Access to the territory and push backs

Bulgaria

Country Report: Access to the territory and push backs Last updated: 23/02/22

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Bulgarian Helsinki Committee Visit Website

No institutional or practical arrangements or measures exist to ensure a differentiated approach to border control that gives access to the territory and protection for those who flee from war or persecution.

Push backs at land borders

Access of asylum seekers to the territory remained severely constrained in 2021. The Ministry of Interior reported that it apprehended a total of 12,280 third-country nationals, out of which 10,799 were new arrivals:

Irregular migrants apprehended in Bulgaria: 2016-2021
Apprehension 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
Irregular entry 4,600 743 689 489 510 1,386
Irregular exit 4,977 2,413 353 494 924 1,097
Irregular stay on the territory 9,267 1,801 1,809 1,201 2,053 8,316
Total apprehensions 18,844 4,957 2,851 2,184 3,487 10,799

Source: Ministry of Interior, Migration Statistics, December 2016: http://bit.ly/2Fx9hIY; December 2017: http://bit.ly/2ntEXaR; December 2018: https://bit.ly/2sBEJ4z; December 2019: https://bit.ly/372jvz7; December 2020: https://bit.ly/3i01bgF; December 2021: https://bit.ly/3fhhMfk.

The number of new arrivals represents a 205% increase in comparison with the previous year. The main contributing factors for this increase relate to the takeover of the Taliban in Afghanistan during summer 2021, the dire security situation in Northern Iraq as well as the political and economic instability in the neighbouring Turkey, which motivated many Syrian refugees who lived there for nearly 10 years to move onward and seek protection in Europe.

In addition, government officials have long admitted that the border fence can easily be crossed,[1] e.g. by using blankets, ladders or by passing through damaged sections of the fence, which is a persisting and frequently reported problem.[2] In order to avoid the public debate about the cost and the real effectiveness of the border fence, the government banned the access to it in 2018, [3] as well as the possibility to take pictures or filming it by introducing a 300-meters security zone similar to border arrangements during the communist regime.[4] In mid-2021 however media reports again showed completely destroyed sections of the fence through which not only people, but also medium-sized vehicles could pass freely.[5] This triggered investigations by the caretaker cabinet,[6] followed by a transfer of responsibility of the management of the border fence from the district governors to the Ministry of Interior,[7] while repairs were carried out by specialised army units.[8] Along with these activities, the caretaker cabinet announced the reinforcement of the police force stationed at borders with Turkey, referring to the increased numbers of people attempting irregular crossings. In November 350 soldiers and 40 technical army units were sent to the border with Turkey to support around 1,000 border police officers already stationed there.[9] Moreover, the national border arrangements continue to fail not only to prevent irregular entries,[10] but also to provide safe legal channels for those who attempt to enter to claim asylum, thus resulting in widespread pushback practices Similarly to previous years, this includes strip searches, robbery of money and price possessions and taking the food and water that the individuals carry with them. In July 2021, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that Bulgarian authorities violated European human rights law by summarily returning a man to Turkey, thus condemning the longstanding practice of denying Turkish refugees protection from persecution and handing them straight back to Turkey.[11]   Since 1 January 2017, the Ministry of Interior no longer discloses the number of prevented entries in its publicly available statistics. However, in October 2021, the head of the Elhovo regional border police precinct told the media that around 20,000 people had been prevented from crossing the Bulgarian-Turkish border since the beginning of 2021.[12] By the end of the year, as a part of the national border monitoring mechanism, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee reported to have registered 2,513 alleged pushback incidents affecting a total of 44,988 individuals in 2021.[13]

In 2021, 1,065 asylum seekers were able to apply for international protection at the national entry borders and only 3% of them (i.e. 34 individuals) had direct access to the asylum procedure without detention. The remaining 97% who were able to apply at entry borders were sent to the Ministry of Interior’s pre-removal centres.

