News 19 Feb 16

Bulgarian Army to Help Guard Border Against Migrants

Parliament on Thursday backed legal amendments that will authorise troops to help the police patrol the country’s borders and stop illegal migrants.

Mariya Cheresheva
BIRN
Sofia
Photo: KGG1951

Spooked by fears of a sudden upsurge in migrant numbers in the spring, Bulgarian MPs have decided that soldiers will be allowed to help police protect the border against irregular migration.

All 156 MPs present at the plenary session on Thursday backed amendments to the Defence and Armed Forces Act, extending the competences of the army during peace time.

“The army is in complete readiness to participate in guarding the Bulgarian border,” Defence Minister Nikolay Nenchev said after the vote.

Currently, the armed forces provide only logistical assistance to the border police, but the amendments will allow troops to patrol the border on more equal terms with police officers.

The main reason for extending army powers is expected intensification of migration activity when warmer weather returns, Nenchev explained.

The vice-president of the parliamentary committee on defence, Valentin Radev, who initiated the changes, said Prime Minister Boyko Borissov had insisted on a more active role for the armed forces on the border. 

Nenchev said the army and police have yet to discuss how they will organize cooperation on the border.

The Interior Minister, Rumyana Bachvarova, on 10 February said the army would not be permanently present at the border but would offer support in “emergency, critical situations, if the resources of the Ministry of Interior do not allow full security to be guaranteed”.

On Tuesday, the head of the parliamentary committee on defence, General Miho Mihov, told national radio that no more than four battalions will be deployed at the border.

Military forces will not have the same powers as the border police, but will be allowed to use weapons in certain situations.

The second reading on the amendments will take place in three days, MPs decided.

Bulgaria has come under fire from various human rights groups for hardening its migration policy in the last two years.

Tensions over the handling of migrants peaked in October 2015, when an Afghan died from a bullet fired by a border police officer, an event without precedent in Europe since the refugee crisis started back in 2013.

In its latest report on Bulgaria published on 20 January, the rights watchdog Human Rights Watch accused law enforcement officials of summarily returning asylum seekers and migrants to Turkey and of police brutality.

Bulgaria is building a 130-kilometer-long barbed wire fence along the Bulgarian-Turkish border in order to curb the inflow of migrants.

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