the EU’s external border. — Collective Aid

/bulgaria-road-to-schengen-part-one-the-

  • Bulgaria : Road to Schengen. Part One : the EU’s external border.

    On the 31st of March, Bulgaria - alongside Romania - joined Schengen as a partial member by air & sea. The inclusion of land crossings for full accession of these countries was blocked by an Austrian veto over concerns(1) that it would lead to an increase in people wanting to claim asylum in the EU.

    What is significant about Bulgaria becoming a Schengen member is that, what has been seen in the lead up, and what we will see following accession, is a new precedent of aggressively fortified borders set for the EU’s external Schengen borders. Which in turn may shape EU wide standards for border management.

    The EU’s external border between Bulgaria and Turkey has become infamous for a myriad of human rights violations and violence towards people who are forced to cross this border ‘illegally’. People continually face the violence of these crossings due to the lack of safe and legal routes allowing people to fulfill their right to seek asylum in Europe.

    In 2022 it was along this border that live ammunition(2) was first used against people seeking asylum in the EU. Shot by the Bulgarian authorities. In the same year it was reported(3) that people were illegally detained for up to 3 days in a cage-like structure attached to the police station in the border town of Sredets. It was also known that vehicles belonging to the European border force Frontex - who are responsible for border management and supposedly upholding fundamental rights - were present in the vicinity of the cages holding detained people.

    The EU’s illegal border management strategy of pushbacks are also well documented and commonplace along this border. Testimonies of pushbacks in this region are frequent and often violent. Within the past year Collective Aid has collected numerous testimonies from survivors of these actions of the state who describe(4) being stripped down to their underwear, beaten with batons and the butts of guns, robbed, and set on by dogs. Violence is clearly the systematic deterrence strategy of the EU.

    Similar violence occurs and is documented along Bulgaria’s northern border with Serbia. During an assessment of the camps in Sofia in March, outside of the Voenna Rampa facility, our team spoke to an Afghan man who, 6 months prior, was beaten so badly during a pushback that his leg was broken. Half a year later he was still using a crutch and was supported by his friends. Due to the ordeal, he had decided to try and claim asylum in Bulgaria instead of risking another border crossing.

    Despite the widespread and well documented violations of European and international law by an EU member state, at the beginning of March Bulgaria was rewarded(5) with its share of an 85 million Euro fund within a ‘cooperation framework on border and migration management’. The money within this framework specifically comes under the Border Management and Visa Instrument (BMVI) 2021 – 2027, designed to ‘enhance national capabilities at the EU external borders’. Within the instrument Bulgaria is able to apply for additional funding to extend or upgrade technology along its borders. This includes purchasing, developing, or upgrading equipment such as movement detection and thermo-vision cameras and vehicles with thermo-vision capabilities. It is the use of this border tech which enables and facilitates the illegal and violent practices which are well documented in Bulgaria.

    Close to the town of Dragoman along the northern border with Serbia, we came across an example of the kind of technology which used a controlled mounted camera that tracked the movement of our team. This piece of equipment was also purchased by the EU, and is used to track movement at the internal border.

    The cooperation framework also outlines(6) a roadmap where Frontex will increase its support of policing at Bulgaria’s border with Turkey. In late February, in the run up to Bulgaria becoming a Schengen member, on a visit to the border with Turkey, Hans Leijtens - Frontex’s executive director - announced(7) an additional 500 - 600 additional Frontex personnel would be sent to the border. Tripling the numbers already operational there.

    Meanwhile Frontex - who have been known(8) to conceal evidence of human rights violations - are again under scrutiny(9) for their lack of accountability in regards to the upholding of fundamental rights. Two days prior to the announcement of additional Frontex staff an investigation(10) by BIRN produced a report from a Frontex whistleblower further highlighting the common kinds of violence and rights violations which occur during pushbacks at this border. As well as the fact that Frontex officers were intentionally kept away from ‘hot spots’ where pushbacks are most frequent. The investigation underlines Frontex’s inability to address, or be held accountable for, human rights violations that occur on the EU’s external borders.

    The awarded money is the next step following a ‘successful’ pilot project for fast-track asylum and returns procedures which was started in March of the previous year. The project was implemented in the Pastrogor camp some 13km from the Turkish border which mostly houses people from the Maghreb region of northwest Africa. A 6 month project report(11) boasts a 60% rejection rate from around 2000 applicants. In line with the EU’s new migration pact, the project has a focus on returns whereby an amendment to national legislation has been prepared to allow a return decision to be made and delivered at the same time as an asylum rejection. As well as the launch of a voluntary return programme supported by the 2021-2027 Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF). Through which cash incentives for voluntary returns will be increased across the board. These cash incentives are essentially an EU funded gaslighting project, questioning the decisions of people to leave their home countries based on their own survival and safety.

