On 24 April 2020, European Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson sent a response to our letter from March 13, 2020, signed by nearly 20 Bulgarian NGOs and activists, regarding the situation of refugees trapped at the EU’s borders with Turkey. The letter called for the Bulgarian authorities and the European Commission to take steps ensuring that Bulgaria acts in solidarity and fulfills its obligations as a EU member to provide protection to refugees and access to asylum procedure – something for which it receives significant amounts of funds from the EU budget.
In her response, Commissioner Johansson agrees that the EU must uphold its duty and assist persons fleeing war and persecution and acknowledges that the right to access asylum procedures is enshrined in the EU Treaty and in international law. While pointing out that securing borders falls under national law and allegations of improper use of force must be investigated by the respective Member State’s authorities, she asserts that the Commission consistently advocates that any measures taken by border guards be proportionate to their objective and in respect of fundamental rights.
Bulgaria has so far received EUR 67.9 million from the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund and EUR 252.5 million from the Internal Security Fund, the letter states. On 4 March 2020, the EC also received two applications for emergency assistance from Bulgaria and was assessing them at the time of the writing of the response. Bulgaria was at that moment also in discussion with the Commission to relocate some of the up to 1 600 unaccompanied minors from the Greek Islands – something that the CLA and the cosigning organizations called for, and which has not been publicly announced by the Bulgarian government.
Finally, the Commissioner states that any temporary restriction on non-essential travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic should not apply to persons in need of international protection or that need to enter the EU for other humanitarian reasons. “All COVID-19 related measures should be based on risk assessments and scientific advice and must remain proportionate,” the letter says, and “any restrictions must take into account the principle of non-refoulement and obligations under international law.”