Bulgarian officials say they are prepared to increase patrols and complete a razor-wire fence along its border with Turkey to prevent any new flood of migrants.
“We are ready to protect the country’s border in the way provided for in our legislation,” Defense Minister Stefan Yanev told AFP news agency during a visit Malko Tarnovo, a town on Bulgaria’s southeastern border with Turkey.
He added, however, that the border for now is calm and that illegal border crossing attempts have declined over the past two months.
Only 46 migrants have been detained in an attempt to enter the country from Turkey in the period March 9 – 16, 2017, data from the Interior Ministry shows.
The data shows a minimal increase in the migrant pressure from Turkey last week. By comparison, the week before, the number of migrants detained at entry was 34 and the week before that – 21.
The total number of migrants detained since the beginning of 2017 is 198. The minimal increase in migrant pressure from Turkey may be explained with the warming up of the weather which is a key factor for trafficking across a green border.
The comments of the Defense Minister Stefan Yanev on March 18 come after Turkey threatened to send 15,000 refugees to the European Union in an escalating diplomatic spat with the bloc.
Bulgaria, which is involved in a separate diplomatic row with Ankara, could bear the brunt of any new refugee influx because of its 270-kilometer border with Turkey.
Bulgaria has assailed Ankara for its open support for Dost, a party representing the country’s 200,000-strong ethnic Turkish minority, calling it “direct interference in Bulgarian domestic affairs.”
Dost is competing in the Bulgarian general elections for the first time.
Meanwhile, the Netherlands, France, Austria, German, and other countries have blocked Turkish ministers from holding rallies ahead of an April referendum in Turkey that would increase President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s powers.
Many European countries have large ethnic Turkish populations who are eligible to vote in the referendum.
The dispute led Ankara to threaten to end a 2016 deal with the EU to stem the flow of migrants crossing into Europe.
Defense Minister Yanev said during his visit to the border that his aim was “to inspect the new protective barriers and assess and update the plans for protecting the border.”
Asked whether enhanced military presence along that border was envisaged, he said that the plans of the government were complex and in case of any eventual issues those wouldn’t exclude the boosting of both police and army forces’ presence.
Bulgaria last year built 200 kilometers of razor-wire fences to block Syrian, Afghan, and other migrants, and it deployed 200 additional security forces to patrol the border.
Yanev said a further 24 kilometers of barriers would be completed by May.