    Our team visited the former prison of the Pastrogor camp in March. Which at the time held only 16 people - some 5% of its 320 capacity.

    The implementation of this pilot project and the fortification of the border with Turkey have been deemed a success by the EU commision(12) who have praised both as indicators of Bulgaria’s readiness to join the Schengen area.

    Unsurprisingly, what we learn from Bulgaria’s accession to becoming a Schengen member is that the EU is not only deliberately ignoring Bulgaria’s dire human rights history in migration and border management. But, alongside the political and economic strengthening brought with Schengen accession, they are actively rewarding the results of such rights violations with exceptional funding that can sustain the state’s human rights infringements. All while the presence of Frontex validates the impunity enjoyed by Bulgaria’s violent border forces who show no respect for human rights law. In early April the European Commision gave a positive report(13) on the results from EU funding which support this border rife with fundamental rights abuses. In a hollow statement Bulgaria’s chief of border police stated: “we are showing zero tolerance to the violation of fundamental rights”.

    What the changes in border management strategies at the EU’s external border to Turkey- in light of Bulgaria’s entry to the Schengen - mean in reality is that people who are still forced to make the crossing do so at greater risk to themselves as they are forced deeper into both the hands of smuggling networks and into the dangerous Strandzha national park.

    The Strandzha national park straddles the Bulgarian-Turkish border. It is in this densely forested and mountainous area of land where people are known to often make the border crossing by foot. A treacherous journey often taking many days, and also known to have taken many lives - lighthouse reports identified 82 bodies of people on the move that have passed through three morgues in Bulgaria. Many of whom will have died on the Strandzha crossing.

    It is reported(14) that morgues in the towns of Burgas and Yambol - on the outskirts of the Strandzha national park - are having difficulty finding space due to the amount of deaths occurring in this area. So much so that a public prosecutor from Yambol explained this as the reason why people are being buried without identification in nameless graves, sometimes after only 4 days of storage. It is also reported that families who tried to find and identify the bodies of their deceased loved ones were forced to pay cash bribes to the Burgas morgue in order to do so.

    Through networks with families in home countries, NGOs based nearby make efforts to alert authorities and to respond to distress calls from people in danger within the Strandzha national park. However, the Bulgarian state makes these attempts nearly impossible through heavy militarisation and the associated criminalisation of being active in the area. It is the same militarisation that is supported with money from the EU’s ‘cooperation framework’. Due to these limitations even the bodies that make it to morgues in Bulgaria are likely to be only a percentage of the total death toll that is effectively sponsored by the EU.

    Local NGO Mission Wings stated(15) that in 2022 they received at most 12 distress calls, whereas in 2023 the NGO stopped counting at 70. This gives a clear correlation between increased funding to the fortification of the EU’s external border and the amount of lives put in danger.

    People are also forced to rely more on smuggling networks. Thus making the cost of seeking asylum greater, and the routes more hidden. When routes become more hidden and reliant on smuggling networks, it limits the interaction between people on the move and NGOs. In turn, testimonies of state violence and illegal practices cannot be collected and violations occur unchallenged. Smuggling networks rely on the use of vehicles, often driving packed cars, vans, and lorries at high speed through the country. Injuries and fatalities of people on the move from car crashes and suffocating are not infrequent in Bulgaria. Sadly, tragic incidents(16) like the deaths of 18 innocent people from Afghanistan in the back of an abandoned truck in February last year are likely only to increase.

    https://www.collectiveaidngo.org/blog/2024/5/3/bulgaria-road-to-schengen-part-one-the-eus-external-border
    #Bulgarie #frontières #Schengen #migrations #frontières_extérieures #asile #réfugiés #Balkans #route_des_Balkans #violence #Turquie #Sredets #encampement #Frontex #droits_humains #Serbie #Sofia #Voenna_Rampa #Border_Management_and_Visa_Instrument (#BMVI) #aide_financière #technologie #Dragoman #Pastrogor #camps_de_réfugiés #renvois #expulsions #retour_volontaire #Asylum_Migration_and_Integration_Fund (#AMIF) #Strandzha #Strandzha_national_park #forêt #montagne #Burgas #Yambol #mourir_aux_frontières #décès #morts_aux_frontières #identification #tombes #criminalisation_de_la_solidarité #morgue

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    ajouté à ce fil de discussion :
    Europe’s Nameless Dead
    https://seenthis.net/messages/1029609