Access to the territory and push backs


Country Report: Access to the territory and push backs Last updated: 18/04/24


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 2023.

Back in 2018, the government banned access to the 234 km border fence[1] built along the Bulgarian-Turkish border, 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.[2] It is however a common knowledge that the border fence can easily be crossed,[3] and that many sections of it are damaged beyond repair.[4] In 2021 the caretaker cabinet,[5] transferred the responsibility for the management of the border fence from the district governors to the Ministry of Interior,[6] with repairs by specialised army units realised only sporadically, as was the case also for 2023.[7] In 2022, Frontex launched a new operation at EU’s external land border,[8] Joint Operation Terra with standing corps officers, patrol cars and thermo-vision vehicles, taking place across 12 EU Member States, including Bulgaria. In 2023, the Operation Terra continued with the Frontex personnel deployed in Bulgaria throughout the year reaching collectively 1,831 corps officers.[9] In its bi-annual report[10] on Frontex operational activities, the European Council clarified that these included operational response, situational monitoring, capacity building and returns, with additional deployments, particularly at the border with Türkiye, as well as in other areas, focused on combatting cross border crime and fundamental rights monitoring with an input from Fundamental Rights Office (FRO). As in previous years, Frontex staff continued to work in mixed teams with the national guards and under the command of the Bulgarian border authorities. In September 2023, the European Commission stated that Bulgaria should be admitted to the EU’s free-movement zone without any further delay as it has proved its capability to be member of the Schengen area.[11]

These measures were taken against the background of constantly increasing migratory pressure along the external EU border with Türkiye. Where 3,487 migrants entered the country in 2020, 10,799 in 2021, and 16,767 in 2022, in 2023 this figure reached 18,554 individuals.[12] The peak was registered in August, with 5,025 individuals who accessed the country during this month alone. The number of new arrivals represented a 10% increase in comparison with the previous year, which meant that it was overall more limited than in previous years, as the increases registered in 2022 and 2023 were respectively of 55% and 205% compared to the previous year. The main contributing factors for this continuing increase relate to the precarious situation in Afghanistan, especially with respect to the total oppression of women under the Taliban regime as well as the political and economic instability in the neighbouring Türkiye, which motivated many Syrian refugees who lived there for nearly 10 years to move onward and seek protection in Europe. The alleged deportations to Syria initiated by the Turkish authorities in 2022,[13] and the devastating earthquake in Southern Türkiye on 6 February 2023 indeed exacerbated the situation of the nearly 3.6 million Syrian refugees living in Bulgaria’s neighbouring country. The SAR anecdotal assessment,[14] conducted between February to October 2023 found more than 80% of Syrian asylum applicants in 2023 to have been legally residing in Türkiye before their arrival to Bulgaria with their family members there who were expected to join them at a later stage.

Irregular migrants apprehended in Bulgaria: 2016-2023
Apprehension 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023
Irregular entry 4,600 743 689 489 510 1,386 2,298 1,803
Irregular exit 4,977 2,413 353 494 924 1,097 2,337 1,990
Irregular stay on the territory 9,267 1,801 1,809 1,201 2,053 8,316 12,092 14,761
Total apprehensions 18,844 4,957 2,851 2,184 3,487 10,799 16,767 18,554

Source: Ministry of Interior, Migration Statistics, December 2016:; December 2017:; December 2018:; December 2019:; December 2020:; December 2021:, December 2022:, December 2023:


