Although in 2022 a needs assessment was carried out in 67% of the cases, the assessment of applicants established as vulnerable or having specific needs was included only in 18% in their personal files. However even in these cases the assessment was not taken into consideration by caseworkers in their decision-making process in 100% of the monitored cases.
Despite the 2015 reform of the law which stripped the statutory social workers of the child protection services from the responsibility to represent unaccompanied children in asylum procedures (see Legal Representation of Unaccompanied Children), their obligation to provide a social report with an opinion on the best interests of the child concerned in every individual case remains nonetheless under the provisions of general child care legislation. In all of the cases monitored in 2022, these reports were produced but in their vast majority not included to the files nor shared with the SAR’s caseworkers for further consideration.
At the end of 2017, the National Legal Aid Bureau, which is the national body assigned to provide state sponsored legal aid, received funding under the AMIF national programme to commence for the first time ever in Bulgaria the provision of legal aid to asylum seekers during the administrative phase of the asylum procedure. Legal aid under this 80,000 € pilot project was implemented until 31 January 2021 and was limited to the vulnerable applicants for international protection. The project was extended until 31 July 2021 (see Regular Procedure: Legal Assistance). After the end of the project, the National Legal Aid Bureau agreed to continue representing vulnerable applicants under its general rules, which would require the asylum seekers to fill in and submit complicated legal aid applications. The non-governmental organisation Bulgarian Helsinki Committee funded by UNHCR assisted the NLAB with the adaptation and translation of the legal aid forms in English, French, Russian, Arabic, Farsi, Dari, Pashto, Urdu, Kurdish and Turkish languages in order to enable the access to legal aid of vulnerable applicants. A problem persists, however, for those who are illiterate and where the assistance of case workers is the only way to get access to legal aid. Yet, some of them are reluctant to grant access to legal aid as it would mean that their role in and quality of the procedure would be assessed. In 2022, beyond unaccompanied children, legal aid was not provided to any other vulnerable asylum seekers at first instance, which represents a further deterioration in this respect in comparison to 2021, when 50 asylum seekers were provided legal aid, and 818 asylum seekers in 2020. Other asylum seekers, i.e. who are not considered as vulnerable, did not enjoy access to legal aid at the first instance of the asylum procedure.
In 2022, the Minister of Labour and Social Policy approved a coordination mechanism for interaction between the authorities and organisations working on cases of unaccompanied migrant children separated from their families in Bulgaria, including children seeking and/or receiving international or temporary protection. However, this coordination mechanism was neither endorsed, nor signed by any other ministry or government agency, including SAR, therefore it is not applied in practice.
 Article 71(1) LAR.
 Article 15(4) and (6) Law on Child Protection.
 SAR, reg. №РД05-40 from 16 January 2023.
 MLSP, Order No. RD-06-6 of 18 April 2022.