Van carrying Syrians rams into police car in Bulgaria

SOFIA (AFP): A van smuggling 12 Syrian migrants crashed into a police car near the Bulgarian capital on Tuesday after the driver fled a police checkpoint, injuring an officer and some passengers.

The EU member has seen a sharp increase in the number of migrants trying to cross its border to move farther north to the Schengen visa-free zone in western Europe.

The driver of the minibus refused to stop at a checkpoint south of Sofia and sped away. He then crashed into a police car dispatched to stop it.

A 51-year-old policeman and a 20-year-old Syrian suffered head injuries, doctors at the Saint Anne’s Hospital in Sofia said.

Three other passengers were hospitalized with minor injuries, while the driver — a Bulgarian with a prior police record who drove without a license — was also injured.

Interior ministry secretary general Petar Todorov said he would resign, demanding tougher punishments for people smugglers, many of who currently get away with mere fines.

Two officers were killed in August when a bus smuggling people rammed into their police car near the Black Sea city of Burgas when they were trying to stop it.

A Bulgarian policeman was also shot dead earlier this month while patrolling the country’s border with Turkiye.

Bulgaria, a member of the European Union but not in the Schengen zone, shares a 269-kilometer-long (167-mile-) land border with Turkiye.

Since January, Bulgaria has arrested 14,427 people for sneaking into the country, compared with a total of 8,254 last year, according to the government.