Since 1 January 2017, the Ministry of Interior no longer discloses the number of prevented entries in its publicly available statistics. However, in January 2024, the Interior Minister reported[15] to have prevented a total of 180,000 irregular entries throughout the course of the year. This recognised practice resulted in a continuing and exponential increase of pushbacks along the border with Türkiye. The national monitoring mechanism[16] registered another negative record regarding pushbacks in 2023, with 9,897 alleged pushbacks affecting 174,588 persons. The data were collected through a regular – weekly and daily – border monitoring, implemented by observers from the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, a non-governmental organisation whose access to the border was arranged firstly in the 2004 Bi-lateral border monitoring agreement,[17] replaced in 2010 by the Tri-Partite Memorandum of Understanding.[18] The BHC observers are positioned on the spot to monitor two main geographically designated border areas along the Bulgarian-Turkish border, respectively, the field area starting from Kapikule-Svilengrad-Ormenion border triangle to Hamzabeyli-Lesovo border crossing point (in the area of Svilengrad border police precinct) as well as Sakar and Strandzha mountains area, stretching from Elhovo to the Black Sea coast (in the area of Elhovo, Bolyarovo, Sredets, Malko Tarnovo and Rezovo border police precincts). Verbal abuse and physical violence, reported since 2015,[19] as well as the humiliating practices of unlawful detention, strip searches and illegal confiscation of footwear, clothing and other belongings, continued in massive proportions. Out of 510 asylum seekers interviewed in 2023 in the context of the national monitoring mechanism,[20] 373 consented to share their experiences on their attempt to cross the border with Türkiye. Among them, 163 individuals (44%) reported to have suffered pushbacks varying from 1 to 19 times, before being able to enter, reach assistance and register as asylum seekers. Another tragic consequence of the lack of safe legal entry channels to the Union’s territory at the Bulgarian external border with Türkiye, widely publicised in 2023,[21] was the increasing death toll among the migrants who attempted to enter irregularly. More than 70 migrants have been found deceased in this year alone in the densely forested areas of Strandzha and Sakar mountains which stretch along the Bulgarian-Turkish border. According to the medical examiners,[22] also corroborated by those who successfully entered Bulgaria,[23] main causes were exhaustion, dehydration, malnutrition at many instances in combination with opioid use or overdose, the latter forced by smugglers and traffickers to accelerate the walking pace of smuggled groups and individuals.

Out of 18,554 migrants apprehended in 2023, 1,385 asylum seekers (7%) were able to apply for international protection at the national entry borders and only 2% of them (i.e. 61 individuals) had direct access to the asylum procedure without being detained, out of whom 35 (57%) were unaccompanied children handed over by the Border police to the social services[24] under the referral arrangements introduced in 2018.[25] The remaining 98% who were able to apply at entry borders were sent to the Ministry of Interior’s pre-removal (detention) centres. These numbers attest a slight improvement, considering that in 2022 just 1% (49 out of 4,233 asylum seekers) of the applicants at entry border had direct access to procedure and protection, but still worse than in 2021 when 3% (34 out of 1,065 asylum seekers) enjoyed such access.


Border monitoring

Under the 2010 tripartite Memorandum of Understanding between the Border Police, UNHCR and the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC),[26] 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, Malko Tarnovo and Rezovo BCPs as well as at the Bulgarian-Greek border at Novo Selo BCP. The BHC lawyers can interview the detainees and check the border registers. Monthly reports are prepared and shared internally. On their basis, the parties prepare and publish an annual border monitoring report.[27]

In 2023, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee under its UNHCR funded project carried out regular border monitoring visits on a weekly basis, but depending on the concrete situation on a daily basis as well, at the border with Greece and Türkiye, Serbia and Northern Macedonia as well as Romania vis-a-vis Dunav Most BCP at Ruse Border Police Precinct as well as ad hoc visits at the 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.[28] 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.[29] The visa application can also be submitted on humanitarian or emergency grounds at the border crossing points (BCPs).[30] 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.[31] 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.[32]

In 2022, no new relocations were implemented mainly due to mass arrivals from Ukraine, but in 2023 94 Syrians were relocated from Cyprus, while 76 applicants from Greece and 10 from Italy. Thus, the number of relocated persons reached a total of 180, including 70 evacuees from Afghanistan. The countries of origin varied from Syria and Afghanistan to Iraq, Eritrea, Pakistan, Egypt, while some of the relocated persons were stateless. Out of all the relocated persons, except those relocated from Afghanistan, 78 individuals have been recognised as refugees so far, 44 individuals have been granted subsidiary protection (“humanitarian status”), 2 individuals were rejected, 1 individual accepted a voluntary return to his country of origin, 53 procedures are pending and 1 procedure was terminated.

