SOFIA: Bulgaria sacked the head of its refugee agency for mismanagement Wednesday, as the EU’s poorest country continued to struggle with an ever-growing number of refugees fleeing Syria’s civil war.
“Nikola Kazakov was dismissed for inadequate organization of the process for granting refugee status, which created conditions for overcrowding at the accommodation facilities,” Interior Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev said.
He also criticized Kazakov’s poor management of the facilities themselves and inadequate cooperation with European refugee aid institutions.
The human rights group Bulgarian Helsinki Committee had criticized the national refugee agency’s inability to cope with the growing number of immigrants Tuesday.
The agency has received European aid over the past several years to improve its preparedness and capacity to receive refugees, without any proportionate increase in the productivity, the committee said.
To date, 5,815 illegal immigrants – mostly Syrian – have been intercepted at Bulgaria’s borders this year, seven times more than during the same period in 2012, Yovchev said.
In September alone, 2,377 migrants were detained, he added.
Bulgaria has seen an influx of Syrian refugees struggling with overcrowding in neighboring Turkey, itself the first port of call for many fleeing Syria.
Most have sought refugee status in Bulgaria but lengthy procedures kept them inside three crammed refugee centers and two detention facilities used to shelter immigrants.
“ Bulgaria is confronted with one of its worst modern-day humanitarian crises,” Bulgarian Red Cross chief Hristo Grigorov said Monday.
Separately, a family of four Syrian refugees has arrived in Austria, the first of 500 that the country will take.
Interior Ministry spokesman Karl-Heinz Grundboeck said the family arrived Tuesday evening. He said plans were to bring the rest of the contingent to Austria “as quickly as possible,” but could not give a precise date for when the last refugee will enter the country.
The family is Christian. Charity organizations criticized the state’s selection, saying Christians were given preference. Grundboeck said members of the most threatened groups were chosen – children and minorities, including religious minorities.
The family’s arrival came as 17 countries including the United States, France and Australia agreed to receive quotas of refugees fleeing Syria.
“So far, UNHCR has 17 countries participating in the Syria resettlement/Humanitarian Admission Program effort,” Peter Kessler, regional spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, told AFP. “They are offering about 10,000 places [in total], with some programs mainly aimed at the 2014 calendar year,” he added.
The decision comes amid criticism of some Western nations for failing to share the burden created by the exodus of at least 2 million Syrians.
Under the agreement, the UNHCR will assess refugees for relocation to the 17 host countries, giving priority to the most vulnerable, Kessler said.
“Vulnerability is based on various issues,” he said, and includes people with disabilities, single-headed households and victims of sexual or other forms of abuse.