Svetoslav TodorovSofiaBIRNDecember 7, 202216:22Interior minister says border patrols can only open fire if they come under attack – as the issue emerges as possible sticking point ahead of EU vote on Bulgaria’s admission to passport-free Schengen zone.

Bulgaria Denies Border Police Opened Fire on Migrants

A Bulgarian soldier repairs the protective fence on the Bulgarian-Turkish border near the village of Matochina, Bulgaria, 4 November 2021. Photo: EPA-EFE/VASSIL DONEV

Bulgaria’s Interior Minister, Ivan Demerdzhiev, on Wednesday denied reports that police securing the country’s border with Turkey opened fire against incoming migrants.

“Ammunition can only be used when a patrol is attacked or when orders are disobeyed. It is important to note that stop cartridges are predominantly used in the weaponry of the Bulgarian border guards,” Demerdzhiev told Bulgarian National Television, adding that an investigation of the reports was being done in coordination with Turkey. 

On December 2, Turkish media reported that an individual died on Turkish territory following a pushback from the Bulgarian border.

On December 6, Sky News published a video, dated from October 3, of a 19-year old refugee being treated for gunshot and also reported that women seeking asylum were being searched “in a sexual manner”. The Minister did not comment on these claims. 

Demerdzhiev also congratulated the border controls on their work, saying they were working under tough conditions with a risk to their own lives while securing the border.

He said that controls could be tightened further.

“Facing such instances of aggression, which could even lead to physical damage of our officers and destruction of the places where they perform their duties, will be met with the necessary counter-measures,” he told local media on Tuesday. 

The European Commission on Tuesday urged Bulgaria to investigate the alleged shooting.

The topic was also mentioned by Netherlands PM Mark Rutte in reference to Bulgaria’s alleged unpreparedness to become part of the EU’s passport-free Schengen area, along with expected newcomers Romania and Croatia.

“I am demanding a position from the [European] Commission on the question of whether all the principles of the rule of law are respected [in Bulgaria], so that, for example, you cannot cross the border with a €50 note. I’m not saying that’s happening, but I want it specifically established that it hasn’t happened”, Rutte said in Brussels on December 2. 

President Rumen Radev, interim PM and social advisor to the President Galab Donev and Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev deemed Rutte’s statements offensive and demanded evidence for the claims.

“Instead of receiving European solidarity, Bulgaria receives cynicism!”, President Radev reacted. The EU Justice and Home Affairs Council is due to vote on Bulgaria joining Schengen on Thursday. 

Curbing the number of people illegally entering the country has lately become part of the political narrative in Bulgaria. On December 5, recent election winner GERB’s PM nominee, Nickolay Gabrovsky, mentioned the migrant flow as one of the many crises facing Bulgaria in his first statements to the media.

On Wednesday, the Ministry of Interior also announced an operation to arrest people who are involved in drug dealing and is currently checking 150 locations across the country.

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