From 200 to 2000 euro a person: it is the price paid by Syrian refugees to Turkish traffickers in order to bring them all the way to the border with Bulgaria, the first European country that the victims of the war meet during their journey in search for a better future. From the beginning of the year 4thousand people have crossed the border, half of whom arrived after August 1st, and the figures tend to increase. Over the past 24 hours 86 Syrians asked for asylum in Bulgaria, 38 of them are children. “Most of them are families with children, they come from various parts of Syria: from Aleppo, Damascus, Homs”, Mariana Stoyanova, coordinator of the Red Cross “Refugees and Migrants” service in Bulgaria, told SIR. “The majority are Christians”, she pointed out. “It’s upsetting to see these convoys of children, pregnant women, old people, fleeing from war and insecurity”. Many people think that Bulgaria should just be a transit country in the journey towards friends and relatives in Western Europe. But in fact they stay in the Country of the roses for several months, due to the fact that European Conventions stipulate that they cannot proceed to other EU countries from Sofia. Living conditions. “Once they cross the border Syrians are brought to overcrowded reception centres”, said Caritas general secretary in Bulgaria, Emanuil Patashev. In fact, 2500 people are sheltered in a structure with a capacity of 1900 people. Boris Ceresharov, officer at the High Commissioner of the United Nations drew an even more worrying picture: “14 people live in rooms designed for only 6. They sleep on mattresses on the floor. The director of the centre said that if people keep arriving he will have to let them sleep in the corridors. Also the bathrooms are in common”. For this reason on September 18 another centre in Sofia was opened where 300 people will be transferred and by the end of the week another centre will be set up for 500 people. Need for food and medicine. Medicines and food are lacking in the reception centres. After the food parcel Syrians receive some 35 euros a month to provide for their needs until they obtain a refugee status. “During that period they don’t have a right to work”, Patashev said whilst preparing food parcels and personal care items “to help these people who have experienced so much suffering”. The Red Cross plans to set up soup kitchens inside the reception centres. “We can’t afford larger sums at public level – said vice minister Vasil Marinov – or tensions risk sparking off across society”. The minimum pension in Bulgaria amounts to 70 euros and the refugees’ poverty is added to that of the inhabitants of the towns near the border with Turkey”. Reservation and solidarity. In August fear started to spread. It was rumoured that terrorists could have infiltrated among the refugees. And people also feared the spread of diseases… “The State could have done more to explain that these people were escaping emergency situations and that Bulgarians had nothing to fear”, pointed out Patashev, who underlined the difficulties linked to reception, which however are not a priority. Despite some reservations, a large number of Bulgarians wish to help the refugees. Clothing and shoes are being collected via the Facebook group “Syrians’ friends”. A Bishop from the Orthodox Church, Sionij da Vidin, joined the solidarity initiative by providing hospitality to Syrian refugees in two monasteries. The Mother of the Eucharist nuns of the Catholic Exarchate in Sofia provide free healthcare services in the “John Paul II centre”. Syrians are also helped by the members of the permanent Syrian community in Bulgaria set up many years ago. “We cannot ask ourselves whether we should receive them – Patashev said – since our duty as men and as Christians is to help them”. The major question is ensuring they are fully integrated within society once they obtain a residence permit. The Refugees Agency has been organising courses to teach Bulgarian language but the programs are for 60 people while in a few months there will be as many as 2500 candidates.
Families in need of help enter Turkey every day