Border Fence with Turkey

Bulgarian volunteers have begun erecting a fence on the country’s border with Turkey without authorization from the government to “prevent Turkish provocations" during elections, RIA Novosti reported 25 March 2017s. “The situation on the border is difficult and to prevent provocations from Turkey, our volunteers began erecting a four-meter fence. We have set up around 11 km from the town of Malko Tarnovo, construction is in progress,” Nikolay Ivanov, leader of the self-described activist group, told the news agency.

The activists said Turkey may attempt to bring ethnic Turks holding Bulgarian passports into the country on buses to vote in Sunday’s parliamentary elections, influencing the political landscape in the country, giving an advantage to pro-Turkey parties. Some 400 people were said to take have part in the work. While officials have not approved the building of the fence, they did not block the initiative, RIA reports. The fence, made of metal bars and razor wire, is fully funded by the volunteers, Ivanov said.

some 100 followers of the Bulgarian nationalist coalition United Patriots (UP) blocked the checkpoint at the Kapitan Andreevo-Kapikule border crossing, carrying slogans that said: “Hands off Bulgaria” and “No to electoral tourism,” Reuters reported. The UP says that more than 1,000 buses may attempt to take voters from Turkey to Bulgaria. “It is not normal for a foreign country to interfere in the election of another sovereign state,” Krasimir Karakachanov, co-leader of the United Patriots, said, according to the news agency. “Turkey is now trying to provide voters for DOST, a pro-Turkish party, because it knows that the support for this party in Bulgaria is very low.”

Bulgaria was ready to build a fence on its border with Greece, Prime Minister Boiko Borisov announced 25 March 2016. Bulgaria was planning to erect another fence on its border with Greece to the south that is about 500km long. Mr Borisov told parliament today: 'The main threat is coming from the Greek border. It is very long and unprotected, and our concern is that the Greek government did not take measures in recent months. We are ready to erect a barrier if necessary.' By August 2016 Sofia were considering erecting a 484km fence along its Greek border.

Bulgaria returned to its Cold War days as it worked to rebuild the Soviet-era barbed wire fence along its border with Turkey to stop migrants hoping for a new life in Europe. The fence was constructed to seal Bulgaria's entire border to prevent the country becoming the new gateway to Europe. The local authorities hoped to put off the families fleeing war and terror in Syria, Iraq and North Africa from trying to enter Europe via Bulgaria.

Bulgaria started erecting a barbed wire fence along its border with Turkey in November 2013. By early 2015 Bulgaria was building a 100-mile fence on its border with Turkey, where refugees and militants with the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq cross over for safety or to smuggle weapons and foreign fighters. More than 18,000 refugees, mainly from Syria's civil war, have crossed the border from Turkey to seek asylum in Bulgaria in the past two years. The impact was dramatic. The number of known illegal crossings fell to about 4,000 in 2014 from 11,000 the previous year.

At the end of May 2015 the fence was 20 miles long, but according to reports there were plans to extend it along the entire border. Bulgaria said on 14 January 2015 it would extend a barbed wire fence along its border with Turkey by a further 130 km (80 miles) in an attempt to prevent a growing number of refugees, mainly from Syria, entering the European Union member state. Bulgaria was planning to the razor-wire fences to the existing 33-kilometer fence constructed in 2014 in response to increased irregular arrivals, the majority from Syria. Efforts to reduce the number of irregular arrivals and asylum-seekers in Bulgaria had a significant effect in 2014, with almost 50 percent less arrivals than the previous year.

According to Bulgarian authorities, over 38,500 people attempted to cross irregularly the Bulgaria-Turkey border in 2014. Some 6,000 of them – mostly Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis – reached Bulgaria. This was a significant drop from 11, 500 irregular arrivals -- out of over 16,700 attempts -- registered in 2013.

According to a report by Bulgarian daily newspaper Sega, the Bulgarian fence to be stretching on 82 kilometers would cost about 90 million leva (about 45 million euro). The fence was also estimated to save the country around 2 million levas (USd 1.2 million) a month in policing costs. Sofia has deployed more than 1,000 police officers in the area to limit the influx of refugees, mainly from Syria.

The UN refugee agency on 31 March 2015 expressed increasing concern that people needing international protection were being blocked from entering the European Union, citing the deaths of two Iraqi men who were in a group of 12 Yazidi people allegedly beaten by Bulgarian border guards. "With few legal alternatives to enter the European Union, many people fleeing conflict and persecution are undertaking increasingly dangerous journeys and using smugglers to reach safety," William Spindler, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told a news briefing.

"It is deeply disturbing that people in search of international protection are being turned away, often with violence. EU member states at the external border need to ensure that these practices stop, and should conduct independent and transparent investigations into allegations of abuses and illegal practices in their border regions."

The statement followed a recent incident in which UNHCR was told 12 Iraqis belonging to the Yazidi minority were stopped by Bulgarian border guards as they tried to enter from Turkey. The Iraqis had their belongings seized and were badly beaten. The group scattered and two of the men, suffering from severe injuries, died later of hypothermia on the Turkish side of the border. According to the reports, a third person was taken in a critical condition to a hospital in Edirne after Turkish authorities were alerted.

"UNHCR urges the authorities in Bulgaria and Turkey to investigate this grave incident," Spindler said. "We are particularly disturbed by the accounts of brutality which may have contributed to the deaths of two people who, being members of the persecuted Yazidi community, were likely to have been refugees."

Information gathered by UNHCR in 2014 indicated that people seeking international protection often attempted to cross the border into Bulgaria multiple times, but had to turn back because of bad weather, were abandoned by people smugglers paid to take them across the border, or were intercepted by Turkish authorities.

Many, however, reported being denied entry or being "pushed back" by Bulgarian border guards. "Push-backs" are not in conformity with Bulgaria's obligations to admit asylum-seekers to their territory. The use of violence has also been reported and, in many cases, people say their money and property were confiscated by border police.

"Limited access to border posts, combined with more fences and "push-backs," are leaving asylum-seekers with very few options," Spindler said. UNHCR has received emergency calls from people, mostly Syrians, who walked for days in harsh weather in remote areas to try to reach Bulgaria. "Erecting fences and creating more barriers instead of providing additional legal avenues to reach safety in the EU pushes people in need of international protection into increasingly dangerous situations with, sometimes, fatal consequences," he said.

Bulgaria had already constructed 100km of the fence on the border with Turkey and aims to have 132.5km completed by July 2016. The fence is monitored 24/7 by armed guards stationed at strategic points along its current 95km length. Border police look into Turkey from watchtowers with binoculars. Infra-red motion-sensitive cameras mean parents carrying their children in bundles are rounded up as they try to smuggle themselves across Europe's eastern frontier under cover of darkness.

The Bulgarian government echoed concerns voiced by the residents of the small town of Rezovo on the borders with Turkey, as the collapse of the deal between the EU and Turkey on the refugee issue would attract flows into the EU via their town. To prevent this prospect Bulgaria announced it would extend the current 3.5 meter high, 30km long border fence with Turkey to cover the whole 240km line separating the two countries.

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