Bulgaria needs EU aid to cope with Syrian refugees

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Bulgaria needs EU aid as its capacity to take in more refugees from Syria's civil war is nearing breaking point, the EU country's interior minister said Thursday.

"We are working to minimise the risks not only for Bulgaria but for the European Union also," Tsvetlin Yovchev told AFP in an interview, referring to the risks of the refugees slipping into other EU countries.

"Yet, Bulgaria's capacities are limited and we are nearing the point when we will no longer be able to manage these risks," he said.

"We are using all possible channels to inform our partners from the EU and other international organisations that Bulgaria is falling into a crisis situation and needs aid."

Over 4,000 illegal immigrants, about half of them Syrian, are currently seeking asylum in Bulgaria, the minister said, calling these numbers "a disproportionate burden" for a country that is already the poorest in the EU.

Bulgaria, which shares a border with non-EU Turkey, fears that another 6,000 to 10,000 new refugees, mostly from Syria, will knock at its door by the end of the year, Yovchev added.

Lack of previous experience and low preparedness to manage such large numbers have aggravated the situation, forcing the country to ask for technical aid from the EU's Frontex agency and the European Asylum Support Office.

Bulgaria's EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner, Kristalina Georgieva, and the UN Refugee Agency have also pledged to give a hand in terms of expertise.

Sofia hoped to get limited financial help from the bloc and had also notified the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies about its dire situation.

The country has also launched an appeal for other EU member states to host part of the refugees coming to its border as a way to reduce the pressure and allow itself to better manage the risks, which are common for the whole bloc, the minister said.

Among these risks, he said, were the possible entry into the EU of "people linked to terrorist and extremist organisations" as well as rises in criminal and illness rates.

The small Balkan country, which has so far remained outside the Schengen visa-free travel area, also hoped that its efforts to guard the EU from the refugee influx will change mindsets and convince its opponents to let it join Schengen, the minister said.

"We are guarding the border... neutralising the risks for Europe and carrying a burden that is too big for our capacities. It will be unjust to keep those who guard the gate outside the house. I hope that our partners realise that," Yovchev added.

More than two million people have fled Syria since the war broke out there in 2011, mostly to neighbouring Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq.