Migrant crisis

Afghan shot dead at Bulgaria border

A Greek coast guard diver pulling the body of a refugee child away from a sunken wooden boat near the Greek island of Lesbos on Thursday.
A Greek coast guard diver pulling the body of a refugee child away from a sunken wooden boat near the Greek island of Lesbos on Thursday.PHOTO: REUTERS

Incident comes as EU strikes deal with Turkey to stem refugee flow

SOFIA • Bulgarian border guards have shot dead an Afghan man trying to enter from Turkey, in a brutal new turn to the migrant crisis.

The death, believed to be the first of its kind in the crisis, forced Bulgaria's premier to fly home from a summit of European leaders in Brussels, where an agreement with Turkey to stem the flow of refugees was announced on Thursday.

Under the plan, Turkey agreed to tackle people-smugglers and take steps to keep more of the millions of refugees fleeing the Syrian conflict from crossing by sea to Europe.

In exchange, European leaders agreed to give Ankara more funds to deal with the problem and to speed up work to ease visa restrictions on Turkish citizens travelling to Europe.

European Council president Donald Tusk said the deal was a "major step forward", but added that "an agreement with Turkey makes sense only if it effectively contains the flow of refugees".

Turkey was the main departure point for the more than 600,000 migrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa who have entered Europe this year. Most made the short but dangerous sea crossing to the Greek islands, but some came by land.

Mr Tusk said Bulgarian premier Boyko Borisov told him about the Turkish border shooting just before leaving the summit. Mr Tusk said: "It shows how important our discussion was. Prime Minister Borisov is aware that we are ready to help."

Bulgaria - which has deployed 2,000 guards, police and troops along its porous border with Turkey - said the Afghan was shot in an "incident" as a large group of migrants tried to cross the frontier.

"One man suffered a gunshot wound in the incident, and died on the way to hospital," an interior ministry spokesman said.

Interior ministry chief of staff Georgi Kostov told public BNR radio that two border guards and a police officer intercepted a group of 50 Afghan migrants.

"They put up resistance during the arrest. One of the officers fired warning shots and, in his words, one of the migrants was wounded by a ricochet and later died," Dr Kostov said.

The crisis has already claimed the lives of more than 3,000 people this year. They drowned while crossing the Mediterranean to escape conflict and repression in the Middle East and elsewhere.

On Thursday, the authorities recovered the bodies of four children, including a baby, among those of seven migrants off the Greek island of Lesbos. Their wooden boat had collided with a Greek coast guard vessel on a rescue operation, a Greek shipping ministry official said.

The collision occurred as the boat, sailing from Turkey, approached the island's northern coast, the official said.

"It's not clear exactly what happened," the official said. "Somehow their boat hit the back of ours."

Photographs of a child being lifted from the water evoked the heartrending images of Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi, whose body washed up on the Turkish coast last month. That incident provoked global outrage and prompted the European authorities to respond to the escalating migrant crisis.

The 28-nation European Union has been left more divided than ever by the migration crisis, especially given fears that the passport-free Schengen zone could collapse as countries try to curb the huge numbers of migrants criss-crossing the continent.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban - who has already faced criticism for his hardline stance towards migrants - announced on Thursday that his country had completed construction of a fence along its southern border with Croatia to try to stem the massive daily influx.

Croatia said more than 4,800 people had entered on Wednesday, bringing the overall number of arrivals in the EU member state to nearly 175,000.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2015, with the headline 'Afghan shot dead at Bulgaria border'. Print Edition | Subscribe