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Where reform meets reality

Last week, the EU agreed on stricter asylum rules – especially with regard to the EU's external borders. Now Interior Minister Faeser was on site at the Turkish-Bulgarian border and saw it for herself.

Jan-Peter Bartels, HR

The fence is around three meters high, with barbed wire on top, cameras pointing towards Türkiye. Europe's border here, between Bulgaria and Turkey, looks unwelcoming. Video and thermal imaging are used to see whether migrants are approaching the border in order to then inform a patrol, explains Lars Gerdes, Deputy Executive Director of Frontex: “It's often the case that people don't even enter the national territory when they see one “We see patrols, but disappear again on the Turkish side.”

Gerdes is standing on the dusty dirt road in front of the fence with the German Interior Minister. Nancy Faeser wants to know how work works here on site, she wants to understand the border better. The Bulgarian border guards also explain that it's about being quick. So that people don't even get to the fence, throw blankets over the barbed wire and climb over with ladders, or dig a hole to crawl under.

Fast track procedure at the EU’s external borders

During Faeser's visit, it had been five days since the European Parliament voted for stricter EU asylum rules. They fought for it for a long time, and Faeser also supported it. Now people with poor chances of asylum should go through a fast-track procedure, under prison-like conditions in strictly controlled camps at the EU's external borders – like here in Bulgaria.

That's why Faeser is now on site; it's clear to her: “Open internal borders can only exist with strong protection of the EU's external borders.” The new asylum system will overcome a deep division in Europe. According to Faeser, the system should not only control migration, but also protect humanitarian standards for refugees at the same time.

Numbers have so far fallen significantly

The Bulgarian Interior Minister Kalin Stoyanov is also present at the Kapitan Andreevo border crossing. “The numbers speak for us,” he says. “Illegal migration has declined significantly.” So far this year there have been 7,000 attempts to cross the border illegally. In the same period last year there were 27,000.

However, human rights organizations accuse the Bulgarian border guards of sometimes illegally turning back refugees and dealing with them in a very robust manner. Bulgaria's Interior Minister rejects this: “When such cases occur, they are only isolated cases and will be investigated immediately. Our goal is to completely eliminate such phenomena and to punish the officials who are guilty of such things. ”

According to Faeser, Bulgaria has a great responsibility in the new European asylum system, after all, the Bulgarian-Turkish border is one of the most frequently visited. The new system should be implemented in two years at the latest, although Faeser is hoping for a tighter schedule. At the end of the month, the EU states will discuss the concrete implementation in Ghent; a pilot project is already being planned: “This will have an impact much more quickly,” said the minister.

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