Bulgaria deploys troops as Syrians march to Turkey’s west

Bulgaria begins deploying up to 1,000 troops amid influx of Syrian refugees to Turkey’s western border

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

A Turkish soldier distributes milk cartons to children as Syrian refugees enter their third day of waiting to enter Europe

Bulgaria started on Thursday deploying up to 1,000 troops to buttress its southeastern border with Turkey as hundreds of refugees remained stranded for a third day on the Turkey’s border town Edirne.

"We have triggered a plan for the start of the step-by-step deployment of up to 1,000 troops along the whole Bulgarian-Turkish border (within the next week)," interior ministry chief of staff Georgy Kostov said.

This move came after increased refugees pressure at the border overnight when 660 refugees attempted to cross into Bulgaria illegally, Kostov said.

The trespassers were spotted by the Bulgarian patrols, which alerted the Turkish authorities who turned them back to Turkey, he added.

Hundreds of Syrian refugees on Tuesday started to march toward Turkey’s western border province Edirne which borders both Greece and Bulgaria to reach European countries by land.

A plan involving joint army-police patrols at the border was approved by Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and put into effect Thursday morning, Kostov added.

Defence Minister Nikolay Nenchev meanwhile told public BNR radio that the first group of over 50 soldiers was already on its way with another 160 to follow by Thursday evening.

"We have the capability to dispatch up to 1,000 people at any moment," the minister said.

"You can never predict which direction this refugee wave will take. We do not know in advance where these masses of people will pile up. If one country decides to seal its border, they go to another border. So we are prepared," Nenchev said.

Hundreds of refugees marched to the northwestern Turkish city of Edirne on Thursday and have been waiting for a three days in the city after police prevented them from reaching the nearby border checkpoints with Greece and Bulgaria.

There have also been reports that thousands of refugees have been waiting at the Istanbul main bus terminal to get to Edirne. The refugees have been staying at the terminal and some of them have pitched tents.

Syrian refugees escaping the violence in their country fled Syria in large numbers following the escalation of the Syrian Civil War in 2012. One of their most preferred destinations was neighbouring Turkey, which hosts over 1.9 million Syrian refugees according to registration records of the United Nations.

Bulgaria, which is not a member of the passport-free Schengen Zone and which also borders Romania, Serbia, Macedonia and Greece, has registered a total of 7,400 asylum-seekers so far this year, mainly Syrians coming illegally from Turkey.

Interior Minister Rumyana Bachvarova told private Nova television on Thursday that the country was committed to continue to register the asylum-seekers rather than allowing them to continue their journey unhindered.