Country Report: Identification Last updated: 10/07/24


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Applicants who are children, unaccompanied children, disabled, elderly, pregnant, single parents taking care of underage children, victims of trafficking, persons with serious health issues, psychological disorders or persons who suffered torture, rape, or other forms of psychological, physical or sexual violence are considered as individuals belonging to a vulnerable group.[1]


Screening of vulnerability

Several initiatives on vulnerability were undertaken in previous years. In 2008, the SAR and UNHCR agreed on standard operating procedures (SOPs) to be followed with respect to treatment of victims of Sexual and Gender-based Violence (SGBV).[2] The SOPs were never applied in practice. A process for the revision of the SOPs has been pending since the end of 2013, which also aims to include new categories or vulnerable groups.[3] The revision of SGBV SOPs ended in December 2021 with their formal adoption by the SAR.[4] However, they were neither communicated to SAR staff working on the field, nor implemented in practice.[5]

In April 2017, the national expert working group, headed by the State Agency for Child Protection developed a set of SOPs addressing the protection needs of all categories of unaccompanied children in Bulgaria, both migrant and asylum seekers. In May 2017, UNICEF communicated a concept for the establishment of interim care facility for unaccompanied children. Although these two documents were approved in July 2017 by the National Child Protection Council, nothing has been done by the government to forward the process. As of 31 December 2023, none among these SOPs were implemented in practice.

Against this backdrop, BHC, UNICEF and UNHCR worked together with the Ministry of Interior on amendments of the primary and secondary migration legislation. These amendments’ objective was the creation of a legally binding referral mechanism,[6] as well as a new procedure allowing for the regularisation of rejected and migrant unaccompanied children until they reach adulthood,[7] with a possibility for an indefinite extension after it on humanitarian grounds. However, these amendments do not address the lack of identification mechanism of vulnerability at an earlier stage of the procedure and do not apply to all other categories of persons with special needs.

EUAA, formerly – EASO, also cooperated with Bulgaria in order to improve the capacity to identify and refer vulnerable applicants and to improve exchange between relevant institutions. EASO’s Special Support Plan to Bulgaria was originally in place from December 2014 until June 2016, but was extended until 31 October 2018.[8] The identification and referral mechanism was set to build on the Quality tool for the Identification of Persons with Special Needs (IPSN).

In 2020, amendments to the law introduced a mandatory vulnerability assessment implemented by the SAR social experts with their vulnerability reports and recommendations referred to the case workers in order these circumstances to be taken into account in the decision-taking process. The SAR internal rules foresee that these two documents have to be added to the personal file to enable case worker to take them into account when examining the application. These activities have to be implemented also in the cases when the vulnerability or the special needs are established at a later stage of the asylum procedure. Additionally, an early identification questionnaire was created for applicants who experienced traumatising experiences in order to determine their special needs and to facilitate the referral to adequate psychological or medical care.[9]

In 2023 the overall lack of vulnerability assessment and identification remained the most significant omission during the asylum procedure.[10] The SAR’s social experts attended 50% of the registrations of asylum seekers. Out of them 24% related to cases of unaccompanied children. Only in 6% of all these cases the files of vulnerable asylum seekers contained vulnerability identification and needs assessment, with an attached individual support plan. In none of these cases (0%) the established vulnerability was taken into account in the first instance decision. In the remaining 50% of the cases the registration of asylum seekers was carried out without the presence of a SAR social expert and without any guarantees for early identification of their vulnerabilities, if such existed. Thus, in practice the vulnerability assessment is still missing in 50% of the monitored cases. Additionally, needs assessment as well as planning and provision of support measures with respect to applicants with identified vulnerabilities are carried out yet sporadically than systematically. The SAR noted[11] that vulnerability assessments are conducted by SAR social workers as soon as possible, usually during the registration of asylum seekers, or at a later stage with the assessment attached in the applicants’ files only if they are found to have specific needs. In 2023, SAR social workers conducted altogether 1,405 vulnerability assessments.

However, unaccompanied children’s files continue in many cases to lack the mandatory[12] best interest assessment and individual social report by the respective statutory child protection service from the Agency for Social Assistance (ASA). It has been confirmed that these reports are prepared in practice, but in the majority of the cases they are not only formal, but also not shared with SAR case workers. The social reports, if properly prepared and communicated, could play a vital role not only in the asylum procedure, but also after it to outline the measures which need to be taken with respect to the child depending on the outcome of the procedure – rejection or recognition. Such mandatory social reports with needs assessment were present in 86% of the monitored children’s files in 2023.[13] However, in 83% of these cases these reports were purely formal and with no indication that a proper best interest assessment and determination or risk mitigation measure was realised. The failure of the statutory social services to implement this basic safeguard vis-à-vis unaccompanied asylum seeking and refugee children have continued for over a decade.[14]

Although moderate, the efforts made for the vulnerability identification resulted in a notable increase in the absolute number of asylum seekers formally recognised to have special needs or vulnerabilities. While this concerned 797 asylum seekers in 2019; 1,259 in 2020, 3,928 asylum seekers in 2021 and 5,482 considered as vulnerable in 2022, the number rose to 6,155 considered as vulnerable in 2023 (27% of all new applicants).[15] However it has to be noted that 3,843 of them were unaccompanied children, i.e. cases where the vulnerability identification is straightforward and almost automatic as it derives from the child’s statement about his or her age, or from the identity documents, if available.

