Bulgaria PM: EU Must Close Borders to Migration

Bulgarian leader Boyko Borissov has said the EU needs to toughen its stance on migration, as his country prepares to pass the EU presidency to Austria – which has designated the fight against "illegal migration" its priority.
Boyko Borissov is toughening his position on migration just weeks before Bulgaria ends its EU Presidency term. Picture: SZILARD KOSZTICSAK, EPA. 

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, whose country holds the EU presidency, has intervened in the acrimonious debate on migration by saying the EU must “close its borders” to those who do not use authorised checkpoints.

Borissov made the call to the Conference of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs of Parliaments of the European Union, COSAC – a joint conference of MEPS and MPs from the EU parliaments – on Monday in Sofia.

“Bulgaria made it through [the refugee crisis]; without much talking, without much complaining, we secured our border with Turkey with fences and additional police and coastguards. This is why I will recommend a compromise to the European Council – prevention, including the shutdown of all EU borders,” he said.

As Sofia’s stint as head of the EU Council of Ministers enters its last days, the Bulgarian leader notably toughened his stance on migration and border issues.

“Everybody who wants to enter [the EU] should make it through a border checkpoint. This is something that is done in the US, in Canada, anywhere! Why should Europe be a ‘yard without a fence?’ Borissov said on Tuesday, using a Bulgarian expression for someone who cannnot control who enters and exits their land.

Borissov added that migrants who are open to integration should be integrated, while the others should be sent back to their home countries. If this does not happen, the EU risks more internal divisions, he warned.

His words will echo with a recent statement of the head of the government of the next country that will take over the presidency of the EU.

On Thursday, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said that “the fight against illegal immigration” would be Austria’s priority when it takes over the six-month rotating presidency on July 1, AFP reported.

Earlier last week, after talking to Germany’s hardline Interior Minister, Horst Seerhofer, who is at odds with Chancellor Angela Merkel on the issue, Kurz said that an “axis of the willing” is needed within the EU to fight illegal migration.

Since electing a right-wing government, Vienna has toughened its stance notably on migration.

The hardened rhetoric on migrants and refugees comes as EU member states quarrel over who should accept them – and as a growing number of migrants and refugees start using a new “Balkan route” through Albania, Montenegro and Bosnia to reach the EU.

Italy, France, Malta and Spain all traded accusations last week over a boat containing about 900 people that Italy refused to accept, which eventually had to dock in Valencia, Spain.

While most migrants and refugees trying to reach Europe come via the Mediterranean, the number coming overland via the Balkans is growing.

Over 5,000 people were detected crossing Bosnia and Herzegovina in the first five months of 2018.

Last week, Slobodan Ujic, Director of the Foreigners’ Service of Bosnia, warned that if Austria and Slovenia seal their borders to migrants, Bosnia would be forced to close its own borders with Serbia and Montenegro.

The Bosnian webiste reported on May 12 that migrants and refugees now in Sarajevo are camping in public spaces, such as parks, in poor conditions. The report underlined they need tents, food and clothes.

The same report also noted that the Institute for Emergency Medical Aid had said that many are in a poor medical state.

In Brussels, meanwhile, a divided Council of Ministers will try to achieve a breakthrough in reaching a common consensus on the new migration control and redistribution rules.

On Tuesday, the EU commissioner for migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, hosts a meeting of interior ministers from the Western Balkans with the participation of the Bulgarian Presidency and the future Austrian Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

The next European Council, with the participation of all heads of governments of the EU member states, will be on June 28-29.

Migration will top the agenda, with leaders expected to discuss the internal and external dimensions of migration policy, including reform of the Common European Asylum System, CEAS.

Rights groups have criticised Bulgaria’s treatment of migrants and refugees and its lack of an integration policy.

In its latest yearly report on human rights in the country, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee called the current measures used to control the border with Turkey “draconian”, lamenting the lack of integration efforts by the authorities.

Incidents, including harassment and robberies that were reported were never investigated by the Bulgarian police, the 2017 report, released on 1 June this year, wrote.

Rights watchdog Amnesty International also slated the border policy of Bulgaria in its latest yearly report, published in February.  

“Reports of frequent pushbacks, excessive use of force and theft by border police continued. Irregular border crossing remained criminalized, resulting in administrative detention of migrants and refugees, including unaccompanied children, who arrived in greater numbers,” the report stated.

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