|Name in English||Number of staff as of 31 December 2021||Ministry responsible||Is there any political interference possible by the responsible Minister with the decision making in individual cases by the determining authority?|
|State Agency for Refugees (SAR)||402||Council of Ministers||Yes|
The SAR is competent for examining and deciding on applications for international protection. It is thus the authority competent for granting or not the two existing types of international protection; namely the refugee status or the subsidiary protection (“humanitarian status”) The SAR has different Units composed of caseworkers dealing with specific procedures, such as the Dublin Unit handling Dublin procedures, and specialised caseworkers dealing with accelerated procedures.
In case of mass influx where individual asylum applications cannot be processed, a temporary protection status is granted by the government following a collective decision made by the EU Council. The SAR has an advisory role to the government in this respect when it decides whether to communicate to the EU Council a request for temporary protection decisions to be taken on a group basis in cases of a mass influx of asylum seekers who flee from a war-like situation, gross abuse of human rights or indiscriminate violence. These forms of individual or collective protection can be applied without prejudice to the authority of the Bulgarian President to grant asylum to any foreigner based on the national constitution if he or she is persecuted for convictions or activities undertaken in order to protect internationally recognised rights or freedoms.
Moreover, the chairperson of the SAR who is responsible for taking the first instance decision on the asylum claim is also in charge of the appointment of the SAR officials responsible for taking decisions in the Dublin procedure and in the accelerated procedure.
Internal guidelines provide an extensive description of each procedural step and activity to be undertaken by all SAR staff involved in processing applications for international protection (e.g. registrars, social workers, caseworkers, officials of the legal department etc.) They do not regulate, however, how to conduct interviews, instead they refer to EASO interviewing guidelines. The Internal guidelines are not made public but, if requested, they are usually shared with UNHCR and/or NGOs providing legal assistance.
As regards the decision-making process, the SAR has an ex ante review mechanism in place whereby the caseworker, the head of the respective reception centre and the legal department of the SAR must agree on a draft decision that is then transferred to the SAR’s chairperson for the final decision. In the most recent amendment of SAR Internal Guidelines, this process was formalised as a response to the previous UNHCR and NGO critique that the lack of transparency contributed to bias and corruption.
In terms of quality assurance and control, UNHCR is authorised by law to monitor every stage of the asylum procedure. The Agency’s implementing partner, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, also exercises this right on behalf of UNHCR. The quality monitoring activities carried out by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee on behalf of UNHCR involve evaluation of the following stages of the procedure: registration, interviews, first instance decisions, and appeal hearings in court.
The SAR has further established a Quality of Procedure Directorate which controls the quality of the procedure through regular and random sampling of decisions. On the basis of its findings, the Quality of Procedure Department issues guidance on the interpretation of legal provisions and the improvement of different stages of the procedure. The issued guidance remain strictly internal and even if requested they are not shared nor made public.
 Article 2(3) LAR.
 Article 2(2) LAR.
 Article 27(1) in conjunction with Article 98(10) Bulgarian Constitution.
 Chapter VI, Section Iа LAR.
 Article 70 LAR.
 Article 47 (4) SAR Internal Guidelines.
 Article 91 (7) and (8) SAR Internal Guidelines, as amended in December 2020.
 Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, 2019 Annual RSD monitoring report, 31 January 2020.