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Bulgaria Prepares for Surging Migrant Wave amid Turkey-Syria Hostilities

 Bulgaria has sent gendarmerie to its border with Turkey and strengthened its maritime security after reports of a surge of migrants fleeing military hostilities in Syria, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said Friday. "A real threat exists for Bulgaria of surging migrant flows due to the conflict between Syria and Turkey," he said.

Later in the day he had a phone call with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. "It was clarified during the phone call that at the moment there is no direct threat for Bulgaria," the government press office said as it made public details of the conversation.

Borissov is quoted as telling Erdogan that in this situation neither Turkey nor any other country should be left to deal with the situation on its own and support should be provided.

Borissov and Erdogan agreed to meet on Monday.

Turkish news outlets report that hundreds of refugees are headed to Turkey's border with Bulgaria and Greece via Northwestern Turkey. Reuters quoted a senior Turkish official as saying that his country, faced with a possible new wave of Syrian migrants and dozens more dead Turkish soldiers in Idlib, will no longer stop Syrian refugees from reaching Europe.

"We are worried that the Turkish border guards have pulled away from the border and our only hope is that they will be stopping the migrants before they reach the border," Prime Minister Borissov commented earlier on Friday.

Bulgarian Defence Minister Krassimir Karakachanov said, as quoted by his Ministry, that the Armed Forces will provide any support necessary and take the needed measures to protect the national border "by not letting a single illegal migrant into Bulgarian territory".

The Ministry said it is ready to join the border protection efforts with up to 1,000 service persons and 140 units of equipment.

Its statement says that on Friday morning border police prevented the entry into Bulgaria of two groups of migrants of 30 persons each.

In Brussels, the European Commission (EC) said Bulgaria is welcome to request additional help in border protection, and it will likely come in the form of funding or more Frontex support.

A EC spokesperson said that some 70 Frontex officers are already on the ground in Bulgaria and that this country has received since 2015 over 300 million euro from the European funds for migration and border protection.

He said that the EC is aware of the reports of migrants moving towards the EU from Turkey but needs to independently verify these reports.

He underscored that the EU-Turkey deal on migration still stands and Brussels expects Turkey to continue honouring its commitments. The EU, for its part, will continue to provide vital aid for the refugees in Turkey. How exactly it will do that will be clear after the talks on the 2020-2027 budget are finalized, he said.

He also said that the Turkish side has not officially announced a change to its policy on refugees.


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