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 2022.
In 2018, the government banned the access to the 234 km border fence 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. It is however a common knowledge that the border fence can easily be crossed, and that many sections of it are damaged beyond repair./ In 2021 the caretaker cabinet, transferred the responsibility for the management of the border fence from the district governors to the Ministry of Interior, with repairs were carried out by specialised army units. In November 2022 the new caretaker cabinet’s interior minister reported that the army has completed the repairs along 121 km section and continue to work until the end of the year in the areas of Elhovo, Sredets, Malko Tarnovo and Rezovo. Along with these activities in November 2021, 350 soldiers and 40 technical army units were sent to the border with Türkiye to support around 1,000 border police officers already stationed there. In August 2022, the new caretaker cabinet increased the army presence along this border with another 300 soldiers equipped with drones and transportation units. In 2022, Frontex launched a new operation at EU’s external land border , Joint Operation Terra 2022 with 450 standing corps officers, patrol cars and thermo-vision vehicles, taking place across 12 EU Member States, including Bulgaria where the deployed Frontex personnel throughout the year reached collectively 1,200 corps officers. Frontex deployed staff focused mainly on border surveillance, border checks and assistance in detecting fraudulent documents as well as gathering information on smuggling networks, migratory phenomena and identification of vulnerable groups. Frontex staff worked in mixed teams with the national guards and under the command of the Bulgarian border authorities. Among the patrol teams along the Bulgarian -Turkish border, just the half were mixed ones, while the rest was comprised only of national border police officers.
Notwithstanding the increased border control, national authorities remained unable to counteract the human smuggling, neither to provide safe legal channels for those who attempt to enter to claim asylum. The sheer scale of reports about intercepted vehicles transporting irregular migrants made evident that a significant number of people, including in large groups, manage to cross the border, enter the territory, board onto various vehicles, and travel undetected through the country on their exit routes – A1 highway to Serbia and E87 to Romania. If in 2020, 3,487 migrants entered the country, and 10,799 in 2021, in 2022 this figure was of 16,767 individuals. The number of persons who sought international protection increased from 3,525 in 2020, and 10,999 in 2021, to reach 20,407 in 2022 – an increase of 86% compared to 2021 and by 481% compared to 2020. This brought to a dramatic increase of pushback practices. The national monitoring mechanism evaluated the country had established another negative record, with 5,268 alleged pushbacks affecting 87,647 persons. Verbal abuse and physical violence, reported since 2015, as well as the humiliating practices of unlawful detention, strip searches and illegal confiscation of footwear, clothing and other belongings, have reached massive proportions. The situation escalated further after two separate incidents resulted in the death of three police officers. In August two police officers died in Burgas while attempting to stop a bus with 48 migrants onboard, among whom pregnant women and children. In November, a third police officer died after being shot from the opposite side of the borderline while patrolling a stretch of the Bulgarian-Turkish border near the village of Golyam Dervent. On 30 November the investigative journalists’ network Lighthouse published a report exposing the pushback practices in Hungary, Croatia, and Bulgaria, which among others was exposed to maintain the so called “black sites” – clandestine detention centres, where refugees and migrants are denied the right to seek asylum, detained unlawfully and held prior to being forced back to Türkiye. Secret footage – that was meant to remain secret – shot in summer showed a dilapidated former patrol dogs’ shed in the backyard of Sredets Border Police precinct on Bulgarian-Turkish border, where people were incarcerated in inhuman and degrading conditions, including by keeping them in cages. In December, a Sky News investigation released additional footage of Bulgarian border police allegedly shooting a Syrian man who was on the Turkish side of the border. Both the Ministry of Interior and the Chief Prosecutor’s Office denied the shooting had occurred, while alleging that on the day in question the border patrol was provoked by stones thrown at them, and that one of the officers was hit in the head. Since 1 January 2017, the Ministry of Interior no longer discloses the number of prevented entries in its publicly available statistics. However, in January 2023, the Interior Minister reported 160,000 prevented entries throughout 2022.
Despite the widely reported pushbacks and violence along the Bulgarian-Turkish border, the number of new arrivals in Bulgaria continued to increase. The Ministry of Interior reported that in 2022 a total of 16,767 newly arrived third-country nationals were apprehended, as follows:
|Irregular migrants apprehended in Bulgaria: 2016-2022|
|Irregular stay on the territory||9,267||1,801||1,809||1,201||2,053||8,316||12,092|
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, December 2022: https://bit.ly/3kRy7xE.
The number of new arrivals represents a 55% increase in comparison with the previous year adding on a 205% increase in 2021. The main contributing factors for this increase relate to the takeover of the Taliban in Afghanistan during summer 2021 and 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. In addition, the alleged deportations to Syria initiated by the Turkish authorities in 2022, and the devastating earthquake in Southern Türkiye on 6 February 2023 are expected to only exacerbate the situation of the nearly 3,6 million Syrian refugees living in this neighbouring country.
In 2022, 4,233 asylum seekers were able to apply for international protection at the national entry borders and only 1% of them (i.e. 49 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. It showed worsening of the situation, considering that in 2021 3% (34 out of 1,065 asylum seekers) of the applicants at entry border had direct access to procedure and protection.
