Overview of the of the main changes since the previous report update

Bulgaria

Author

Bulgarian Helsinki Committee

The report was previously updated in February 2017.

 

Asylum procedure

  • Access to the territory: The Ministry of Interior reported 2,985 apprehensions in 2017, down from 18,659 the year before. Although zero push backs were officially reported, media sources refer to continued large-scale push backs. The government has also acknowledged that migrants continued to enter through the border fence with Turkey by using ladders and that corruption among the staff of the Bulgarian border authorities contributed to continued human smuggling and trafficking.

  • Interview: Interpretation and appropriate communication in the language preferred by the applicant are not secured during registration and eligibility interviews to all applicants. With respect to those who speak languages without interpreters available in Bulgaria, communication takes place in a language chosen by the decision-maker, without the applicant’s consent or evidence that he or she is able to communicate clearly in that language.

  • Manifestly unfounded claims: Nationalities from countries such as Algeria, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Ukraine are discriminated and treated as manifestly unfounded, with 0% recognition rates. The same approach is applied to asylum seekers from Afghanistan who were subject to a 1.5% recognition rate in 2017.

  • Legal aid: At the end of 2017 the National Legal Aid Bureau received AMIF funding to commence for the first time the provision of legal aid to asylum seekers at first instance. The legal aid pilot project will be limited to vulnerable categories, however, and is expected to commence in February to March 2018.

 

Reception conditions

  • Living conditions: Living conditions remain poor and below or at the level of minimum standard threshold, except for Vrazhdebna shelter in Sofia. Unaccompanied children receive neither 24-hour care by an assigned caretaker nor the due care for their overall well-being, and are basically left on their own and without supervision after the end of the working hours of the SAR staff. IOM Bulgaria has received national AMIF funding to build safety zones for unaccompanied children in reception centers in Ovcha Kupel and Voenna Rampa, but reconstruction has not yet started.

  • Physical security: Physical security is not guaranteed in reception centres except for Vrazhdebna shelter in Sofia. Asylum seekers in Voenna Rampa report that outsiders have access to dormitories during night hours without any major obstacles, leading to alcohol consumption, gambling, drug distribution and other illicit trades or disturbances. Verbal and physical abuse, attacks and robbery committed against asylum seekers in the surroundings of Voenna Rampa shelter escalated in 2017. This led to a joint letter by NGOs urging the Sofia Police Directorate to take effective preventive and investigative measures, but to no avail so far.

  • Freedom of movement: Following a reform at the end of 2016, asylum seekers are entitled to freely move only in certain zones within the Bulgarian territory, to be indicated in each individual asylum identification card. Consecutive failure to observe the zone limitation can result in asylum detention. It was not before September 2017 that the government formally designated such zones, although this has not been yet applied as a ground for detention in a closed centre. At the end of 2017, information boards were placed in all reception centres to indicate the respective movement zones applicable for the asylum seekers accommodated therein.

 

Detention of asylum seekers

  • Duration of detention:  The delays in the release and registration of asylum seekers applying while in pre-removal detention centres exacerbated, rising from 9 days in 2016 to 19 days in 2017.

  • Status determination in pre-removal centres: The most negative development concerned the practice of the SAR to conduct status determination procedures in pre-removal detention centres, in violation of the law. This was applied to specific nationalities discriminated as “manifestly unfounded”, while courts held that the violation of procedural standards was insignificant as asylum seekers’ rights were not severely affected.

 

Content of international protection

  • Integration: The Integration Decree adopted in 2016 remained futile and out of use throughout 2016 and 2017, as none of 265 local municipalities has so far applied for funding in order to commence an integration process with any of the individuals granted international protection in Bulgaria. On 31 March 2017, the caretaker Cabinet fulfilled the election promise of the newly elected Bulgarian President and repealed the Decree without any reasonable justification. A new Decree was adopted on 19 July 2017, which in its essence repeated the provisions of its predecessor. Nevertheless, the situation remained the same without any actual integration activities planned, funded or available to recognised refugees or subsidiary protection holders. The national “zero integration” situation thus now continues over 4 consecutive years.

About AIDA

The Asylum Information Database (AIDA) is a database managed by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), containing information on asylum procedures, reception conditions, detenti