By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of The Sofia Globe
Bulgaria’s caretaker cabinet is considering an Interior Ministry proposal to extend the controversial fence at the border with Turkey, completed in 2014 to prevent refugees crossing into Bulgaria, by adding 131km to the existing 30km fence.
The existing fence was commissioned by the now-departed Bulgarian Socialist Party government in 2013 as a response to a significant increase in the number of refugees entering Bulgaria across the Turkish border, most from Syria.
Completed well past the stated deadline, that project was controversial not only for the price tag – at one point reported to be nine million leva but finally said to be seven million – but also for the manner in which the business was awarded.
It emerged that a key contract for the construction went to a firm owned by a local leader of the BSP. The project caused tensions between the interior and defence ministries at the time, and an investigation resulted in – largely nominal – punishments for a group of senior military officers and a civilian employee of the defence ministry.
The fence was criticised from EU and United Nations level not only for breaching EU law on repulsing would-be refugees but, similarly, also breaching Bulgaria’s obligations under international law as an EU member state.
Further, the fence has been criticised as largely useless because it stretches only 30km of the 259km that makes up the Bulgarian-Turkish border, meaning that would-be illegal entrants need only take note of its presence and go around it.
In a report on an August 19 news conference at which the plan for the fence was mentioned, news website Mediapool said that Bulgaria would “certainly” come into conflict with the European Commission, UN and human rights organisations about the plan 131km to the fence.
Caretaker Prime Minister Georgi Bliznashki said that funds would be allocated for the fence and a draft project prepared. Estimates are that the additional 131km would cost 40 million leva.
The extension of the fence is the idea of Interior Ministry chief secretary Svetozar Lazarov, who at the same news conference expressed thanks for the political support for the project.
Lazarov said that “looking what is happening in Africa, we need to ask ourselves what we want for our country”.
He said that there were a million refugees in Turkey and their natural way to Europe was through Bulgaria.
Lazarov said that the facility would pay for itself very quickly, because current border security was costing two million leva a month and for the protection of the borders, officers were seconded from other parts of the country.
According to Lazarov, extending the fence would thus save 24 million leva in a year, and the police now on the border would return to work, including in urban areas with high levels of household crime.
Earlier, caretaker Foreign Ministry Daniel Mitov said that the situation in Iraq could cause a refugee wave that directly threatened the external borders of the EU.
“You remember the reaction in Bulgaria when it came to refugees from Syria. Imagine something doubled or even more serious”.