Ursula von der Leyen: ‘The most pressing issue right now are at the land border between Bulgaria and Turkey’ (Photo: European Union 2023 – Source : EP)
The European Commission wants to shore up the land border between Bulgaria and Turkey with drones.
“We can strengthen the border with management capabilities,” European Commission president Von der Leyen told MEPs on Wednesday (1 February).
“We can also provide infrastructure and equipment like drones and radar and other means of surveillance,” she said.
The statement comes after Austria’s chancellor said he would lobby the European Union for €2bn in funding for Bulgaria to fortify its border with Turkey.
The shared border already has a 270km metal fence, used to curtail asylum seekers, migrants and refugees from entering. Pressure is also mounting for the European Commission to finance such fences, a move that has so far been considered anathema.
But the mood may be shifting. When pressed on the issue last week, EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, stressed budgetary constraints.
The level of violence along the Bulgaria and Turkey border also appears to have intensified, according to the EU’s border agency, Frontex. The agency’s deputy director Uku Särekanno said shootings are happening on an almost weekly basis.
“Violence is something very phenomenal and sadly, an experience that we witnessed over the last year and also in the first month of this year,” he said, earlier this week.
Last year, a Bulgarian border guard was shot dead while patrolling the Turkish border for migrants. But European border guards have also been filmed shooting at a Syrian refugee on the same border, according to Amsterdam-based LightHouse Reports, an investigative media outlet.
Years of abuse against asylum seekers and refugees along the same border have also been documented by NGOs, amid evidence of illegal pushbacks.
The EU and member state move towards greater police powers and equipment to counter migration comes at time when the numbers of people applying for asylum continues to increase.
Some 330,000 attempts were made to enter the EU last year, while over 900,000 applied for asylum. Another 25,000 died or have gone missing while crossing the Mediterranean Sea since 2014.
Von der Leyen also referenced the Central Mediterranean Sea, where the Libyan Coast Guard, co-financed by the European Union, has so far intercepted and returned over 1,400 people this year alone.
Italy’s government, under its far-right leadership Giorgia Meloni, recently signed a $8bn [€7.3bn] gas deal with Libya and declared that Rome will provide the Libyan Coast Guard with five “fully equipped boats”.
The Meloni government is also forcing charity rescue vessels like Ocean Viking to disembark people rescued at sea at ports that can takes days to reach.
The shift towards shoring up the EU’s external borders and cracking down on migrants is years in the making. But solutions to untangle and reform the patchwork of internal EU asylums laws remains tricky, as are calls for a solidarity policy..
A French EU presidency initiative last summer to relocate 10,000 asylum seekers from so-called front line states like Italy and Greece, has so far failed to deliver.
Only 400 have been relocated, a figure that stands in sharp contrast to the millions of Ukrainian refugees that been granted refugee status since Russia’s invasion last February. Sweden, which has taken the helm of the EU presidency, has also refused to make any pledges under the scheme.
The statements made by Von der Leyen on Wednesday will feed into an EU summit on 9 February, where migration will be discussed among EU leaders and heads of state.
Draft conclusions, leaked by the London-based civil society defenders Statewatch, suggests that the EU is ready to leverage all its means to kick out unwanted migrants and rejected asylum seekers.