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Fact-check: Has Borissov achieved ‘zero migration’?

Border fence at the Turkish border [Dnevnik]

By Krassen Nikolov

Major success in protecting the EU’s external border is a favourite argument of Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov when he is persuading the EU partners that the country should be accepted as Schengen member. Borissov is also using this argument in the domestic political campaign ahead of the European elections. Over the past half-year, he has declared twice that there are no migrant flows across the country. The level is “zero”, claims the Prime Minister.

The first time he said this was when he was visiting Montenegro last September. At that time Borissov argued that every country on the EU’s external border should make similar efforts to deal with the migration wave: “Bulgaria has done it – building a facility [a border fence], a lot of equipment, video cameras, and we have zero migration, so we have showed that we can”.

Then on 22 February he delivered a speech at a forum in Sofia, organized by the German foundation “Konrad Adenauer”. The topic was the country’s ambition to be admitted to ERM II, the Eurozone waiting room, next July. In this context, Borissov again claimed that the country had achieved “zero migration”.

“This year we will finish with over BGN 120 billion GDP, with budget surplus, smuggling (of cigarettes) is below 5%, unemployment rate is below 5%. (We have) big fiscal reserve. (We have) Protection at the external borders. Zero migration”, the Prime Minister said, in his usual style needing some interpretation.

This website’s check of the Ministry of Interior’s registers shows that the Bulgarian Prime Minister does not tell the truth about the migration rate and the effectiveness of the border protection. Migration affecting Bulgaria is not “zero”. The data show worrying security deficits, although migratory pressure has indeed declined.

Throughout 2018, the Bulgarian authorities have arrested 2,851 illegal immigrants from outside the EU. Of them, 689 migrants were arrested at the external borders of Bulgaria. A majority of 2,161 migrants have been arrested after they had crossed the supposedly strictly guarded borders, or 75% of the total number. This shows security problems, although Bulgaria has spent nearly €100 million building a fence along the border with Turkey, and receives assistance from the EU’s Frontex Service.

In 2017 the migratory pressure on Bulgaria was roughly the same – 2,989 illegal migrants were arrested. Most of them – 2,246 – after they had already entered the country. Again, 75% of the total number.

In 2016, the so-called EU-Turkey statement was signed to keep migrants on Turkish territory, which indeed resulted in lowering the migratory pressure. At that time the situation was critical. In 2016, the arrested migrants in Bulgaria were 18,910, but again 75% were arrested after they had crossed the border. This shows that security in the past three years has not improved.

Migration readmission agreements are also broadly ineffective. With nearly 19,000 arrested migrants in 2016, Bulgaria has managed to bring back to their home countries the modest figure of 451 people, including only 112 people to Turkey, which receives billions of euros from the EU.

The return of migrants worked best in 2017 – out of the 2,989 people arrested,  1,903 were relocated to other countries, 150 of them being sent to Greece under the Dublin Regulation. In 2018, the Bulgarian authorities arrested 2,851 migrants, but only 894 of them were taken to other countries, including 61 under the Dublin regulation. This means that 75% of the migrants are theoretically left in the country.

Currently, the reduction of migratory pressure is noticeable at all external borders of the EU. According to the UN refugee agency 1,032 million migrants entered the EU through the Mediterranean in 2015. Three years later, the number of illegal migrants decreased more than seven times to 141,475.

From the official data, it can be concluded that the statements of the Bulgarian Prime Minister about “zero migration” are not true. The level is definitely not “zero” and Bulgaria has not made proof of better efficiency in guarding its borders. Simply, migration is declining across all EU external borders. Therefore, the Bulgarian Prime Minister does not have any special merits for the reduction of migratory pressure to the EU.

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