UK seeks Bulgaria’s help to tackle small boats, illegal immigration

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Britain is seeking a new partnership with Bulgaria in a bid to halt illegal immigration as over a million Syrian and Afghan refugees are expected to head to western Europe from Turkiye.

The Times reported on Thursday that British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is set to announce a security partnership with Bulgaria to boost intelligence sharing between the National Crime Agency and Bulgarian police.

The aim is to combat organized crime groups that smuggle migrants and equipment used to manufacture dinghies, mainly in Turkiye.

Sunak’s main goal is tackling the small boats crisis by urging fellow European leaders to treat illegal migration as a top priority.

After this year’s earthquake in February and the resumption of deportations to Afghanistan, over a million refugees of both countries who are currently based in Turkiye are expected to head to western Europe and Britain.

Illegal immigrants travel in dinghies being manufactured in Turkiye, which the UK Border Force says has become a hub for people smugglers ferrying migrants across the English Channel.

While no official cooperation deal is expected soon, the NCA has been commissioned to build “closer links” with Turkish authorities to target smuggling gangs.

Bulgaria has become a major entry point to the EU for gangs bringing in boats’ equipment from Turkiye and for migrants following a crackdown on Aegean Sea crossings into Greece.

The arrangement helps Bulgaria to “destroy the business model” of the criminals, according to Downing Street.

Bulgaria has stopped 11,000 illegal entries across its border with Turkiye since January, a 40 percent increase compared with the same period in 2022.

Sunak said illegal migration posed an “unprecedented” threat to Europe’s borders.

“Europe is facing unprecedented threats at our borders, from (Russian President) Putin’s utter contempt of other countries’ sovereignty to the rise in organized immigration crime. We cannot address these problems without Europe’s governments and institutions working closely together,” he was quoted as saying.

The Home Office said: “Migration is driven by a number of factors, and we will continue to work with international partners to overcome them. We have a close partnership with Turkiye when it comes to the shared problem of illegal migration.”

Meanwhile, the NCA said: “Tackling people smuggling is a top priority, and we work closely with international partners to disrupt the supply of vessels.”

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