Push-Backs and Pull-Backs: Bulgaria and Turkey continue to collaborate closely as ‚gatekeepers‘ of the EU

Bodermonitoring Bulgaria (BMB) mentioned in its new report from June 2020 the ongoing usage of Push Backs at the external borders of Bulgaria. The tactics of the Bulgarian Border Police contain dogs, pepper spray, beating and robbing and are mentioned frequently by numerous other organizations. Also many children are involved into these cases, as the organization Save the children wrote in one of their latest reports.

Since 2016, the Bulgarian authorities additionally work more closely together with the Turkish authorities. This leads to a “win-win“ situation for both sides. With this strategy the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) emphasized that the Bulgarian authorities can “avoid any responsibility under the Dublin Regulation or readmission arrangements“. Furthermore ‚their side‘ of the border stays more calm. On the other hand the Turkish government can achieve to catch political dissidents by carrying out pull backs. As a side note it is important here to mention that from 2014-2019 only one Turkish citizen got asylum in Bulgaria.

Video footage of Bulgarian Border Police (published 2018)

As of 2017 a wall of 235 km length was completed at the Turkish-Bulgarian border. Besides this, the Border Police Agency FRONTEX – currently under investigation by EU’s anti-fraud watchdog OLAF, because of allegations of harassment, misconduct and migrant Push-Backsis also active in Bulgaria and works partly together with the Bulgarian Border Police. Currently, the number of people which are caught by the Bulgarian authorities is decreasing. But that does not mean that people do not try to make their way through Bulgaria or other countries into the European Union.

In the first nine months of 2019, Turkish authorities prevented 90,000 individuals to enter the borders of Greece and Bulgaria. The BHC and the UNHCR emphasized in one of their new reports – published together with the Ministry of Interior – that in 2019 the Bulgarian MoI prevented 6,470 attempted border crossings and issued 4,243 entry refusals (non-admissions) at the Bulgarian-Turkish border. In the same year 337 alleged Pushs-Back-Incidents were registered which affected 5,640 individuals.

In May 2020, the organization Josoor published a report about several Push Backs from Bulgaria to Turkey. In December 2020, the same organization published another report of a Tunisian man, who was chain-push-backed from Bulgaria to Greece and from Greece to Turkey. The report describes that the man told he was firstly arrested in Bulgaria by police officers who took all his belongings, including his phone, all his money and clothes. He remembered that some of them spoke in native German to him. Another similar case, were more people were involved, was already published by the Borderviolence Monitoring Network in October 2020.

By the end of the year the Turkish State News Agency Anadolu published two reports about push-backs done by the Bulgarian border police. The first one is from the 10th of December 2020, in which 14 people were involved. The second one describes an involvement of 8 people and is from the 24th of December 2020. Meanwhile the detention of refugees, carried out by the Bulgarian border police, takes furthermore place.

Turkish State Media frequently reports also about Pull-Backs. For example at the 28th of December 2020, when twenty-eight asylum seekers were held by Turkish Gendarmerie forces in the province of Kırklareli. In the new year the Anadolu Agency already published two notes about Pull-Backs: The first note is from the 4th of January, where fourteen irregular refugees were held by Turkish Gendarmerie forces in the province of Kırklareli, near the Dereköy Border Gate and Kofçaz district. The second one is from the 13th of January 2021 where at least 20 asylum seekers were held in Kirklareli and Erzincan.

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