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Refugees in Bulgaria

Alexander AndreevAugust 16, 2016

Two top border police officials in Bulgaria have been fired amid corruption allegations. The country’s prime minister has accused them of working with people smugglers.

Asylbewerber in Bulgarien
Image: DW/E.Barbiroglio

"It's shameful, there's no other way to put it," said Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov in his first statement since the allegations of cooperation between the country's border police and human traffickers came to light. He was swift to take action, demanding the resignations of the head of the border police, Antonio Angelov, and his deputy, Yotko Andreev.

On August 8, Angelov signed a contract with a company known as Edelvais 0707 to transport refugees detained at the border between Bulgaria and Turkey to a Bulgarian refugee camp. In June, the owner of the company, Grigor Toshkov, had been charged with migrant smuggling after he was arrested while driving a bus with 66 undocumented Iraqis and Afghans. Despite the fact that Toshkov is under investigation, his company won a public tender worth 100,000 euros to use the same bus to transport migrants on behalf of the state.

Pressure on the border

For months now, rumors have been circulating about questionable business dealings to do with refugees in Bulgaria. Just one week ago, former Bulgarian border police chief Valeri Grigorov told DW in an interview that corruption was a big problem among the country's police. "One could say that there is a 'business partnership' between human traffickers, the border patrol and the Bulgarian police. The partnership is tolerated by those in charge," Grigorov said.

Bulgarien Valeri Grigorov, ehemaliger Chef der Grenzschutzbehörde
Valeri Grigorov (l.) accuses smugglers of being in cahoots with border guardsImage: BGNES

Grigorov also said that the scandal had confirmed his suspicions. "The 100,000 euros, which is EU money, should actually be used to support security measures along the Bulgarian-Turkish border, and not to make the smugglers rich," he said.

The fact that the border police signed a contract with a company accused of human trafficking is a sign that the organization doesn't care about who it's working with, he added. "This is only to serve the private interests of the head of the organization. It's not just the suspicion of corruption - the corruption is simply omnipresent."

Opposition Member of Parliament Atanas Merdshanov of the Socialist Party said that politicians and journalists have long been sounding the alarm about the human trafficking channels in Bulgaria that have been operating with tacit approval from the authorities. The reaction of the government in the wake of the scandal will not do anything to relieve the growing pressure along the Bulgarian-Turkish border and the increasing number of migrants being sent back to Bulgaria by Serbia, Merdshanov said. Since July 22, Serbia has sent some 2,275 illegal immigrants from Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan back to Bulgaria, Serbian military spokesman Jovan Krivokapic confirmed on Monday.

Serbien Vlasina Patrouille an Grenze zu Bulgarien
A patrol on duty along the Serbian-Bulgarian borderImage: picture-alliance/dpa/D. Savic

Talks with Ankara

Bulgaria is on the route being increasingly used by refugees that leads from Turkey to northwestern Europe via Serbia. That country recently established new checkpoints on the Turkish border in order to curb illegal immigration by migrants. As a rule, those who do make it across the border try to avoid being registered in Bulgaria, one of the EU's poorest countries, because they want to continue on to central Europe. According to police data, the migration pressure has increased in August, Hristo Tersijski, the director of the Bulgarian police force, said on Monday.

Since the start of the month, there have been 1,858 registered attempts to illegally cross the Bulgarian-Turkish border. According to reports from media sources in Sofia, Turkey has offered Bulgaria a "mechanism for bilateral cooperation" to help get the refugee crisis under control. Bulgarian Prime Minister Borissov is set to discuss the matter with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on August 24.