Bulgaria tightens border controls due to Schengen obligations

Since the beginning of 2024, the Bulgarian Customs Agency has been conducting enhanced checks at all customs and border points, as well as throughout the country, of goods and cargo traveling from and to Austria.

The agency announced this on January 7, according to the Sofia Globe.

According to the agency, Bulgaria and Romania carry out the checks to fulfill their commitments to strengthening control at the land borders, as stated in the signed annex to the decision to join the Schengen area.

From March 31, 2024, Bulgaria will include its air and sea ports in the Schengen area, while the inclusion of Bulgaria’s land borders is still under discussion.

On January 7, the Bulgarian Chamber of Road Hauliers complained about long lines of trucks forming at border crossings, especially at the Danube Bridge 2.

In the first six days of the year, the Customs Agency carried out over 7,200 inspections on various types of vehicles, including those in transit through Bulgaria.

The report stated that customs control employs all methods, including physical inspection, scanning with X-ray systems, and document verification.

Inspectors check both the transported goods and the cabs of trucks, cars, light trucks, and buses.

During the first six days of the year, customs and excise law violations included the discovery of about 120,000 cigarettes, 5.5 kg of tobacco, more than 340 liters of alcohol, 800 liters of motor oils, 1,500 kg of laundry detergent, 5,429 power tools, 10,500 children’s toys, and 110 perfumes.

Bulgarian authorities found all of these goods during attempts to import them into Bulgaria or transport them in transit to Western Europe.

During a joint inspection near the Vidin ferry crossing, the Border Police discovered six Syrian nationals who were traveling in a minibus with Bulgarian registration, hidden in a specially equipped cache. Preliminary data indicated that the minibus was transporting them in the direction of Austria, according to the agency’s report.

The Interior Ministry and other relevant authorities are jointly conducting enhanced checks of the country’s road network.

“Border checks will continue at all border crossings until our country joins the Schengen area, after which control will remain only on the EU’s external borders with Turkey and Serbia,” the Customs Agency said.

In December 2022, EU interior ministers failed to approve the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the Schengen area but agreed to Croatia’s accession.

Austria and the Netherlands voted against the accession of Romania and Bulgaria, citing the fact that these countries are not doing enough to curb illegal migration.

The Schengen states sealed a consensus on the “partial” accession of both countries in late December, 2023.

On December 30, the European Commission praised the unanimous decision by the European Council to welcome Romania and Bulgaria into the Schengen area, starting with lifting controls at air and sea borders as of March 2024.

“The accession will boost travel, trade, and tourism and will further consolidate the internal market. Discussions on a further decision to lift controls at land borders will continue in 2024. An enlarged Schengen area will make the EU stronger as a union, both internally and on the global stage”, the statement said.

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