Out of a total of 2,195 decisions taken on the merits in 2021, 61% resulted in a positive decision. This represents a considerable increase compared to 2020 where recognition rates reached 37% and is mainly due to the increase of arrivals. Subsidiary protection in 2021 also increased to 57% of the cases decided on the substance compared to 32% in 2020 and 15% in 2019. However, the refugee status recognition rate continued to decrease to 4% in 2021 compared to 8% in 2020, 13% in 2019 and 15% in 2018.
Since 2016, and for five consecutive years, Afghanistan has been the top country of origin in Bulgaria. Yet, Afghan nationals are arbitrarily considered as manifestly unfounded applicants. They are predominantly considered and refused in the Accelerated Procedure. Out of the 1,112 asylum seekers whose cases were examined under the accelerated procedure in 2021, 66% (735 asylum seekers) were originating from Afghanistan.
The recognition rate for Afghan asylum seekers remained very low in recent years, reaching only 2.5% in 2016, 1.5% in 2017, 4% in 2019 and 1.8% in 2020. In the majority of cases protection was granted following court decisions overturning the refusals of the asylum administration. The “striking discrepancy between the Bulgarian and the EU average recognition rate for Afghans” has been raised by the European Commission, as well as jurisdictions in other Member States, as a matter of concern.
During the second half of 2021, Afghan cases began to gradually change with some high profile cases and increased statements for personal risk of persecution. As a result, the annual recognition rate of Afghan applicants reached a national record of 10% – but overall the rejection rate remained at 90% and it is still far below the EU recognition rate. It is yet to be seen whether the national authorities’ attitude and treatment of Afghan nationals will change in general. As of the end of 2021, most subsequent applications lodged by Afghan nationals who filed them post-August 2021 events continued to be treated by the national asylum agency as inadmissible.
Applications for international protection lodged by Turkish nationals are treated as manifestly unfounded as they are considered as originating from a “safe country of origin”, notwithstanding the fact that the Bulgarian asylum system presently does not officially apply any of the safe country concepts. Bulgaria has not adopted a list of “safe countries or origin” since 2001. As a result, the “safe country of origin” concept is not formally listed as a ground for rejection, i.e. as a ground for considering the application as manifestly unfounded, thus hindering an effective access to appeals.
The rejection rate of Turkish asylum seekers reached 100% both in 2018 and 2019. In 2020 just one Turkish national was granted protection in Bulgaria. Moreover, despite settled case-law whereby the lodging of an application for international protection entitles the asylum seeker to apply for an immediate release from detention, many Turkish asylum seekers were kept in immigration detention centers for the duration of their entire asylum procedure, in violation of national law. They are subsequently subject to negative decisions and deported back to Turkey. In such cases, the immigration police makes every effort to prevent Turkish detainees from accessing lawyers and legal advice. Additionally, in 2020 the authorities used the COVID-19 mandatory 14-days quarantine to organise speedy and effective readmissions of the Turkish nationals within this period of time, thus preventing them from meeting a lawyer and obtaining independent advice on their rights and legal avenues. Altogether 28 Turkish nationals were readmitted to Turkey in 2020 within the period of mandatory quarantine without any guarantees to have been informed about the possibility to claim asylum in Bulgaria, or to be in practice assisted to submit an application for international protection, if willing to do so. This practice has been publicly recognised and acknowledged by the former Prime Minister and seems to be the result of an informal political agreement between the Bulgarian and Turkish governments. It is a long-standing practice of the Bulgarian authorities to prevent the Turkish nationals from access to procedure and international protection, as well as to expedite their return to the country of origin including, in several cases, in violation of the non-refoulement principle. In return, the Turkish authorities divert to a large extent the migratory pressure from the Bulgarian border to the Greek one. The latest example in this respect was the March 2020 border crisis in Pazarkule-Kastanies region, when the attempted entries to Bulgaria were close to none against the background of thousands trying to enter Greece.
In 2021, there have been little changes for Turkish applicants despite the altered political situation (see Overview of the main changes since the previous report: Asylum procedure, National context). If not immediately readmitted, Turkish asylum seekers faced a 92% rejection rate. Altogether 24 Turkish nationals applied for asylum in Bulgaria, out of which 1 applicant was recognised as a refugee, 1 applicant was rejected under the general procedure and 10 applicants were rejected under the Accelerated Procedure.
On 8 July 2021 the MOI’s General Border Police Directorate, UNHCR and the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee signed an annex to 2010 Tripartite Memorandum of Understanding including the readmission procedures in the scope of the national monitoring. The aim is to assist the third country nationals who wish to apply for asylum in Bulgaria to be safeguarded from refoulement perpetrated by the means of readmission, among whom the Turkish nationals are a main target group.
For many years Iraqi applicants enjoyed relatively fair assessments and an overall recognition rate ranging between 40% to 55% with respective refusal rate variations. In 2017, however, their recognition dropped drastically to 21% overall recognition (10.2% refugee status, 10.8% subsidiary protection), 11% in 2018 (of which 3% refugee status, 9% subsidiary protection) and then slightly improving to 18 in 2019 % (of which 4% refugee status, 14% subsidiary protection) and then again decreased to 14% in 2020 (1% refugee status, 13% subsidiary protection).
The situation in 2021 continued to deteriorate by decreasing to an overall recognition rate of 13% (8% refugee status, 5% subsidiary protection) thus reaching a 87% rejection rate. In general, the arguments in the negative decisions of both the SAR and the Courts refer to the defeat of ISIS and to improvements in the safety and security across the country’s conflict areas and war zones. Claims by applicants from Central and Southern Iraq are considered manifestly unfounded in general.
Between 2014 to mid-2015, the SAR applied the so-called prima facie approach to assessing Syrian applications for protection as “manifestly well-founded”. This approach is no longer applied. Nevertheless, in 2021, Syrians continued to be the nationality with the highest recognition rate, reaching 99% overall – out of which 3% concerned the granting of refugee status and 96% the granting of the subsidiary protection with just 1% rate of rejection. In 2021 out of 3,758 Syrian applicants, who submitted asylum claims in Bulgaria nearly 51% (1,872 individuals) had their decisions produced within the duration of the year with a 99% recognition rate (3% or 59 refugee statuses, 96% or 1,792 subsidiary protection) and only 1% rejection rate (21 refusals).
Nationalities from certain countries such as Ukraine, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria are treated as manifestly unfounded applications with zero recognition rates. In the majority of the cases of these nationalities, the status determination is mostly conducted under an Accelerated Procedure.
 91 inadmissibility and 21 admissibility decisions are not included.
 See e.g. (Switzerland) Federal Administrative Court, Decision E-3356/2018, 27 June 2018; (Belgium) Council of Alien Law Litigation, Decision No 185 279, 11 April 2017.
 The last national annual lists were adopted with Decision №205/19.04.2000 of the Council of Ministers, in which Turkey was not enlisted as a safe country of origin nor as a third safe country.
 2015: 22% refugee status, 20% subsidiary protection; 2016: 33% refugee status, 10% subsidiary protection.