Less than two decades after the painstaking removal of a massive border fence designed to keep people in, Bulgarian authorities are just as painstakingly building a new fence along the rugged Turkish border, this time to keep people out…specifically Muslims.
NY Times Faced with a surge of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa — and the risk that they include jihadis intent on terrorist attacks — Europe is bolstering its defenses on many fronts, including this formerly Communist country, which little more than a quarter-century ago was more concerned with stanching the outbound flow of its own citizens to freedom.
For the past 16 months, Bulgaria has been carrying out a plan that would sound familiar to anyone along the United States-Mexico frontier: more border officers, new surveillance equipment and the first 20-mile section of its border fence, which was finished in September.
The hardening of the Bulgaria-Turkey border is one very visible manifestation of the agitation across the continent about the economic, social and political ramifications of the surge in immigration.
With warmer weather fast approaching and more refugees likely to be on the move, nations along Europe’s southern tier are beefing up border staffing, adding sensors and other technical barriers, expanding refugee facilities, and building walls.
More than 200,000 refugees are known to have penetrated Europe’s land and sea borders last year, not including those who were able to sneak through undetected.
Anti-immigrant sentiment is increasing in Britain, France, Hungary, the Czech Republic and elsewhere across the continent. Parties espousing ethnic nationalism are seeing their support rise, some to the point where they threaten the dominance of more traditional parties.
“The rise of the right wing in Europe is a reaction to this refugee flow,” said Boris B. Cheshirkov, chief spokesman in Bulgaria for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
And with much of Europe still struggling to recover from the 2008 financial crisis, the higher costs of caring for this flood of refugees — especially in countries like Bulgaria, the poorest member of the European Union — are straining national budgets.
At the same time, episodes like the January attack on the Paris offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo are raising worries that both homegrown jihadists and foreign fighters will cloak themselves in this refugee flood.
Slavcho Velkov, a Bulgarian security expert and university lecturer, said he believed there was more jihadist movement through Bulgaria than the authorities acknowledged.
“In 2012, heightened security was implemented along the Greek border with Turkey, including the building of a fence,” said Gil Arias Fernández, deputy executive director of Frontex, the agency that coordinates border protection throughout the European Union. “The result was that flow changed towards the Bulgarian border.”
It was this deluge that caused Bulgaria to institute its own “containment plan” in November 2013, including the continuing construction of the border fence, which will eventually stretch 100 miles. The impact was dramatic. The number of known illegal crossings fell to about 4,000 in 2014 from 11,000 the previous year.
More than 170,000 Muslim invaders — most of them from the Middle East, Africa and Afghanistan — entered Europe on the sea route to southern Italy in 2014. In the first two months of this year, the number was up 42 percent over the same period last year.