Legal representation of unaccompanied children

Bulgaria

Country Report: Legal representation of unaccompanied children Last updated: 21/04/21

Author

Bulgarian Helsinki Committee Visit Website

The 2015 reform mandated the local municipalities to act as legal representatives of unaccompanied children.[1] Under the law, the municipality representative has a responsibility to safeguard the child’s interests during the procedure, to represent the child before administration with respect to his or her best interests, to represent the child in all types of administrative or courts proceedings, as well as to take actions to ensure appointment of legal aid.[2] Representation of unaccompanied children by statutory social workers during the asylum procedure was abolished.

Highly criticised when adopted, since then this approach of the law proved to be indeed even more inadequate than previous arrangements. The municipalities lack not only qualified staff, but also any basic experience and expertise in child protection. In addition to that, the number of legal representatives appointed – one or two per reception facility – is clearly insufficient to meet the need of the population of unaccompanied children who, remain considerable in number.

At the end of 2020, amendments to the law introduced a major change in the legal representation of unaccompanied asylum seeking and refugee children.[3]  The obligation to represent these children not only in the procedure, but also after the recognition and before all agencies and institutions with regard to their rights and entitlements, was shifted from the municipalities to the National Legal Aid Bureau. It includes requirements related to the qualification of the appointed legal aid lawyers and representation implemented in the child’s best interest.[4]

The amendment is expected to correct the long-standing absence of guardians, proper legal representation and care for the best interests of unaccompanied children in asylum procedures so far, which has resulted in high rates of absconding and related protection and safety risks.

The number of unaccompanied child applicants rose to 799 unaccompanied children in 2020, compared to 524 in 2019, 481 in 2018, 440 in 2017 and 2,772 in 2016:

Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children: 2020

Country of origin

Number

Afghanistan

659
Syria

109

Iraq

14
Pakistan

10

Libya

1
Morocco

1

Vietnam

1
Total

799

Source: SAR.

 

[1]  Former Article 25(1) LAR.

[2] Former Article 25(3) LAR.

[3] National Parliament, Amendments on the Law on Asylum and Refugees (LAR), State Gazette No.89 from 16 October 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2LoUMiG.

[4] Article 25 LAR.

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