Border monitoring

Under the 2010 tripartite Memorandum of Understanding between the Border Police, UNHCR and the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee,[14] with funding provided by UNHCR, all three parties have access to any national border or detention facility at land and air borders, including airport transit zones, without limitations on the number of monitoring visits. Access to these facilities is unannounced and granted without prior permission or conditions on time, frequency or circumstances of the persons detained. Border monitoring visits along the Bulgarian-Turkish border are implemented minimum once a week in Kapitan Andreevo, Elhovo, Bolyarovo, Sredets and Malko Tarnovo BCPs as well as at the Bulgarian-Greek border at Novo Selo BCP. The BHC lawyers can interview the detainees and also check the border registers. Monthly reports are prepared and shared internally. On their basis, the parties prepare and publish an annual border monitoring report.[15]

In 2021, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee carried out 546 border monitoring visits at the border with Greece and Turkey, as well as at Sofia Airport transit hall. During these visits, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee can also obtain information from police records when needed to cross-check individual statements, but has access only to border detention facilities, not to border-crossing points per se.

Legal access to the territory

National legislation and arrangements in principle do not envisage humanitarian visas or humanitarian reasons as legal grounds for permitting entry to or the right to stay in the country’s territory.[16] There are several exclusions in the law, when humanitarian reasons can be taken into account during the visa procedure, but all of them relate to an alleviation of requirements to submit some of the documents, supporting the visa application or proving the grounds for its granting. The law allows the visa application on humanitarian or emergency grounds to be submitted outside the country of origin of the visa applicant.[17] The visa application can also be submitted on humanitarian or emergency grounds at the border crossing points (BCPs)[18]. However in these cases the border police can issue only transit visas with a 3-days validity or a short-term visa stay with a 15 days validity.

At the beginning of the 2015-2017 first EU relocation scheme, Bulgaria pledged 1,302 relocations, mainly from Italy and Greece. However, with the exception of 10 Eritrean nationals that were relocated in 2017, no one else has been relocated from Italy ever since, despite numerous requests and advocacy efforts. Relocations from Greece, however, have been implemented more frequently with the latest pledge being made in April 2020 following the call from the European Commission on Member States to assist the relocation of unaccompanied asylum seeking children stranded at Greek Aegean islands.[19] Following this call, 11 children were effectively relocated to Bulgaria. In 2021, following the Taliban conquest of Kabul, the government further pledged the relocation of 70 Afghan nationals with their families who worked for the Bulgarian embassy and military deployments in Afghanistan.[20]

As of 31 December 2021, the number of relocated persons had reached 158 individuals, of whom 70 refugees from Afghanistan, 10 asylum seekers from Italy, and 78 asylum seekers transferred from Greece from countries of origin such as Syria, Afghanistan, Stateless, Pakistan, Egypt and Iraq. Out of all the relocated persons, except those relocated from Afghanistan, 55 individuals have been recognised as refugees so far, 18 individuals have been granted subsidiary protection (“humanitarian status”), 2 individuals were rejected, 1 individual accepted a voluntary return to his country of origin and 1 procedure was terminated.

As regards resettlement, the government decided to resettle 100 Syrians from Turkey on 29 March 2017, based on the arrangements outlined in the 2016 EU-Turkey deal. [21] Up until 31 December 2021, Bulgaria has resettled a total of 85 Syrian nationals from Turkey.

There is no official list of criteria applied in relocation or resettlement procedures in Bulgaria, but families with children are prioritised as a matter of practice. The SAR does not conduct security interviews with relocation candidates on site in Italy or Greece, but these are conducted with resettlement candidates in Turkey. The SAR liaison officer examines the relevant files together with the Italian and Greek authorities. A document check of the relocated and resettled persons is performed by the State Agency for National Security (SANS) in Bulgaria and Turkey, after which clearance is given for the relocation or resettlement to be carried out.

