11th Dec 2023

Anti-migrant EU pilot projects net results in Bulgaria, Romania

  • EU commissioner Ylva Johansson (l) said the results of the pilot projects could help Bulgaria and Romania join the Schengen zone (Photo: European Union)
Listen to article

Details are emerging of EU-funded pilot projects in Bulgaria and Romania to fast-track asylum and fund border technologies.

"The results are excellent," Ylva Johansson, EU's commissioner for home affairs, told reporters on Thursday (19 October).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

She said people not entitled to asylum are being prevented from entering, while others are sent home in what she described as a "very good result."

The pilots were launched in March, with almost €11m given to Romania and another €45m to Bulgaria.

They are part of a wider bid to convince holdouts like Austria and the Netherlands to allow Bulgaria and Romania to join the visa-free travel Schengen zone, possibly in December, likely at the expense of people trying to seek asylum in the south-east Europe member states.

Sofia has lobbied hard to convince Austria not to block its accession, against a background of migrants transiting through the western Balkans in the hopes of reaching Germany.

But damning reports of rampant corruption among Bulgaria's border police and their links to criminal gangs has only cast a further shadow over Sofia's Schengen aspirations.

But Johansson remains hopeful, citing the pilot projects, new legislation in both countries, as well as Bulgaria's increased cooperation with Turkey.

However, accusations and reports by human rights groups in Romania and Bulgaria of illegal pushbacks continue to mount.

The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee says over 5,000 pushbacks, affecting around 87,000 people, occurred at the Bulgarian-Turkish border last year — almost double the number in 2021.

And Border Violence Network (BVN), an NGO, says the level of violence and pushbacks reported this past August in Bulgaria has risen.

It has also in the past accused Romanian authorities of continuous pushbacks and collective expulsions.

Pilot projects

Earlier efforts by this website to obtain a detail breakdown of the EU millions used to fund the two pilots were refused by the commission, following a freedom of information request.

But the European Commission has since published so-called progress reports into the pilots.

The reports offer a more detailed glimpse into how public money is being used to curtail migration.

It includes a heavy investment in technologies, underground motion detection systems, thermal imaging technologies, integrated surveillance systems, and other non-defined specialised border equipment.

The companies behind those systems, as well as specific detailed information of the technologies, remain unclear.

Technology aside, the European Commission says the Romanian pilot also included almost 450 joint-patrols with Serbian counterparts.

And in Bulgaria, the pilot helped expedite asylum decisions at Pastrogor, a remote transit centre along the border with Turkey.

Out of over 2000 asylum applications registered at Pastrogor between March and September, almost 1,500 were rejected under an accelerated procedure, it said.

It also drew up a list of foreign states it considers safe, as part of a plan with the EU's border agency Frontex, to ease the returns of people.

Bulgaria has had 234km long border fence with Turkey since 2017, equipped with thermal imaging cameras.

EU Commission wants drones for Bulgaria on Turkey border

The European Commission wants to shore up the land border between Bulgaria and Turkey with drones. "We can strengthen the border with management capabilities," European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen told MEPs.

EU head in 'fortress' mode on immigration

The European Commission wants new laws to crack down on migrant smugglers as part of a wider campaign to stop people from crossing the EU's sea and land borders.


Shelving Bulgaria and Romania's Schengen dream helps Russia

Bulgaria and Romania's accession to Schengen will again be put to a vote later this year. Another veto would not only represent a missed opportunity to strengthen the border-free zone, but one that could inflame inter-EU tensions.

Latest News

  1. How Moldova is trying to control tuberculosis
  2. Many problems to solve in Dubai — honesty about them is good
  3. Sudanese fleeing violence find no haven in Egypt or EU
  4. How should EU reform the humanitarian aid system?
  5. EU suggests visa-bans on Israeli settlers, following US example
  6. EU ministers prepare for all-night fiscal debate
  7. Spain's Nadia Calviño backed to be EIB's first female chief
  8. Is there hope for the EU and eurozone?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us