350 Bulgarian soldiers were sent to the Turkish border to back up the border police on Monday after increasing numbers of migrants were attempting to enter Bulgaria from Turkey.
"Soldiers arrived at the Bulgarian-Turkish border ... today to back up the border police," Defense Minister Georgi Panayotov told a Bulgarian private television channel bTV on Monday, November 1. The troops arrived with 40 units of military equipment, although it wasn't specified exactly what that equipment was, reported the news agency Agence France Presse (AFP).
The Bulgarian interior ministry said that more than 6,500 people have already tried to cross into Bulgaria without papers this year. Many of them have been from Afghanistan and Syria, reports the news agency Reuters. That is three times as many as in the first nine months of 2020. Bulgaria, which borders Turkey as well as Greece, is essentially one of the main gateways to the so-called Balkan route.
Alternatively, some migrants choose to cross directly from Bulgaria northwards into Romania, before continuing west towards richer European states. Although both Bulgaria and Romania are EU member states, most migrants do not want to stop in these countries.
Rebuilding the barbed wire fence
AFP reports that Bulgaria has built a barbed wire fence along the length of its 259-kilometer frontier with Turkey. However, the fence is "partially damaged" says AFP. Back in August, the Bulgarian parliament agreed to send between 400 and 700 soldiers to Bulgaria’s borders with both Greece and Turkey. Initially, the soldiers were supposed to help with repairing the fencing.
Many of the migrants now arriving via Turkey and Bulgaria are from the Middle East, South Asia and Afghanistan. According to the latest figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Bulgaria registered just 2,100 first asylum applicants in 2019. The majority of them (1,000) came from Afghanistan, and about 500 from Syria.
More arrivals from Afghanistan?
Since the Taliban took over in Afghanistan in August, some analysts have warned European states to prepare for arrivals of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees along the levels seen in 2015 when more than one million people, mainly Syrians, arrived in the EU within a year.
However, Reuters reports that for now, the Bulgarian Defense Minister Georgi Panayotov said that the numbers crossing into Bulgaria are "not yet worrying."
In August, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) stated that there are at least 2.6 million registered Afghan refugees and a further 3.5 million Afghans internally displaced. About 2.2 milllion of the registered refugees are hosted by Afghanistan's neighbors Pakistan and Iran. Many of them have been there for years if not decades.
However, given the continuing instability in the country, UNHCR expects that increasing numbers of people who are already internally displaced might seek to flee the country. Some of those might hope to make it to Europe.
With AFP and Reuters