Bulgarians Rally against Plans to Open New Refugee Shelter
About 200 people have blockaded Sunday the Shipka Pass in the Stara Planina Range in central Bulgaria in protest against opening a new refugee shelter in the town of Kazanlak.
The rally comes on the heels of news that the Bulgarian government plans to transform the unused building the police school into a refugee camp.
Last evening, an initiative committee was formed in the town with the participation of heads of large local enterprises, representatives of business, politicians from the municipality, NGOs and youth organizations to support the declaration of the local government, opposing the opening of the shelter.
The committee has decided to start a petition for a local referendum on the preservation of the school building as is and against making it a refugee camp. The second decision was to stage protest rallies and blockades of the Shipka Pass Sunday and Monday until the end of the emergency sitting of the central government.
Locals say they have nothing against the refugees and understand their plight, but stress the shelter will be detrimental to the beautiful nearby town park and will threaten national security as Arsenal Kazanlak, one of the largest military plants and weapons producers in Bulgaria, is located in the town.
Bulgaria has the capacity to accommodate about 5 000, while over 6 500 refugees have arrived in the country since the beginning of 2013, with local authorities expecting the number to exceed 11 000 by the end of the year.
The total capacity of 3 740 in the shelters under the authority of the Interior Ministry and the State Agency for Refugees has been exceeded by 207 beds. The Agency is working on easing the red tape and shortening the procedure to grant asylum status of foreigners in Bulgaria.
Security at border has been upped by border police from other parts of the country. Additional staff to process documents has been sent as well. The country is also considering building a wire fence on the Turkish border.
Bulgaria is the gateway to the European Union for refugees fleeing Syria via Turkey, many crossing the border illegally to seek asylum.
The country has asked and will receive EU aid in order to deal with the ongoing refugee influx.
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