Mon, 06 Apr 2020

Bulgaria says it is tightening security along its border with Turkey to prevent an inflow of illegal migrants amid reports that Ankara may be relaxing its border controls to allow Syrian refugees to enter the European Union.

'Forces have already been deployed at the border and measures to protect the maritime border have been intensified,' Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said on February 28 during a government meeting.

Amid an escalation of the Syrian conflict, Turkish media reported that hundreds of migrants were flocking to Turkey's borders with Greece and Bulgaria after a senior official was quoted as saying Ankara had decided 'not to stop Syrian refugees from reaching Europe.'

Police, coast-guard, and border-security officials were ordered to stand down on refugees' land and sea crossings toward Europe, the unidentified Turkish official told Reuters.

Bulgarian Defense Minister Krasimir Karakachanov said Sofia was ready to deploy up to 1,000 troops and 140 pieces of military equipment to the border with Turkey to prevent illegal migrant inflows.

Border police had prevented two groups of about 30 people from entering the country from Turkey, according to his ministry.

Borisov said he was arranging a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discuss the matter.

Under a 2016 agreement with the EU, Turkey restricted migration flows from Syria and other countries to Europe.

The deal involved an EU pledge to provide 6 billion euros ($6.6 billion) in aid to Ankara to house Syrian refugees.

The EU expects Turkey to 'uphold' its side of the deal following the 'dangerous' military escalation in Syria, a European Commission spokesman said.

The spokesman, Peter Stano, said Turkish officials had not formally notified Brussels of any change to that pact.

The development comes as Turkey said at least 33 of its soldiers had died in a Syrian government attack in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in the country.

Turkey, which backs Syrian rebels, said it hit 200 government targets in response, 'neutralizing' 309 soldiers.

Russia, Syria's key military ally, said Turkish troops were attacked by Syrian forces while operating alongside militant fighters -- an allegation rejected by Ankara.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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