Details are emerging of EU-funded pilot projects in Bulgaria and Romania to fast-track asylum and fund border technologies.
“The results are excellent,” Ylva Johansson, EU’s commissioner for home affairs, told reporters on Thursday (19 October).
She said people not entitled to asylum are being prevented from entering, while others are sent home in what she described as a “very good result.”
The pilots were launched in March, with almost €11m given to Romania and another €45m to Bulgaria.
They are part of a wider bid to convince holdouts like Austria and the Netherlands to allow Bulgaria and Romania to join the visa-free travel Schengen zone, possibly in December, likely at the expense of people trying to seek asylum in the south-east Europe member states.
Sofia has lobbied hard to convince Austria not to block its accession, against a background of migrants transiting through the western Balkans in the hopes of reaching Germany.
But damning reports of rampant corruption among Bulgaria’s border police and their links to criminal gangs has only cast a further shadow over Sofia’s Schengen aspirations.
But Johansson remains hopeful, citing the pilot projects, new legislation in both countries, as well as Bulgaria’s increased cooperation with Turkey.
However, accusations and reports by human rights groups in Romania and Bulgaria of illegal pushbacks continue to mount.
The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee says over 5,000 pushbacks, affecting around 87,000 people, occurred at the Bulgarian-Turkish border last year — almost double the number in 2021.
And Border Violence Network (BVN), an NGO, says the level of violence and pushbacks reported this past August in Bulgaria has risen.
It has also in the past accused Romanian authorities of continuous pushbacks and collective expulsions.
Earlier efforts by this website to obtain a detail breakdown of the EU millions used to fund the two pilots were refused by the commission, following a freedom of information request.
But the European Commission has since published so-called progress reports into the pilots.
The reports offer a more detailed glimpse into how public money is being used to curtail migration.
It includes a heavy investment in technologies, underground motion detection systems, thermal imaging technologies, integrated surveillance systems, and other non-defined specialised border equipment.
The companies behind those systems, as well as specific detailed information of the technologies, remain unclear.
Technology aside, the European Commission says the Romanian pilot also included almost 450 joint-patrols with Serbian counterparts.
And in Bulgaria, the pilot helped expedite asylum decisions at Pastrogor, a remote transit centre along the border with Turkey.
Out of over 2000 asylum applications registered at Pastrogor between March and September, almost 1,500 were rejected under an accelerated procedure, it said.
It also drew up a list of foreign states it considers safe, as part of a plan with the EU’s border agency Frontex, to ease the returns of people.
Bulgaria has had 234km long border fence with Turkey since 2017, equipped with thermal imaging cameras.