day, Bulgaria has received more than 300 million euro from European taxpayers’ money, in order to build its capacity for both border protection and the creation of a functioning system for providing international protection and appropriate reception condition for asylum seekers. The emergency fundig received for this purpose just in the end of 2016 under AMIF and the Internal Security Fund (ISF) amount to nearly 150 million euro.
On the 2nd of March, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov met with Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan in Ankara who assured the Bulgarian president that the Bulgarian border “will remain calm“. The step of Borissov is surprising, because currently Bulgaria’s reception capacity for asylum seekers is 5,160 places in the reception centres of the State Agency for the Refugees (SAR), which are currently occupied at 7% of capacity. The open letter mentions that at the same time, the refugee camps on the Greek islands are filled up to ten times of capacity. It highlights as well that Bulgaria, has not to this moment in time, expressed any readiness to help relieve the situation in Greece by receiving some of these people on its territory and using the reception centres built for this purpose.
Bordermonitoring Bulgaria (BMB) shares the demands and calls on the responsibility of Bulgaria to use the money of the EU for the intention that it was given for.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic the Bulgaria declared a state of emergency on the 13th of March 2020. The country suspended all asylum-related procedures. Exceptional of this rule are the renewal of asylum documents and the registration of asylum seekers transferred from pre-removal detention facilities.
The UNCHR published in an article that, during the Covid-19 period, refugees in Bulgaria suffer from „stress and uncertainty, movement restrictions, difficulty in obtaining basic hygiene products and medicines, as well as hampered access to services including health and psychosocial support.“ It also stressed out that „during this unprecedented time of isolation, the loss of employment opportunities, incomes and shelter have exacerbated the situation, increasing the risk not only to becoming ill but also to other risks such as gender-based violence.“
Media reported that FRONTEX installed 60 additional staff members to the already existing 50 ones at the Bulgarian-Turkish border. This raises the question of whether FRONTEX will only watch the Bulgarian authorities while they go on with their push-back practice in the upcoming days. Until now, the number of crossing incidents around the Turkish-Bulgarian border near Kapıkule/Kapitan Andreevo seem much lower in comparison to the Greek-Turkish border around Pazarkule/Kastanies – both border crossings are only about 10 km away from each other.
Meanwhile in the whole border region thousands of people, including families, are waiting in the border region under critical weather conditions. Bordermonitoring Bulgaria calls the Bulgarian authorities and FRONTEX to stop the push back practice, which is against international law and the Non-refoulement principle.