The SAR collects statistics on the number of asylum seekers identified as vulnerable at the end of any given month rather than cumulative data on the number of vulnerable persons applying for asylum in a given year. At the end of December 2023, the following groups were identified among asylum seekers:

Asylum seekers identified as vulnerable in Bulgaria: 2018-2023
Category of vulnerable group 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023
Unaccompanied children 52 524 799 3,172 3,483 3,843
Accompanied children n.a. 207 326 561 1,793 1,877
Single parents 16 20 28 57 69 130
Pregnant women 0 8 18 34 24 34
Elderly persons 3 4 0 15 108 30
Disabled persons 3 10 20 21 42 54
Persons with chronic or serious illnesses 19 13 42 52 72 147
Persons with serious psychiatric issues 0 8 24 12 15 31
Victims of physical, psychological or sexual violence 6 3 2 3 5 3
Other (LGTBI) n.a. n.a. n.a. 1 2 6
Total 99 797 1,259 3,928 5,482 6,155

Source: SAR.

NGOs continue to play key role in early identification and assessment of applicants’ vulnerability and their referral and according treatment. Organisations specialise in specific groups and issues, namely: poverty, destitution and social inequality (Red Cross; Council of Refugee Women, Caritas Sofia); health issues and disabilities (Red Cross); mental and psychological problems (Animus, Nadya Centre, replacing ACET which ceased activities at the end of 2016) and unaccompanied children (Bulgarian Helsinki Committee).


Age assessment of unaccompanied children

The caseworker is not obligated to request an age assessment unless there are doubts as to whether the person is a child.[16] In practice, age assessment is used only to disprove asylum seekers declaring being underage.

The law does not state the method of the age assessment which should be applied. As a rule, the wrist X-rays method is applied systematically in all cases, based on the assumption that this method is more accurate than a psycho-social inquiry. The Supreme Administrative Court, however, considers this test as non-binding and applies the benefit of the doubt principle,[17] which is also explicitly laid down in the LAR.[18]

The age assessment cannot be contested by means of a separate appeal to the one lodged against a potential negative decision. Therefore, if a positive decision is issued, but the age is wrongly indicated to be 18 years or above, it cannot be appealed on that account as a part of the status determination process and the child granted the protection will be treated as an adult. The sole legally available option in such case is to initiate lengthy and usually costly civil proceedings to establish the actual age, but unless documentary or other irrefutable evidence is provided these proceedings generally have negative results.

In 2023, the SAR conducted age assessments in 31 cases, in 12 of them (39%) concluding applicants to be adults, 15% in 2022 while in 2021 these were 80% of conducted age assessments. The monitoring of the status determination procedures demonstrated that the SAR continues to conduct age assessment by means of X-ray expertise of the wrist bone structure and without any evidence of prior consent by the children’s representatives.[19] Reports from medical organisations consider the X-ray as invasive but, more importantly, inaccurate with an approximate margin of error of 2 years.[20]

In 2023, SAR revived the efforts to create a formal national age assessment procedure based on a multidisciplinary approach. In July SAR convened an inter-institutional working group which revised the previous age assessment draft, developed in 2019[21]. A bi-lateral Age Assessment Instruction,[22] was formally adopted by SAR and State Agency for Child Protection (SACP) and published in December 2023, which enforcement will take effect on 1 March 2024. The instruction introduces a structured multi-disciplinary age assessment rules and procedures and is the first ever formally adopted one in the European context. The Age Assessment Instruction is widely endorsed by all national stakeholders, including UNHCR and UNICEF.[23]




[1] §1(17) Additional Provisions, LAR.

[2] Standard Operating Procedures on sexual and gender-based violence, Exh. No 630, 27 February 2008.

[3] UNHCR, SGBV Task Force, established on 15 February 2014.

[4] Exh. No.СД-172/и/23.12.2021 approved with resolution by SAR Chairperson.

[5] Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, 2022 Annual RSD Monitoring Report, published on 1 March 2023, available at:

[6]  Article 28a Regulations for Implementation of the Law on Aliens in the Republic of Bulgaria (LARB Regulations), State Gazelle (St.G.) №34/2019, enforced on 24 October 2019.

[7] Article 63k and 63l LARB Regulations, St.G. №23/2019, enforced on 26 November 2019.

[8] EASO, Special support plan to Bulgaria – Amendment No.3, 27 October 2017, available at:; ‘EASO successfully completes its special support in Bulgaria’, 27 November 2018, available at:

[9] Early Identification and Needs Assessment form (ФИОН), Individual Support and Referral Plan form (ФИПП) and Social Consultation form (ФСК).

[10] Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, 2023 Annual Refugee Status Determination Monitoring Report, 31 January 2024, available at:

[11] SAR, Response to the right of reply on information presented in the AIDA Country Report, 8 April 2024.

[12] Articles 16-18 Law on Social Support’s Regulations.

[13] Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, 2022 Annual RSD Monitoring Report, published on 1 March 2023, available at:

[14] Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, 2012 Annual Refugee Status Determination Monitoring Report, 31 January 2013, available at:

[15] SAR, reg. No. №РД05-31 from 15 January 2024.

[16] Article 61(2) LAR.

[17] Supreme Administrative Court, Decision No 13298, 9 November 2009.

[18] Article 75(3) LAR.   

[19] Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, 2021 Annual RSD Monitoring Report, 31 January 2022.

[20] Doctors of the World, Age assessment for unaccompanied minors, 28 August 2015. See also UNHCR, UNICEF and International Rescue Committee, The way forward to strengthened policies and practices for unaccompanied and separated children in Europe, July 2017, available at:

[21] AIDA Update on Bulgaria for 2019, published in February 2020.

[22] State Agency for Refugees, Intruction on the Rules and Conditions on Age Assessment, published on 1 December 2023, available in Bulgarian at:

[23] State Agency for Refugees, ДАБ при МС и ДАЗД въвеждат първата инструкция за определяне възрастта на непридружените деца-бежанци в България, published on 22 December 2023, available in Bulgarian 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