NGOs, lawyers and UNHCR staff have unhindered access to all border and inland detention centres and try to provide as much information as possible related to detention grounds and conditions. Despite that, the subject remains difficult to explain, and an extremely high percentage of asylum seekers claim not to understand the reasons for which they are held in detention.
The LAR provides that, where there are indications that the individuals in detention facilities or at border crossing points may wish to make an asylum application, the government shall provide them with information on the possibility to do so. The information should at least include how one can apply for asylum and the procedures to be followed, including in immigration detention centres, and interpreted in the respective language to assist asylum seekers’ access to procedure. This obligation is not fulfilled in practice, as none of the SAR staff is visiting or consulting potential asylum seekers who are apprehended at the border or in immigration detention centres, where the provision of information depends entirely on legal aid NGOs’ efforts and activity.
In those detention facilities and crossing points, Bulgaria is also legally bound to make arrangements for interpretation to the extent necessary to facilitate individual access to the asylum procedure. In practice, however, interpretation services are not secured by the authorities, and the only services in this respect are provided by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee under UNHCR funding. Although Article 8(2) of the recast Asylum Procedures Directive, allowing organisations and persons providing advice and counselling to asylum applicants to have effective access to applicants present at border crossing points, including transit zones at external borders, is transposed in the national law, in practice there are no other NGOs besides the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee which provide regular legal assistance in these areas. Other NGOs such as Centre for Legal Aid – Voice in Bulgaria, Bulgarian Lawyers for Human Rights and Foundation for Access to Rights provide project-based and targeted legal assistance in the Busmantsi pre-removal detention centre. At the end of 2016 the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Bulgaria received the first of many AMIF funding, to also provide legal counselling on status determination procedure to asylum seekers in reception centres and to irregular migrants in detention centres regarding assisted voluntary return. This assistance however is not conditioned by requirements about the qualifications of assistance providers and is ensured by shifting mobile teams on a weekly schedule. During the period 202-2021 IOM restricted its visits to detention centres in Busmantsi and Lyubimets, while during 2022 its reception rooms remained locked with no services provided.
Concerning urban asylum seekers and refugees living in the Sofia region, UNHCR has funded an Information Centre, run by the Red Cross along with an Information Bureau for Third Country Nationals, co-funded by Sofia Municipality, both located in Sofia. In 2022, 992 asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection (438 individuals at the Information Centre; 554 at the Information Bureau) were provided 1,494 consultations and different types of information (654 consultations at the Information Centre; 842 consultations at the Information Bureau).
From mid-April to the end of May 2022, UNHCR and UNICEF gradually opened Blue Dot services at two main border entry points in Ruse and Durankulak as well as in the rest of the major hot-spots in Sofia, Varna, Dobrich and Burgas, which after the beginning of the war In Ukraine received and hosted large number of refugees. Blue Dots expand the assistance provided by national government and are organized in coordination with state authorities and other partners along key transit routes and destinations to help children and families in need. The services are provided in partnership with local NGOs such as the Red Cross, the Helsinki Committee, the Council of Refugee Women and representatives from the refugee community. The Blue Dots are safe spaces and one-stop hubs for protection and essential services, rolled out in countries hosting refugees from Ukraine (including Poland, Romania and Moldova) to provide key protection and social services including information, legal counselling, psychological support, identification and referrals for children, women, families, and other people and groups exposed to specific heightened risks as they flee the conflict in Ukraine. The so-called “Light Blue Dots” – posters, providing key information, are located at the two main entry points along the Bulgarian northern border with Romania, Ruse and Durankulak, where most arrivals are registered. The posters provide information in Ukrainian, Russian and English and refer to the available telephone help lines and online resources.
 For more information, see General Directorate Border Police, UNHCR and BHC, 2015 Annual Border Monitoring Report: Access to territory and international protection, July 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/2jsyglh, para 1.1.3.
 Article 58(6) LAR; Article 8(1) recast Asylum Procedures Directive.
 Article 23(3) LAR.
 Teleconference with the Red Cross, Refugee service deputy manager Violeta Galabova on 10 March 2023.