DW — In the aftermath of the failed coup in Turkey Bulgarians are worried that the refugee agreement between the EU and Turkey is in danger of collapsing and that Ankara could simply allow refugees to pass across the 240 kilometer long Bulgarian border.
A 30 kilometer long, 3.5 meter high fence has been erected along the Bulgarian side of the Rezovo the most southeasterly city in Bulgaria. Now the fence is to be extended along the entire length of Bulgaria’s border with Turkey.
Officials want to secure the country’s 484 kilometer southern border to Greece with a fence as well. This is because the Bulgarians have witnessed an increase in the numbers of refugees attempting to cross their border to get to the EU as a result of FYROM having closed its border with Greece.
Sofia is keen to maintain good relations with Ankara, not least because of the large number of Turks living in Bulgaria. This not only means keeping communications channels open, but rather “doing everything we can to ensure (Ankara) upholds its end of the agreement and that we are not swallowed up by a wave of refugees,” said Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov.
Bulgaria fears a tide of refugees
“Sofia has to speak very loudly to be heard,” says political scientist Tihomir Bezlov, pointing to what has happened in Greece. “The EU is paying double and triple for everything that Greece has undertaken in terms of securing its borders. We have been much more reserved in Bulgaria,” says the expert. According to Bezlov, Bulgarian border protection services have gotten better, but nevertheless, human traffickers are smuggling dozens of refugees to Serbia on a daily basis. Border soldiers arrest and send back to Turkey up to 200 illegal immigrants every day, said Prime Minister Borissov recently.
“The borders between Serbia and Croatia, and between Serbia and Hungary are hermetically sealed,” explains Balkan expert Bisser Bantchev. He is certain that refugees will simply keep coming and therefore attempt to reach Serbia via Bulgaria. According to official statistics, Serbian border patrol agents have arrested more than 1,500 illegal border-crossers coming from Bulgaria over the past 14 days alone.
Effective smuggling networks
Human trafficking through Bulgaria is very well organized, as Valeri Grigorov, the former director of Bulgaria’s border police told DW. “Immigrants and refugees are taken from the Turkish border to the Serbian border within 72 hours. In the first leg of the journey smugglers send them to Sofia by car, where people pay 20 euros ($23) per person to spend the night, usually in the houses of Gypsies.” Grigorov says that there have been violent clashes between Gypsy clans over this increasingly lucrative business. He also says that coordinated Greek-Bulgarian border patrols are needed “to effectively control the very difficult terrain.”
If such networks cannot be destroyed, there will be little hope of success against the human traffickers – and then Rezovo may well become a stopover for refugees on their way to Europe.