Roland Francois-Weil: Bulgaria fails to envisage refugee crisis
Author: Maria Dimitrova-Pishot , November 2013. http://bnr.bg/en/post/100223469/bulgaria-fails-to-envisage-refugee-crisis
More than 2 million people have left Syria since the beginning of the conflict; another 6 million are on the road inside the country but may enter countries bordering on Syria at any moment. Every day around 5,000 Syrians seek asylum outside their country. In neighbouring Turkey their number now is more than 600,000. And after Greece put up a wall along its border with Turkey, Bulgaria is now the easiest route to the cherished territory of the EU. This is the analysis made for Radio Bulgaria by Roland Francois-Weil, representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Bulgaria.
How come the Bulgarian government failed to see this danger coming?
“We must say that the political situation in Bulgaria is very chaotic. The country has had three different governments in just one year and the question of the wave of refugees has obviously not been a priority. On the other hand the number of refugees has soared. 1,000 – 1,200 refugees used to enter the country in previous years; since the beginning of 2013 their number has exceeded 10,000. The authorities admit they are unprepared for such an influx.”
Consequently, the existing refugee centres are now overcrowded, new ones were quickly improvised but living conditions there are inhuman. Roland Francois-Weil describes the situation as disastrous.
“The new centres were set up in a hurry in abandoned schools or other such buildings. In some of them sanitation is very bad, there is no food, no medical assistance, no staff and the situation is frankly dire. Refugees are given five days’ rations of packaged food which is totally inadequate and it is the same for everyone – for adults, for children, for people who are sick and people who are healthy. The authorities are doing what they can. At the new refugee camp in Harmanly the conditions are truly catastrophic.”
Answering the question whether conditions for refugees from Syria are better in other countries, Roland Francois-Weil answers that in any case, conditions in Bulgaria are not up to the standard of a country that is a member of the EU. Resolving this problem is extremely difficult.
“The authorities definitely want to offer refugees better conditions but in view of the current political situation in Bulgaria and the country’s economic capacity, this is extremely difficult,” says the UN High Commissioner for Refugees representative for Bulgaria. “We hope that with the assistance of the EU we will be able to help the authorities improve the situation in each of the refugee camps quickly and to speed up the procedure of granting refugee status. We hope that with the help of the EU this will happen quicker.”
The wish of the Bulgarian government to raise wire enclosures in some sections of the country’s border with Turkey is a breach of international agreements and a violation of the rights of refugees, says Roland Francois-Weil.
Is the government’s intention of cutting down the procedure of granting refugee status from six to one month realistic?
“This is rather ambitious, in view of the blatant shortage of staff working in this sphere. New employees are currently being recruited but they first have to be trained. Nevertheless, I hope the procedure will be speeded up.”
In the words of Roland Francois-Weil out of the around 8,000 people seeking refugee status, the procedure for granting such status has already been initiated for 6,000. At the beginning of the refugee crisis that broke out in August this year, the Bulgarian State Agency for Refugees had… 150 employees. There is a severe shortage of interpreters with Arabic as well.