All relocated and resettled persons are being admitted directly to a regular procedure. All of them are accommodated in the refugee reception centre (RRC) in Sofia, Vrazhdebna shelter, which is considered to be a model reception centre with material conditions above the minimum standards. Food, health care, initial orientation and social mediation is provided on site. However, no one receives monthly payment or other financial allowance nor pocket money, which is the treatment of all asylum seekers in Bulgaria since the abolition of the social financial assistance in February 2015 (see section on Forms and Levels of Material Reception Conditions).

 

 

[1]   Дневник, ‘Каракачанов призна, че мигранти преминават оградата с Турция чрез стълби’, 20 October2017, available in Bulgarian at: http://bit.ly/2EteNNA; BBC, ‘Bulgaria on the Edge’, 2 August 2017, available at: http://bbc.in/2ezp5U2.

[2]  Mediapool, ‘Великата българска стена’ отново не успя да устои на лошото време’, 6 December 2018, available in Bulgarian at: https://bit.ly/2T7kSph; Elena Yoncheva, ‘Граница’, 14 November 2017, video available at: http://bit.ly/2DPcuTY.

[3] Darik News, Забраняват заснемането на оградата по границата с Турция’, 30 May 2018, available in Bulgarian at: https://bit.ly/3K8bgFR.

[4] From 9 September 1944 to 10 November 1989.

[5] bTV, ‘На българо-турската граница: част от оградата против бежанския натиск е пропаднала’, 19 May   2021, available in Bulgarian at: https://bit.ly/3K5OKgT.

[6] dir.bg, ‘Назначиха проверка за разрушената ограда на границата с Турция’, 20 May 2021, available in Bulgarian at: https://bit.ly/3FohyO2.

[7] Darik News, ‘МВР поема управлението върху оградата по българо-турската граница’, 23 September 2021, available in Bulgarian at: https://bit.ly/3A8K8Cd.

[8] bnr.bg, ‘Ремонтират оградата на българо-турската граница’, 4 November 2021, available in Bulgarian at: https://bit.ly/3GrBYqO.

[9] bnr.bg, ‘Министерство на отбраната е изпратило военни на българо-турската граница’, 1 November 2021, available in Bulgarian at: https://bit.ly/3tnr81f.

[10]  Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, На живо от турско-българската граница / Live from the Turkish-Bulgarian border, 7 February 2022, available on YouTube at: https://bit.ly/3rwQd8z.  

[11] ECtHR, D v. Bulgaria (application №29447/17), Judgement of 20 July 2021. See also: ecchr.eu, ‘European Court of Human Rights: Bulgaria’s pushback practice violates human rights’, 20 July 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3niDVyf.

[12]  bTV, ‘Репортеритe: Писмо до Афганистан’, 2 October 2021, available in Bulgarian at: https://bit.ly/3GpmGCF

 [13]  Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Monthly Situation Report for December 2021, 4 January 2022, Tripartite Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) among Border Police, UNHCR and Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, signed on 14 April 2010. See, 2021 Tri-Partite Annual Border Monitoring Report.

[14] The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee had a bilateral agreement with the Border Police from 2004 to 2010.

[15] The border monitoring report is available at: https://bit.ly/3mjDhNz.

[16] Article 5 Ordinance for Rules and Criteria for Visa Issuing and Visa Regime.

[17] Article 11 (6) Ordinance for Rules and Criteria for Visa Issuing and Visa Regime.

[18]  Article 10 (2) Ordinance for Rules and Criteria for Visa Issuing and Visa Regime.

[19] Free Europe, ‘България ще участва в схема за презаселване на мигранти от Гърция’, 16 April 2020, available in Bulgarian at: https://bit.ly/33wWJ5K.

[20] Nova TV, News Report, ‘България дава убежище на до 70 афганистанци’, 25 August 2021, available in Bulgarian at: https://bit.ly/33wxK2r.

[21] Council of Ministers, Decision №750 from 30 November 2017.

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection
  • ANNEX – Transposition of the CEAS in national legislation