Bulgaria faces mounting accusations that it is abusing people trying to cross its border with Turkey, with asylum seekers saying they have been pushed back, locked up, stripped and beaten. The EU member serves as a gateway into the bloc and is trying to tighten the border to stop a rising number of people seeking to cross, which has reached levels unseen since 2015. “Since the beginning of last year we have been seeing very intensive and brutal pushbacks of people,” a practice that is illegal in the EU, said Diana Dimova, head of Bulgarian refugee help group Mission Wings. Asylum seekers’ testimonies collected by AFP and reports by the European border guard agency Frontex likewise point to the use of brutal methods at the Balkan nation’s southeastern frontier. Border police thwarted 164,000 “irregular crossing” attempts in 2022, compared to 55,000 in 2021, interior ministry figures show. Rising numbers in Bulgaria have already contributed to Austria and the Netherlands blocking its bid to join the Schengen visa free zone and will also be high on the agenda of an EU summit in Brussels later this week. In a bid to stem the flow, Bulgarian authorities have stepped up controls along the 234-kilometer (145-mile) barbed wire fence covering almost the entire border with Turkey. There have been accounts of abuse. A 16-year-old Syrian who AFP met in a border town said he was detained after crossing into Bulgaria and held in a “closed camp with a high fence” that he called “a prison”.