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News 26 Aug 16

Bulgarian, Turkish Premiers Seek Solutions on Migrants

The prime ministers of Bulgaria and Turkey, Boyko Borissov and Binali Yildirim, are meeting on Friday in Istanbul to discuss joint solutions to the continuing migration crisis.

Mariya Cheresheva
Bulgarian PM Boyko Borissov in Brussels. Photo: Boyko Borissov/Facebook.

Bulgarian premier Boyko Borissov on Friday becomes the first leader of an EU member state to visit Turkey since the attempted coup on July 15, with migration issues set to dominate the agenda.

After his arrival in Istanbul on Friday, Borissov announed he will also meet the President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Borissov is expected to seek an agreement with Turkey to prevent migrants from entering Bulgaria, after he was openly critical of the lack of an effective common European approach towards the refugee crisis.

“I do not see a perspective in Europe for solving the problem with the migration crisis. What I see is one country after another saving itself in panic,” Borissov said at a meeting of the Council of Ministers on Wednesday.

He said there was an “absolute lack of solidarity” among EU members, and argued that Bulgaria has to seek “the best and most pragmatic relations with [its] neighbours”.

“Serbia pulled out the army and closed the border so there is no longer an exit from Bulgaria… Unfortunately, the situation in Greece is not good either. All we have left is to seek partnership with Turkey,” Borissov told the ministers.

The formal occasion of Borissov's visit is the opening of a third bridge linking Europe with Asia across the Bosphorus.

After the failed coup in Turkey and the subsequent government crackdown on its alleged adversaries, Bulgaria has been acting cautiously in dealings with its southern neighbour.

On August 10, the Bulgarian authorities handed over to Turkey a man called Abdullah Buyuk, a supporter of Fethullah Gulen, the US-based Islamic cleric who Ankara accuses of being responsible for the coup attempt.

The deportation provoked outrage in Bulgaria, as it was viewed as contrary to the rule of law and an example of Bulgaria submitting to the demands of its powerful neighbour, but in Turkey it has been welcomed warmly.

On August 12 the Turkish government's press service announced that Prime Minister Binali Yildirim had proposed a bilateral agreement on migration to his Bulgarian counterpart, as the EU-Turkey deal on the migrants has not come into effect.

Bulgaria’s government has confirmed that Borissov has spoken to Yildirim, but refused to reveal the details of their telephone conversation.

On Wednesday, Borissov complained that refugee centres in Bulgaria are almost full and that the country is spending “huge resources” on managing the refugee crisis.

He explained that as the EU-Turkey deal has not entered into force, Bulgaria cannot benefit from its readmission agreement with Turkey.

But he added that, with the cooperation of Turkey, Bulgaria has actually returned over 26,000 migrants to its southern neighbour, masking the returns with the term “prevented entries”.

“Officially we have sent back 24 people, but those ‘hindered’ or ‘prevented’ [from entering Bulgaria] are over 26,000,” he said.

He made it clear that all those classified as having been those ‘hindered’ or ‘prevented’ from entering had actually crossed the border and were then sent back to Turkey.

Such a practice is not laid out in any formal agreement between the two countries, but it may be formalised following the meeting between Borissov and Yildirim.

Right after meeting the Turkish premier, Borissov will fly to Berlin, where on August 27 he is joining the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the prime ministers of Austria, Croatia and Slovenia for talks on the refugee crisis. 

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