Bulgaria sparks controversy with construction of fence to stop irregular migration

The Bulgarian government has come under fierce criticism for several months about the construction of a fence along the Turkish border. Built to prevent irregular entry into the country, Bulgarian Defence Minister Krassimir Karakachanov argued that it was a “strategic site for national security.” However, Karakachanov indicated in an interview on October 20 that people-trafficking had continued because of corruption among border guards.

In August, Defense Minister Karakatschanow also underlined his intention to deploy armed troops to strengthen border security with Turkey and “halt any potential flow of migrants.” He indicated that the maximum manpower at the border would be around 600 troops, backed up by video surveillance and even drones.

Around 5800 refugees attempted to cross the Bulgarian border irregularly since the beginning of the year, said Stoyan Ivan, Deputy Director of the Border Police, during the conference “The Refugee Crisis and the Development of the Migration Processes”. The peak of migration flows occurred in 2015, when more than 90,000 foreigners tried to enter the country irregularly, Bulgarian newspaper Trud said.

“For us, the Presidency of the Council of the EU is a great responsibility and challenge, and we will try to involve the Western Balkans in the Union’s refugee policies,” said Tsvetan Tsvetanov, the chairman of the Internal Security Committee. For him, the main challenge facing the EU in relation to refugees is how to deal with political populism.

From another perspective. human rights groups have stressed that the construction of border fences have failed to reduce migration, as migrants are forced to take more dangerous routes to Europe. Thus, one can argue that such fences simply divert migrants from one border to another.

In an interview with the Independent, Marta Foresti, interim executive director of the Oversees Development Institute (ODI) highlighted how an estimated 60 per cent of refugees and migrants are now arriving via hidden routes, almost double the proportion in 2015.

“We don’t know how they made it to the EU,” Ms Foresti said. “The real risk is that by having this crisis mode reaction and being seen to erect borders, more people are coming by covert routes and governments are even less capable of controlling and monitoring the phenomenon.”

Günter Burkhardt, the chairman of the Germany-based migrant rights organisation Pro Asyl denounced the Bulgarian proposal as a violation of both human rights and international law. At the same time he noted that this marked a wider trend of human rights violations, pointing to EU states’ cooperation with the Libyan government.

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