4 April 2014
In a meeting of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) on Tuesday 1 April, the European Commission confirmed that it has launched infringement procedures against Bulgaria and Italy where the Commission has reports of possible refoulement of Syrian refugees. This first step consists of letters of formal notice sent to both countries requesting their observations on the identified problem.
UNHCR, Amnesty International and the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee have already noted their concern about access to the territory in Bulgaria. At the end of 2013, controls on the Bulgarian-Turkish border were significantly reinforced with the erection of a 32 km fence and the deployment of 1,500 police personnel posted at intervals of some 300 metres. There has been a dramatic drop in people entering Bulgaria via this border. Whereas in the autumn of 2013, almost 8,000 people entered Bulgaria from Turkey irregularly, only 139 and 124 entered in January and February 2014 respectively. ProAsyl, the Greek Council of Refugees and Medici per i Diritti Humani have documented accounts of push-backs of migrants and asylum seekers from the Italian Adriatic ports to Greece.
Laurent Muschel, Director of Migration and Asylum, at the European Commission’s DG Home Affairs, also noted the unanimous opposition of the Member States involved in the Task Force Mediterranean to the inclusion of protected entry procedures, for instance humanitarian visas in the scope of the Task Force. Muschel stated that the Commission had to fight to maintain the measures in the list of actions and noted a “kind of hypocrisy” on the behalf of States who do “all they can to prevent asylum seekers from coming to Europe”. Muschel pointed out the Member States have increased resettlement of refugees from Syria but that it still remains “a drop in the ocean” compared to number of refugees hosted in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon.
The Task Force on the Mediterranean was set up after the death of 360 people off Lampedusa six months ago.