Bulgaria begins building fence on Turkey border

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Wary of refugees, the government starts wire netting works on parts of a 30 km route over the border to prevent illegal crossings

Wary of refugees, the government starts wire netting works on parts of a 30 km route over the border to prevent illegal crossings

SOFIA, Bulgaria - Bulgaria began on Wednesday building a fence on its border with Turkey to end illegal border crossings into the country.

The idea of building of a 30-kilometer (18 mile) wire fence has gained traction since late last year due to the government’s concerns over the Syrian refugee influx.

A recent activity report released by Bulgaria's Defense Ministry said 87 military personnel began to put the wire fence on parts of the 30 km long route that was cleared and prepared for the building work.

The Bulgarian Socialist Party government in late 2013 ordered works for the fence in the mountainous region of Elhovo on the Turkish border, one of the areas that are the most prone to illegal crossings.

The government last December floated the idea of extending the fence to 50 kilometers.

- ‘Struggling’

The project has caused controversy in the country and tension between Bulgaria's Defense Ministry and Interior Ministry over the government budget allocated for it. Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski has suggested a full financial audit by the Ministry of Finance.

The project has also drawn criticism from the European Union and the United Nations in that it would be considered a measure for limiting the access of refugees to Bulgaria, which violates international law on refugees.

"Introducing barriers, like fences or other deterrents, may lead people to undertake more dangerous crossings and further place refugees at the mercy of smugglers," said Adrian Edwards, spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in November.

Secretary general of the Interior Ministry, Svetlozar Lazarov, earlier said that extending the border fence, which has barbed wire on top, was crucial in an area where illegal immigration is common.

According to UNHCR, Bulgaria hosts 8,800 refugees, two-thirds of whom are Syrians. The number of Syrian refugees in Bulgaria has exceeded 6,000 over the past year.

Syria's displaced men, women and children are coming to take shelter in an EU nation, but in the poorest one that is struggling to deal with the incomers.

In October 2013, Interior Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev dismissed the head of Bulgaria's Refugee Agency for "failing to handle the influx."

Bulgaria has recently received 6.4 million euros (8.8 million USD) from the EU's Refugee Fund and 2 million euros ($2.7 million) in aid from the Czech Republic and Slovakia as the European bloc's 2008-2009 budget was being prepared, to help its authorities manage the influx of Syrian refugees, the European Commission reported.

Bulgaria's director-general of European Issues Roussi Ivanov also said the Bulgarian government will be provided additional financing by the EU along with support for securing the country's borders.

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