Last month (12th-14th February 2018) members of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs in the European Parliament were present in Bulgaria to collect objective first-hand information on the Bulgarian-Turkish land border. After the visit Marie-Christine Vergiat, the leader of the committee mentioned the technique of the Bulgarian border guards who are calling the Turkish collegues to avoid an ‚official push-back‘, which would mean a violation against the Non-refoulement principle:
Moreover, last week the European Parliament adopted a report on human rights in Turkey, and this police cooperation was puzzling us, especially since both sides were telling us that when they saw large groups of people on the Turkish side of the border, that the Bulgarian border guards called on the Turkish border guards. So this avoids the push-back. I keep asking myself, maybe among them there are also Turkish citizens. And they are sent back to the Turkish authorities.
In 2016 the State Agency for Refugees (SAR) registered 19,418 asylum applications in Bulgaria, for the year 2017 the published statistics only show 3,700 asylum applications. In December 2017, Turkish authorities stated that in one year they prevented 20,014 people from entering Bulgaria and Greece via the Turkish land border by using force. The additional fact that the Bulgarian Borderpolice is acting on the Turkish territory as well was already described in our report from 2014. Such action is probably also done from by Greek authorities from time to time, as very recently two Greek soldiers were arrested by Turkish border guards who were already standing on the Turkish territory. Aljazeera reported in January 2018 about push-backs, directly done by the Greek authorities.
After the visit in Bulgaria Vergiat meantioned bigger contradictions between the NGOs they met and the Bulgarian authorities. Violence used by Bulgarian authorities is an ongoing topic and was recently mentioned in the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) report “Games of Violence“. Violent Push Backs by the Bulgarian authorities were also a matter in a report, which was written by the Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in May 2017. In July 2017 Balkan Insight published a video and an article with several statements of refugee women. One woman, who was in her sixth month of pregnancy, claimed that she lost her baby. Another one stated:
In February 2018 the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior (MoI) claimed that there is no migration influx at the Bulgarian-Turkish border. Nevertheless it was announced that there are 160 Million Euro more for Bulgaria to spend in the European Integrated Border System. Bordermonitoring Bulgaria (BMB) calls for a further investigation on the general practice of violence and the executed and additionally ‚outsourced‘ Push-Backs at the Turkish-Bulgarian border.