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Bulgaria Braces for More Migrants

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Starting this week, EU countries can send back non-EU citizens who enter the bloc from Turkey illegally.

Bulgaria’s preparations for an expected uptick in migrants crossing from Turkey are coming in handy these days.

Migrants who go around or through the almost-finished, 150-kilometer border fence will be sent to a new purpose-built camp.

“This section of the border is getting attention for a reason: the EU-Turkey deal largely cut off the Greece-Macedonia route, so people smugglers have been seeking new routes, or reactivating old ones,” the BBC reports.

Bulgaria’s share of the 200 to 400 migrants who make it across Hungary to Austria daily is disputed, however.

At a recent weekly video conference among regional countries, Bulgarian officials said only 50 people a day are smuggled through the country, countering Macedonia’s and Serbia’s higher estimates. A Serbian source said up to 200 people a day were arriving through Bulgaria, the BBC says.

Bulgaria and other EU countries now have more legal tools to return illegal migrants to Turkey. A protocol to their 2013 readmission agreement came into force on 1 June, allowing EU countries to return third-country nationals who entered the bloc from Turkey.

Implementation of the protocol was brought forward under the March deal in which Turkey promised greater efforts to stop migrants and refugees transiting its territory in return for the promise of visa-free travel and other concessions, DPA says.

On the day the protocol came into effect, Bulgarian Interior Minister Rumyana Buchvarova said refugees were avoiding the route through Bulgaria.

But Sofia has revised its earlier claims that there was no increase in the flow of migrants towards its territory, the Sofia Globe reports, citing Bulgarian National Radio.

“Enhanced migration pressure toward Bulgaria is now a fact,” Prime Minister Boyko Borisov (pictured) acknowledged on 29 May.

Amnesty International last week said the EU-Turkey migration package was “illegal” and “reckless,” and urged the EU not to return migrants to Turkey, ABC News reported. The agreement is unlawful because migrants can’t access “effective protection” in Turkey, AI said.

Under the deal, Turkey could receive more than $6 billion (5.4 billion euros) from the EU, visa-free travel, and a restart to stalled negotiations on EU membership.

On 24 May, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that Ankara would block laws related to the migration plan unless the EU granted it visa-free travel.

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