Mariya Gabriel: Migration is often the subject of purposeful disinformation

In 2018, the number of people caught trying to illegally cross EU borders fell by 5% compared with 2017

Commissioner Mariya Gabriel during a round-table discussion at the Bulgarian National Assembly dedicated to the management of migration processes in an election year for the European Parliament. In 2018, about 15,000 newly-arrived migrants were caught at the EU's external borders, which is a decrease of 25% compared to the previous year.

Commissioner Gabriel pointed that this is the lowest level since 2013 and over 90% below that of the record-setting 2015. She believes that the best way to handle migration is to tackle its root causes. This is why the European Commission (EC) is making efforts to strengthen its relations with third countries such as Libya or the members of the African Union. In 2017, about 40,000 migrants were repatriated.

Thanks to the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, the bloc has helped over 5.3 million people in a vulnerable position, while more than 600,000 were supported in their re-integration into their own country. As of now, Spain is the Member State seeing the largest influx of migrants, while Morocco is the main starting point for illegal migrants. The EC has earmarked a three times bigger budget for its migration policy in the next programming period - from €13bn to €34.9bn.

Earlier, the leader of the parliamentary group of the ruling party GERB, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, made it clear that he expects the topic of migration to be exploited in election campaigns despite the reduced pressure at the borders. He anticipates that populist movements will use it to earn short-term political dividends. Tsvetanov says that over the last two years there was practically no migrant pressure at the border with Turkey. Yet, he noted that there are about 200,000 Afghanis in the neighbouring country, who came from Iraq and can plausibly head for the EU. Some 181 pre-trial proceedings stemming from human trafficking and smuggling were launched last year, which has led to convictions for 133 people.

For his part, Vice-Minister of Interior Krasimir Tsipov assured that Bulgaria is in complete control of the migration issue and that the situation is quiet. In 2018, some 2,851 citizens of third countries were captured at the borders and in the country, which is a decrease by 5% compared with 2017.

The number of illegal migrants caught trying to cross the borders into Bulgaria is down 7% - from 743 to 689 - and includes mainly Afghanis, Iraqis and Syrians. For the first time since the beginning of the migration crisis, the number of people detained at the border with Greece is almost equal to that at the frontier with Turkey. Authorities stopped 293 people from entering Bulgaria from Greece and more than 346 illegal migrants at the Turkish border.

The number of individuals caught while trying to illegally leave the country has also dropped. It was 634 last year, which is a decrease of 74% compared to the previous year, when it was a little over 2,400. Furthermore, in 2018 Bulgaria repatriated 885 illegal migrants, 332 of them forcibly. Some 53 were returned to other EU countries.

Prior to the conference in Sofia, Tsvetan Tsvetanov met with the head of the International Centre for Migration Policy Development Michael Spindelegger, who was also among the guests of the forum. Tsvetanov told him that Bulgaria is doing a great job of protecting the external border of the EU. The lawmaker says that there is no migrant pressure at the moment, as it was reduced to zero thanks to the excellent work of PM Boyko Borissov's cabinet.

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