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Bulgaria: The Rise of Pushbacks as Increasing Border Protection is discussed

Bulgarian government has been discussing the plans of strengthening the police forces at borders with Greece and Turkey, in relation to the relatively increased numbers of migrants taking the attempts to cross them. Since the beginning of 2021, over 1,000 pushbacks were documented, affecting at least 13,000 people.

According to the data presented by the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior, the attempts of irregular crossings were up 17% by the end of August when 500 people were detained at the borders in only two days. The Bulgarian government considered sending around 500 military troops to its borders with Greece and Turkey in order to back up the police forces already stationed there. The attempts of irregular crossings through Bulgarian borders have increased considerably since 2020, with 3,518 people detained within Bulgarian territory over the first six months of 2020. More than 1,000 people were apprehended while trying to leave Bulgaria through Serbia, Romania and Northern Macedonia.  Nevertheless, according to the previous reports of the Ministry, a steady decrease in the number of irregular crossings had been observed since 2015, from around 31,000 arrivals in 2016, to 19,000 in 2017, to 3,000 in 2018, down to 2,000 in 2019.

Systematic pushbacks of people at the Bulgarian borders are still carried out by the authorities, despite the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) decision from July 2021 that found Bulgaria in contravention of human rights law by repeated returns of asylum seekers to Turkey. According to the communication of Bulgarian police forces in August, between 100 and 200 immigrants were being sent back daily to Turkey. At the end of July, the Minister of Interior, Boyko Rashkov, said that 16,900 people had been returned to neighbouring countries since the start of 2021. ECRE Member organisation, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, recorded 1,064 indirect pushbacks (preventing individuals from crossing into Bulgaria) and 323 direct pushbacks (returns from inside the territory) over the first eight months of 2021, affecting 13,363 people. This suggests an expansion of pushbacks since 2020, when 15,173 people were pushed back over the course of the entire year.

Since 2016 Afghanistan has been the main country of origin of people trying to cross Bulgarian borders to seek asylum. Most of their applications however have been rejected under the country’s “accelerated procedure” that treats their applications as manifestly unfounded on a range of grounds, including that they failed to present themselves to the authorities after entering the country or that they came from a “safe country of origin”. Afghans nationals faced a 99% rejection rate in 2020, with 858 applications rejected.

For further information:

AIDA, 2020 Update: Bulgaria, February 2021
ECRE, Push backs and human rights violations at Bulgarian and Greek borders with Turkey, March 2018

Alicja Szczutowska
NIEM’s National Coalition Officer
The Migration Policy Programme
Institute of Public Affairs