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25th May 2019

Migration threatens demographic balance, says Bulgarian PM

  • Boris Borisov: “Is Italy under bigger pressure than Bulgaria? Bulgaria has the longest land border on the EU southern flank” (Photo: European People's Party)

The number of migrants coming to Bulgaria threatens to tilt “the demographic balance” of the predominantly Slavic and Christian Orthodox country, its Prime Minister Boiko Borisov said Thursday (23 April).

“Bulgaria has regions with Muslim population. We have nothing against Muslims. But when more Muslims come from outside, they can abruptly change the demography of the country,” Borisov told reporters ahead of an extraordinary EU summit on migration on Thursday.

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  • A 12.5km fence rolled with barbwire along the Greek Turkish border was completed in December 2012. (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)

Bulgaria, a country of 7.2 million is 80 percent Slavic speaking and Christian Orthodox. However it has a 10-percent ethnic Turkish minority, which is Muslim and a smaller Roma minority, which is partly Muslim.

The country also has an even smaller minority of the so-called Pomaks, ethnic Bulgarians, whose ancestors the Ottoman Empire forced to convert to Islam during the XVII century. The 500-year Ottoman rule of Bulgaria ended in 1878.

Bulgarian Muslims are well integrated and politically represented. The Turkish minitory has a party which plays a prominent role in national politics.

However economic hardship has fueled nationalism and two nationalist parties thriving on anti-Turkish and anti-Roma rhetoric are also part of the legislature. The more moderate of them, the Patriotic Front, is part of Borisov’s uneasy four-way governing coalition.

Although Bulgaria, unlike its Western Balkan neighbours, has sailed free of any ethnic bloodshed through its post-Communist transition, it is facing the challenge of radical Islamic preachers penetrating its normally moderate Sunni Muslim communities.

The country has seen a series of police operations and trials against such activists in the past couple of years.

It has a 259-kilometre land border with Turkey, where it is building a razor-wire fence to halt the surge in migrants after the beginning of the so-called Arab Spring in 2011.

Most of the refugees come from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Migrant pressure

Borisov said Bulgarian border police have been arresting up to 300 people a day on the land stretch at the frontier, and made explicit comparisons to Italy and Greece who see thousands of migrants arrive by sea each year.

“Is Italy under bigger pressure than Bulgaria? Bulgaria has the longest land border on the EU southern flank,” Borisov, a former senior policeman, argued.

“Satellites can intercept a ship in the sea. But come to see how hundreds of kilometers of land border are secured especially during the winter?”

Borisov quoted his security services as reporting that potential migrant pressure on Bulgaria could rise to between one and two million people a year trying to transit it on their way to central and western Europe.

“If just 100,000 manage to enter Bulgaria, we are done for,” he said. Since the beginning of 2014, around 12,000 asylum seekers have come to Bulgaria and 5,500 asylum requests have been granted.

The country, the poorest in the EU with 45 percent of its average per capita GDP, hosts some 4,000 people in refugee camps.

Borisov said asking for more EU funding for border operations amounted to underestimating the problem Europe was having with migration. He said the core causes of the crisis - failed states, terrorism and armed conflicts - should be tackled.

He also spoke out in support of establishing EU migrant reception centres in southern Mediterranean states and for member states’ security services working together against illegal trafficking.

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