Under the 2010 tripartite Memorandum of Understanding between the Border Police, UNHCR and the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, 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 and Ivailovgrad 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.
In 2022, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee under its UNHCR funded project carried out regular border monitoring visits on a weekly basis at the border with Greece and Türkiye, 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. 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. The visa application can also be submitted on humanitarian or emergency grounds at the border crossing points (BCPs). 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. 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.
In 2022, no new relocations were implemented mainly due to mass arrivals from Ukraine. The number of relocated persons remained 158 individuals, among whom were counted also 70 evacuees 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, 27 individuals have been granted subsidiary protection (“humanitarian status”), 2 individuals were rejected, 1 individual accepted a voluntary return to his country of origin, 2 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. Up until 31 December 2022, Bulgaria resettled a total of 85 Syrian nationals from Türkiye, with no new resettlements implemented in 2022.
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).
 Darik News, Забраняват заснемането на оградата по границата с Турция’, 30 May 2018, available in Bulgarian at: https://bit.ly/3K8bgFR.
 From 9 September 1944 to 10 November 1989.
 Дневник, ‘Каракачанов призна, че мигранти преминават оградата с Турция чрез стълби’, 20 October 2017, available in Bulgarian at: http://bit.ly/2EteNNA; BBC, ‘Bulgaria on the Edge’, 2 August 2017, available at: http://bbc.in/2ezp5U2.
 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.
 bTV, ‘На българо-турската граница: част от оградата против бежанския натиск е пропаднала’, 19 May 2021, available in Bulgarian at: https://bit.ly/3K5OKgT.
 dir.bg, ‘Назначиха проверка за разрушената ограда на границата с Турция’, 20 May 2021, available in Bulgarian at: https://bit.ly/3FohyO2.
 Darik News, ‘МВР поема управлението върху оградата по българо-турската граница’, 23 September 2021, available in Bulgarian at: https://bit.ly/3A8K8Cd.
 bnr.bg, ‘Ремонтират оградата на българо-турската граница’, 4 November 2021, available in Bulgarian at: https://bit.ly/3GrBYqO.
 news.bg, Армията работи за възстановяване на оградата по границата, уверява министъра на отбраната, 10 November 2022, available in Bulgarian at: https://bit.ly/41SmpTZ.
 bnr.bg, ‘Министерство на отбраната е изпратило военни на българо-турската граница’, 1 November 2021, available in Bulgarian at: https://bit.ly/3tnr81f.
 dnes.bg, Армията увеличава помощта, която оказва на МВР на държавната граница, 25 August 2022, available in Bulgarian at: https://bit.ly/3ZnCL5x.
 FRONTEX, Frontex launches new land operation, 2 April 2022, available at: https://bit.ly/3Yx2A1W.
 Teleconference with General Directorate Border Police readmission sector on 6 February 2023.
 Tripartite Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) among Border Police, UNHCR and Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, signed on 14 April 2010.
 See, AIDA Forth Update on Bulgaria, 30 September 2015, page 20-21.
 Bulgarian national radio, Двама полицаи са загинали в Бургас, след като автобус с мигранти блъска патрулка, published on 25 August 2022, available in Bulgarian at: https://bit.ly/3kTtDXl.
 Bulgarian national television, Двама задържани за убийството на български полицай на границата с Турция – хронология на инцидента, published on 8 November 2022, available in Bulgarian at: https://bit.ly/3IXkh4K.
 Lighthouse reports: Europe’s black sites, published on 8 December 2022, available at: https://bit.ly/3ISSHWq.
 Lighthouse reports: Europe’s black sites, published on 8 December 2022, available at: https://bit.ly/3ISSHWq.
 Bulgarian national television, МВР и прокуратурата отрекоха за стрелба срещу сирийски мигранти на българо-турската граница, available in Bulgarian at: https://bit.ly/3YtttUa .
 news.bg, Безопасността на границите: Ремонт на Калотина и Кардам, спрени са 160 000 мигранти, 6 January 2023, available in Bulgarian at: https://bit.ly/41OZhWA.
 Human Rights Watch, Turkey: Hundreds of Refugees Deported to Syria, EU Should Recognize Turkey Is Unsafe for Asylum Seekers, available at: https://bit.ly/3YiNz3y.
 The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee had a bilateral agreement with the Border Police from 2004 to 2010.
 The border monitoring reports are available at: https://bit.ly/3mjDhNz.
 Article 5 Ordinance for Rules and Criteria for Visa Issuing and Visa Regime.
 Article 11 (6) Ordinance for Rules and Criteria for Visa Issuing and Visa Regime.
 Article 10 (2) Ordinance for Rules and Criteria for Visa Issuing and Visa Regime.
 Free Europe, ‘България ще участва в схема за презаселване на мигранти от Гърция’, 16 April 2020, available in Bulgarian at: https://bit.ly/33wWJ5K.
 Nova TV, News Report, ‘България дава убежище на до 70 афганистанци’, 25 August 2021, available in Bulgarian at: https://bit.ly/33wxK2r.
 Council of Ministers, Decision №750 from 30 November 2017.