Bulgaria pushes to be part of EU-Turkey migrant deal
SOFIA - Agence France-Presse
This handout file photo taken on December 4, 2015 and released by the Bulgarian Government Press Office shows a border security guard standing next to fence erected on the Bulgaria-Turkey border near the town of Lesovo. AFP PhotoBulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov pressed on March 12 to have his country's borders protected as part of a proposed EU-Turkey deal aimed to stop the flow of migrants to Europe.
Bulgaria has so far remained on the sidelines of the EU's worst migration crisis since WWII after it built a 30-kilometre razor wire fence in 2014 and sent 2,000 border police to guard its 260-kilometre (160-mile) border with Turkey.
But the EU member fears that it could become a major transit hub after countries along the main western Balkan migrant trail shut their borders this week.
"All countries on the frontline should be able to rely on support from the EU for protection of the EU's external borders," Borisov told visiting Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner and Austrian Defense Minister Hans Peter Doskozil in Sofia.
Borisov said he had sent a letter to that effect to EU President Donald Tusk on March 11.
"Bulgaria insists that the talks between the EU and Turkey for solving the migration problem should also include Bulgaria's land borders with Turkey and Greece as well as the Black Sea border between the EU and Turkey," the letter read.
Under the agreement due to be finalized at an EU summit on March 17-18, Ankara would take back all illegal migrants currently stranded in Greece.
For each Syrian returned to Turkey, the EU would resettle one Syrian refugee from Turkish camps, in a bid to reduce the incentive for people to undertake the perilous journey to Europe.
In return, Turkey wants six billion euros ($6.6 billion) in aid, visa-free access to the bloc's passport-free Schengen zone and a speeding up of Ankara's efforts to join the EU -- demands that go too far for some, including Austria.
Bulgarian media reported on Saturday that Borisov was ready to block the deal if Turkey only agreed to stop the flow of migrants to the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea.
Mikl-Leitner and Doskozil, who were due to visit the Bulgarian-Turkish border later on Saturday, expressed their "full support" for Borisov's demands.
"What applies to Greece also has to apply to Bulgaria," Doskozil was quoted as saying by the Austrian APA news agency.
Mikl-Leitner meanwhile pledged to host a police conference on border security and human traffickers with the countries along the western Balkan migrant trail, including Germany and Greece.
More than a million migrants and refugees have used the route through the Aegean Sea since the start of 2015, many from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, continuing their journey via the Balkans to reach wealthy Germany, Austria and Scandinavia.