Migrants claim abuse by Bulgarian police

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Forty-four illegal immigrants who were apprehended by Turkish troops near the border, claimed they were beaten by Bulgarian police and sent back to Turkey, the İhlas News Agency reported. Migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Iran were discovered by gendarme troops guarding the border between Turkey and Bulgaria in the Kofçaz district of the Turkish province of Kırklareli on Friday. They told Turkish officials that they crossed into Bulgaria three days ago but were captured by Bulgarian police. They claimed Bulgarian police officers beat them and stole their money and valuable possessions before sending them back to the Turkish side of the border.

In the past, illegal immigrants heading to Europe via Turkey claimed Greece engaged in illegal "pushback" practices and forcibly sent them back to Turkey after beating them. Last year, dozens of migrants who entered the country with the hope of seeking asylum were found bruised and beaten near the Turkish border and claimed they were illegally deported back to Turkey. "Pushback" is an illegal practice under international conventions, and Greece never acknowledged whether its security forces were involved in pushing back migrants. Turkish media outlets say Greece "pushed back" some 4,000 illegal immigrants last year. Based on the accounts of the illegally deported migrants, Greek police officers are accused of confiscating valuable possessions of migrants and torturing migrants.

Turkey and the European Union signed a deal in 2016 to curb illegal immigration through the dangerous Aegean Sea route from Turkey to Greece. Under the deal, Greece sends migrants held in the Aegean islands they crossed from nearby Turkish shores and in return, EU countries receive a number of Syrian migrants legally. The deal, reinforced with an escalated crackdown on human smugglers and more patrols in the Aegean, significantly decreased the number of illegal crossings.

However, some desperate migrants still take the better-policed land border between Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria, especially in winter months when a safe journey through the Aegean is nearly impossible aboard dinghies. Also on Friday, the Bulgarian parliament voted to bar the government from signing bilateral agreements with other European Union countries on readmission of migrants from those countries. The national assembly took the step after Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov asked parliamentary groups to adopt a joint decision on curbing migration.

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