Regarding resettlement, the government decided to resettle 100 Syrians from Türkiye on 29 March 2017, based on the arrangements outlined in the 2016 EU-Türkiye deal.[33] Up until 31 December 2023, Bulgaria resettled a total of 94 Syrian nationals from Türkiye, with 9 new resettlements implemented in 2022. All of them were granted international protection.

There is no official list of criteria applied in relocation or resettlement procedures in Bulgaria, but families with children are prioritized 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 Türkiye. 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 Türkiye, 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 as 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] Darik News, Забраняват заснемането на оградата по границата с Турция’, 30 May 2018, available in Bulgarian at:

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

[3] 24 hours, ‘Нови дупки по оградата с Турция‘, 24 February 2023, available in Bulgarian at:

[4] HaskovoLive, Kaкво се случва с падналата ограда по границата с Турция?, 19 May 2021, available in Bulgarian at:; XNews, ‘Димитър Стоянов: Оградата на границата ни с Турция е ненадеждна’, 8 November 2022, available in Bulgarian at:

[5], ‘Назначиха проверка за разрушената ограда на границата с Турция’, 20 May 2021, available in Bulgarian at:

[6] Darik News, ‘МВР поема управлението върху оградата по българо-турската граница’, 23 September 2021, available in Bulgarian at:

[7] Mediapool, ‘Имаме план. Военните започват пореден ремонт на оградата по границата с Турция’, 26 October 2023, available in Bulgarian at:

[8] FRONTEX, Frontex launches new land operation, 2 April 2022, available at:

[9] Teleconference with General Directorate Border Police readmission sector on 16 January 2024.

[10] Council of the European Union, External border management activities in the first half of 2023, 6 September 2023, available at:

[11] Politico, Von der Leyen wants Bulgaria, Romania in Schengen ASAP, 13 September 2023, available at:

[12] MOI statistics, December 2023, available in Bulgarian at:

[13] Human Rights Watch, Turkey: Hundreds of Refugees Deported to Syria, EU Should Recognize Turkey Is Unsafe for Asylum Seekers, available at:

[14] Teleconference with SAR Deputy Chairperson on 15 February 2024.

[15], Увеличен миграционен натиск по българските граници: Предотвратени са близо 180 000 опита за незаконни влизания у нас, 17 January 2024, available in Bulgarian at:

[16] Tripartite Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) among Border Police, UNHCR and Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, signed on 14 April 2010.

[17] Bi-lateral Memorandum between National Border Police Service with the Ministry of Interior and Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, signed on 15 December 2004.

[18] Tripartite Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) among Border Police, UNHCR and Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, signed on 14 April 2010.

[19] See, AIDA, Fourth Update on Bulgaria, 30 September 2015, page 20-21.

[20] Tripartite Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) among Border Police, UNHCR and Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, signed on 14 April 2010.

[21] Bulgaria On Air, Бразда с трупове: Трафиканти оставят мигранти да умрат на границата между България и Турция, 1 December 2023, available in Bulgarian at:

[22] Telegraph, Странджа-Сакар осеяни с турпове на бежанци, 17 September 2023, available in Bulgarian at:

[23] See footnote 128.

[24] MOI statistics, December 2023, available in Bulgarian at:

[25] Article 63k-63l LARB Regulations.

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

[27] The border monitoring reports are available at:

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

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

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

[31] Free Europe, ‘България ще участва в схема за презаселване на мигранти от Гърция’, 16 April 2020, available in Bulgarian at:

[32] Nova TV, News Report, ‘България дава убежище на до 70 афганистанци’, 25 August 2021, available in Bulgarian at:

[33] 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