Bulgaria has sent gendarmerie forces to its border with Turkey because the threat of a migrant wave is real, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said on Friday (28 February).
Bulgaria has a land border of more than 300km with Turkey and has not experienced pressure from migrants seeking entry in recent years. After the 2015 migration crisis, a fence has been built along most of the border, and the EU reached a deal with Turkey to prevent migrants from trying to reach Europe.
However, as of Friday, Turkey will no longer stop Syrian refugees from going to Europe, a senior Turkish official said as Ankara responded to the killing of 33 Turkish soldiers in an airstrike by Syrian government forces in the battle-torn country’s northwestern Idlib region.
The European Commission downplayed the threat, saying that there was no official notification that Turkey no longer abides by the 2016 refugee agreement, under which the EU has provided billions of euros in aid.
But seen from Bulgaria, the situation looks more alarming.
“We have information about gathering of migrants in Edirne”, said Borissov, referring to a Turkish city situated 10km from the Greek border and 30km from the Bulgarian border. He added that the gendarmerie has been ordered to “strengthen the border to the maximum”.
Borissov also said it was “worrying” that the Turkish border guards had withdrawn.
“Let’s hope that they have withdrawn in the interior of the country with the purpose of stopping the migrants”, he said.
But the real concern is that the Turkish authorities are now letting the migrants out. Borissov mentioned the tensions on the Greek islands where migrants in the so-called “hotspots” protest Greek government plans to close facilities.
“There is a real threat from what is going on there, at a time when we put in place such strict procedures for entering and exiting the country because of the coronavirus. Just imagine if hundreds of thousands of migrants start arriving,” he said.
The Bulgarian PM expressed the hope that a solution could come from contacts with Turkey at NATO level.
Defence Minister Krassimir Karakachanov said that border guards had pushed back early on Friday two groups of migrants of around 30 people, who tried to cross the border illegally.
Bulgaria is ready to deploy up to 1,000 troops and military equipment to the border with Turkey to prevent illegal migrant inflows, Karakachanov added.
[Edited by Sam Morgan]