Bulgaria under fire over anti-refugee border fence

Border fence between Bulgaria and Turkey

Overwhelmed by an influx of mostly Syrian immigrants, Bulgaria has taken steps to secure its EU border — including building a barbed-wire fence — but now faces criticism from rights groups.

The 30-kilometre fence, standing three meters high and fortified with razor wire coils, was completed this week.

Covering the least visible section of Bulgaria’s 275-kilometre border with Turkey, it aims to stem a flow of refugees that saw more than 11,000 people enter the country illegally last year — 10 times the annual figure before the Syrian conflict.

The sudden influx caused a humanitarian crisis in Bulgaria, already the poorest member of the EU, as asylum seekers were crammed into deserted army barracks and tents in the middle of winter with no heating, basic sanitation or food.

Bulgaria shares a border with Turkey

But the small Balkan country’s attempts to tackle the problem have also been a matter of concern, rights agencies say.

Amnesty International condemned Bulgaria and Greece — another EU neighbour of Turkey, which has become a key transit point for Syrian refugees to Europe — for repeatedly rejecting refugees.

“In their determination to seal off their borders, the European Union and its member states are putting the lives and rights of refugees and migrants at risk,” it said in a report last week.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has also appealed to EU states “to ensure access to their territory… to ensure fair and efficient asylum procedures”…