Britain will give dozens of military vehicles to Bulgaria to help stop illegal migrants entering from Turkey. On hearing the news, the Liberal Democrat leader said Bulgarian border patrols were “unlawful attacks on refugees” and the aid should be withdrawn.
Last week, defence secretary Michael Fallon authorised the handing over of 40 Land Rovers to be used to capture and return economic migrants to Turkey and Serbia as they enter Bulgaria – a non-Schengen member state of the European Union (EU).
The “Defender Tithonus Land Rovers totalling £443,000 including transportation by the civilian contractor” are “vitally needed and will provide immediate benefits”, the minister wrote in a statement.
It is expected that the classic British off-road vehicles will primarily help patrol Bulgaria’s 230-kilometre border with Turkey, along 70 kilometres of which a 15 foot tall, 5 foot wide razor wire fence has been erected.
Bulgaria’s unapologetic president said that his border guards have been detaining “illegal immigrants and their smugglers” every day during a major military drill last week, held in preparation for a sudden migrant wave.
Because of this approach, comparatively few migrants have made it through the nation towards northern Europe, despite offering a relatively short land route from Turkey. Fewer than 30,000 of the million plus who made it to Europe last year entered via Bulgaria.
In December 2015, British Prime Minister met with his Bulgarian counterpart, Todor Zhivkov, and posed for photos by the massive fence with him. Mr. Cameron praised Bulgarian forces for doing “vital work” for Britain in stemming the migrant flow.
David Cameron tours the border fence near the town of Lesovo with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov pic.twitter.com/1mGzpWaldr
— REX (@rexfeatures) December 4, 2015
However, a joint report by British charity Oxfam and the Belgrade Center for Human Rights, published in October 2015, claimed that the Bulgarian police were guilty of violence and extortion in their migrant crack down.
Tim Farron, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, called for the government to withdraw the aid offer immediately. He told the Guardian:
“It is deeply concerning that we are providing British military equipment to facilitate the Bulgarian state’s unlawful attacks on refugees.
“Creating safe and legal routes that prevent people from making journeys on land across Europe does not equate to endorsing violent attacks on or robbery of refugees.
Adding: “The prime minister should think long and hard about his growing reputation as a man who will push all human rights aside in the pursuit of his political agenda.”
The Bulgarian Deputy Interior Minister, Philip Gounev, has attacked the claims made in the Oxfam report, suggesting their methodology is flawed and arguing that moderate force is necessary to deter illegal economic migrants.
“The use of force to subdue a large group of migrants who disobey police orders, yes that takes place,” Mr. Gounev told Politico. “On a monthly basis we identify individuals who are related to either terrorist organisations or radical movements or sympathise with them, foreign fighters and so forth”, he explained.
“The majority of them are basically economic migrants, not refugees,” Mr. Gounev maintains. “[The Yazidis] are internally displaced to safe areas of Iraq and they are looking for economic opportunities in Europe.”