Legal representation of unaccompanied children

Bulgaria

Country Report: Legal representation of unaccompanied children Last updated: 30/11/20

Author

Bulgarian Helsinki Committee Visit Website

Status determination of unaccompanied children without the presence of a legal representative remains illegal. 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, albeit significantly decreased in 2019, remain considerable in number.

In 2016 an expert group of representatives of the SAR, UNICEF, UNHCR, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee and many other refugee-assisting NGOs re-introduced a draft proposal to the government to amend the Family Code in relation to the appointment of guardians.[3] However, the amendment never took place. In 2019 it was again omitted in the legislative agenda of the government.

The only positive development with respect to representation of unaccompanied children is the pilot legal aid project, commenced in March 2018 by the NLAB and the SAR to provide sponsored legal aid and representation at all stages of the status determination procedure to vulnerable asylum seekers (see Regular Procedure: Legal Assistance). The NLAB and the SAR agreed and adopted formal rules and conditions for the provision of legal aid in practice, including individual and third-party complaint mechanisms, anti-discrimination and anti-corruption measures, which took effect on 31 December 2017. Legal aid under this 80,000 € pilot project will be implemented until 31 January 2020, although an extension until 31 January 2021 has been formally requested.[4] It has to be noted that in Sofia and Harmanli the municipal representatives started to file legal aid requests for unaccompanied children as soon as the end of 2017 and the NLAB responded positively even before the beginning of the pilot project.

The number of unaccompanied child applicants rose by 8% as 524 unaccompanied children applied in 2019, compared to 481 in 2018, 440 in 2017 and 2,772 in 2016:

 

Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children: 2019

Country of origin

Number

Afghanistan

412

Iraq

53

Syria

22

Pakistan

20

Iran

8

Egypt

4

Morocco

3

Stateless

2

Total

524

 

Source: SAR.

 

The absence of guardians, proper legal representation and care for the best interests of unaccompanied children in asylum procedures, coupled with poor reception conditions in mixed dormitories with unrelated adults, has resulted in high rates of absconding and related protection and safety risks.



[1]Article 25(1) LAR.

[2]Article 25(3) LAR.

[3]Draft Law amending the Family Code, Public Consultations, 29 August 2016, available in Bulgarian at: http://bit.ly/2bUdOKp.

[4]Information provided by SAR, 15.01.2020.

 

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