By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of the Sofia Globe
Bulgaria’s border police have intercepted 143 refugees attempting to enter the country illegally over the past three days, including 63 on a boat in Bulgaria’s Black Sea territorial waters, the country’s interior ministry said.
A total of 19 refugees were caught trying to cross at border check-points and 61 were detained as they were trying to cross the border illegally at areas other than the checkpoints, the ministry said.
Bulgaria has detained thousands of illegal refugees over the past 12 months, because of increased migration flows following intensifying fighting in Syria. Although most refugees see Bulgaria only as a transit point on their way to the wealthier members of the European Union, the bloc’s rules mandate that refugees remain housed in the EU member country where they are first detained.
To stem the flow, Bulgaria decided to build a wire fence along its border with Turkey – despite United Nations criticism that such a construct would not solve the problem – amid criticism in domestic media that the project was overly expensive and inefficient.
Most refugees enter Bulgaria by land and the boat caught on August 17 was one of the rare occurrences when refugees were intercepted at sea. It is unclear what the boat’s destination was, as it was moving on a northward course towards the Romanian Black Sea coast, according to the Interior Ministry’s statement.
A border patrol ship was dispatched when the boat was observed to move erratically and did not answer any hails from the coast guard. It was intercepted near Shabla in northeastern Bulgaria, close to the border with Romania.
The border police found 63 people crammed in the six-people sailing boat, registered in Bulgaria and captained by a Turkish national. The refugee numbers included 18 women and 16 children, with most of them saying they came from Afghanistan, but there were also five people claiming to be Syrian nationals and two claiming to be from Turkey.
A 16-year-old male required emergency first aid and was later taken to hospital in the city of Varna. The other refugees received food and medical attention – several of them required treatment for dehydration – before being put in quarantine.
The head of Varna’s regional health inspectorate, Svetla Staneva, said that the quarantine was part of standard operating procedures and that none of the refugees displayed any symptoms of disease. She sought to dispel any fears that the refugees may be carrying the Ebola haemorrhaging fever virus, but said that the doctors did check the refugees for the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) virus.
(Photo: Bulgarian Interior Ministry)