• The EU Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) is preparing to deploy an additional 500 to 600 officers to guard the Bulgaria-Türkiye Border despite evidence showing that it previously ignored evidence of pushbacks committed by Bulgarian border guards.
  • The European Commission has launched ‘Cooperation Frameworks’ on border and migration management with Bulgaria and Romania and announced €85 million in funding to enhance national capabilities at the EU’s external borders.
  • A Serbian NGO has appealed to state authorities to ensure that temporary protection measures for displaced people from Ukraine are extended beyond the 18 March deadline.

The EU Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) is preparing to triple the number of officers it deploys to guard the EU’s external border in Bulgaria. In a press conference on 29 February, the Frontex executive director, Hans Leijtens, told journalists that, from 20 March, an additional “500 to 600” Frontex officers would be sent to the country. The announcement follows recent revelations from journalists who reported on an internal report from 2022 that showed that both Frontex and the European Commission had previously ignored reports of pushbacks on the Bulgaria-Türkiye border in order to avoid jeopardising Bulgaria’s chances of joining the Schengen Area. According to InfoMigrants, the Leijtens has tried to placate possible critics of the huge increase in deployed officers, saying: “the presence of Frontex officers helps the agency protect not only Europe’s borders but also European values”. He has also promised that “human rights experts will be among the new Frontex officers”. The director of the NGO Centre for Legal Aid – Voice in Bulgaria, Diana Radoslavova, has criticised Bulgaria’s willingness to ignore its human rights commitments in order to secure Schengen membership. “It is the border which has to be effectively closed. In order to fulfil this order we [Bulgaria] do whatever it takes, in extreme violation of human rights,” she told the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network. On 5 March, Tineke Strik MEP travelled to Bulgaria to “assess how human rights are respected” on the Bulgaria-Türkiye border. Writing on X, she said that the EU’s external borders were becoming “zones of lawlessness, where refugees face hurdles to protection”. “We must uphold the rights/values, especially towards the most vulnerable,” she added. On 7 March, she highlighted the apparent discrepancy between the assessments of the Bulgarian authorities and civil society organisations of the situation on the border. “Bulgarian authorities claimed that 180.000 prevented entries contained no pushbacks. Yet civil society shares horrific accounts of increased violent pushbacks at borders & from reception centres” she X posted. She also commented on the legal changes that were hindering civil society organisations’ efforts to help migrants. “The few NGOs working in Sofia and at the border do marvellous work, but they are under threat. New legal changes crack down on providing assistance to migrants,” she wrote on X, adding: “It’s crucial that the EU facilitators package makes a mandatory exception for humanitarian aid, so lives can be saved”.

On 4 March, the European Commission (EC) announced that it was launching ‘Cooperation Frameworks’ on border and migration management with Bulgaria and Romania. According to the EC’s press release, the frameworks would enable the two countries to “further contribute to the joint European efforts to address EU security at external borders and migratory challenges”. It added that they would be focused on support for “reinforced measures in the area of border management, asylum and reception, return system and enhanced police cooperation in the Schengen area” and starting preparations to “implement the New Pact on Migration and Asylum (…) in particular regarding the national implementation plans”. The press release also highlighted the possibility of additional funding for Bulgaria and Romania. “In particular, today the Commission is launching a new funding specific action of 85 million EUR under the Border Management and Visa Instrument (BMVI) 2021 – 2027 to enhance national capabilities at the EU external borders,” it wrote.

In Serbia, concerns have been raised about the future of temporary protection for displaced people from Ukraine. According to the executive director of ECRE member organisation the Asylum Protection Center, Radoš Đurović, changes would be required to existing legal regulations or new regulations would have to be adopted if the temporary protection for Ukrainians that is currently provided is to continue beyond the deadline of 18 March. Đurović told Tanyug: “We insisted at an early stage, at the beginning and middle of last year, that this measure be considered in time. We received positive impressions from the representatives of the institutions. This is another appeal to speed them up”. He also praised the current arrangements, saying: “It is a model that should also serve us for accepting other refugees”. Commenting on the fast-approaching deadline and the potential impact for the “12,000 and 15,000” Ukrainians who are resident in Serbia if the current measures expire without any replacement before the deadline, he said: “They have the right to health care, they have the right to the education of their children in Serbia, they have the right to freedom of movement and to an identity document in Serbia. After the deadline, all these rights will be threatened, and this will represent a strong blow for all of them”. Questions about the future of temporary protection for displaced Ukrainians who are living in European countries are not limited to Serbia as highlighted in a recent ECRE policy paper and op-ed on the second anniversary of the activation of the EU’s Temporary Protection Directive on 4 March. “In order to ensure continued protection of those in need and to maintain the legacy of one of the most successful responses to displacement by the EU so far, the upcoming months are critical for both EU policy-makers and EU MS governments. It is essential to develop as soon as possible a range of post-TPD options which would reflect Ukrainian perspectives and address the needs of various groups of displaced persons in full respect of their human rights,” it wrote.

Meanwhile, ECRE member organisation, Asylum Protection in Serbia, reported in late February that refugees and migrants in the ‘Fourth Kilometer’ camp are unlawfully deprived of their freedom amid ongoing arrivals from Bulgaria and forced eviction of migrants from the north/Vojvodina to the southern and southeastern parts of Serbia. The organisation tweeted that residents of the camp are not allowed to leave the camp in a systematic attempt by the authorities to prevent their communication with local citizens and associations helping them.

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