Bulgaria to use army to help guard border in migrant crisis
People cross the border zone at Promachonas border crossing between Greece and Bulgaria, Greece February 17, 2016. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
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SOFIA: Bulgaria’s parliament voted on Thursday to let its army assist police in guarding the Balkan country’s borders to avoid a refugee influx that has overwhelmed some of its neighbors.

Over 30,000 migrants entered Bulgaria, which is outside the European Union’s passport-free Schengen travel, last year, nearly three times more than in 2014. But very few stay in the European Union’s poorest state, preferring to journey onwards to wealthier western EU countries like Germany and Sweden.

But Sofia’s move coincided with tightening border controls along the main migration corridor from Greece northward through Macedonia and Serbia, raising concern increasing numbers of migrants may try alternate routes through Bulgaria.

A bill on amendments and supplements to Bulgaria’s Defense and Armed Forces Act was passed unanimously at first reading, with lawmakers authorizing troops to help handle any migrant wave in “extraordinary and crisis circumstances”. Final approval at second reading is anticipated next week.

“We have full readiness for the army taking part in border protection; migration pressure increases as the weather gets warmer,” Defense Minister Nikolay Nenchev said.

The EU is struggling to handle the biggest influx of refugees since World War Two, with more than 1.1 million entering the 28-member bloc in 2015 alone – mainly from Middle East and African countries plagued by war and deprivation.

Last month, Bulgaria’s government approved additional funding of up to 34.1 million levs ($19.42 million) for further construction of sections of a barbed wire fence along its border with Turkey, from which most migrants make their way to Europe.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has already said that a fence should be erected along the Macedonian and Bulgarian borders with Greece to curb the migrant influx into Europe.

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