Access to the territory and push backs


Country Report: Access to the territory and push backs Last updated: 21/04/21


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 2020. The Ministry of Interior reported that it had apprehended a total of 2,495 third-country nationals, out of which 2,184 were new arrivals:

Irregular migrants apprehended in Bulgaria: 2016-2020

Apprehension 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
Irregular entry 4,600 743 689 489 510
Irregular exit 4,977 2,413 353 494 924
Irregular stay on the territory 9,267 1,801 1,809 1,201 2,053
Total apprehensions 18,844 4,957 2,851 2,184 3,487

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

This represents a 60% increase in comparison with the previous year, thus indicating similar levels of migration pressure and related prevention.[1] Asylum seekers and government officials have both long admitted that the border fence can easily be crossed,[2] e.g. by using blankets, ladders or by passing through damaged sections of the fence, which is a persisting and frequently reported problem.[3] Despite the various full or partial lockdowns applied as a response to the global COVID-19 pandemic the new arrivals increased with 60% in comparison to 2019.[4] However, Bulgaria traditionally experiences much lower numbers than the neighbouring country Greece. This is due inter alia to the long-standing practice of the Bulgarian authorities to prevent Turkish nationals from accessing both the procedure and international protection, and to return them back including, in some cases, in violation of the non-refoulement principle. In return, the Turkish authorities to a large extent divert the migratory pressure from the Bulgarian to the Greek border.[5] The latest example in this respect was the March 2020 border crisis in Pazarkule-Kastanies region[6], when the attempted entries to Bulgaria were close to zero.

Since 1 January 2017, the Ministry of Interior no longer discloses the number of prevented entries in its publicly available statistics. Thus, in 2020, only 296 asylum seekers were able to apply for international protection at the national entry borders and only 1.4% of them (i.e. 15 individuals) had direct access to the asylum procedure without detention. The remaining 99% 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,[7] 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.[8]

In 2020, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee carried out 509 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.



[1]  During 2018, 3,132 irregular third-country nationals were apprehended, out of which 2,851 were new arrivals.

[2]   Дневник, ‘Каракачанов призна, че мигранти преминават оградата с Турция чрез стълби’, 20 October2017, available in Bulgarian at:; BBC, ‘Bulgaria on the Edge’, 2 August 2017, available at:

[3]  Mediapool, ‘Великата българска стена“ отново не успя да устои на лошото време’, 6 December 2018, available in Bulgarian at:; Elena Yoncheva, ‘Граница’, 14 November 2017, available at:

[4]  MOI, Migration statistics, available at:

[5]  Offnews, The Turkish Ambassador promised to sustain the migrant pressure towards Bulgaria at a zero level, 3 May 2020, available in Bulgarian at:

[6] Mediapool, Борисов при Ердоган докато хиляди имигранти напират към Гърция, 2 March 2020, available in Bulgarian at:

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

[8]  The border monitoring report is available at:

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