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Turkey May Have Scrapped Refugee Deal with Bulgaria

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Bulgarian media are reporting suspension of readmission agreement, but Turkish Embassy denies major change.

Turkey has unilaterally suspended its refugee readmission agreement with Bulgaria, government sources told Bulgarian newspapers 24 Chasa  and Dnevnik.

The readmission agreement is part of the larger EU-Turkey deal under which Turkey has agreed to accept back illegal migrants that land in the Greek islands in exchange for visa-free travel and other benefits.

Ankara has reportedly informed the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Interior Ministry that it will no longer observe the terms of the agreement because of a Bulgarian refusal to join an international Black Sea naval unit aimed at deterring Russia.

Romanian President Klaus Johannis proposed the creation of a joint Black Sea fleet to counter a possible threat from Russia during a 15 June meeting with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov in Sofia. The naval fleet would include Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, and Turkey, according to 24 Chasa.  Borissov rejected the idea, saying that he does not want another war in the Black Sea.

According to media reports, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan then personally made the decision to suspend the readmission agreement, but Ankara has not made any statement on the issue and Bulgaria has not received official notification from the Turkish side. In response to questions from journalists, the Turkish Embassy in Bulgaria has said that Ankara has not halted its activities with regard to the migration deal. 

Further muddling the situation is Borissov’s claim that Turkey has already rejected Bulgarian requests to take back as much as 200 refugees, Borissov told Focus News Agency. It was unclear whether he meant before or after his rejection of the Black Sea fleet proposal.

  • We are very concerned about this. We will use all diplomatic channels we have to communicate with our counterparts. We want to understand if this is an accident, if it is temporary, or if there is another problem,” Borissov was quoted as saying.

  • Bulgarian Minister of Interior Rumyana Bachvarova and her Turkish counterpart Efkan Ala signed in May a protocol that is part of the broader EU-Turkey agreement. The protocol entered into force on 1 June.

  • The EU-Turkey migration deal negotiated earlier this year is seen as a crucial instrument for curbing migrant flows into Europe. Its aim is to close the main route by which more than a million migrants came to Greece last year before making their way north to countries such as Germany and Sweden. According to the agreement, Turkey will accept back illegal migrants in exchange for visa-free travel to the Schengen zone of the EU, re-starting accession talks, and billions in financial aid to help care for refugees.

  • These developments come against the backdrop of increased tensions between Turkey and Russia over Turkey's downing of a Russian warplane in November 2015. Turkey shot down the plane after it said the jet had crossed over from Syria’s border and violated Turkish airspace.

Compiled by Lyubomir Martinov

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