Dublin

Bulgaria

Country Report: Dublin Last updated: 11/04/24

Author

Bulgarian Helsinki Committee Visit Website

General

Dublin statistics: 1 January – 31 December of 2023

Outgoing procedure Incoming procedure
Requests Transfers Requests Transfers
Total 136 51 Total 17,899 590
Take charge 67 46 Take charge 255 20
Austria 1 1 Austria 37 0
Belgium 4 3 Belgium 4 0
Switzerland 2 4 Switzerland 9 0
Germany 35 23 Germany 117 6
Denmark 1 1 Denmark 1 0
Finland 2 0 Finland 2 0
France 5 3 France 14 0
Italy 2 1 Cyprus 1 0
Malta 5 4 Malta 1 0
The Netherlands 4 1 The Netherlands 23 1
Norway 4 3 Norway 5 1
Romania 1 1 Romania 31 6
Sweden 1 1 Sweden 1 1
Portugal 2 0
Slovenia 3 0
Croatia 3 4
Czech Republic 1 1
Take back 69 5 Take back 17,644 570
Austria 7 0 Austria 6,507 113
Switzerland 5 0 Switzerland 465 37
Cyprus 1 0 Cyprus 1 0
Germany 22 2 Germany 6,692 257
Denmark 4 0 Denmark 13 3
Spain 9 0 Liechtenstein 1 0
Finland 2 0 Finland 8 1
France 1 1 France 1,684 75
Greece 2 0 Greece 2 0
Croatia 1 0 Croatia 53 0
Lithuania 1 0 Lithuania 1 0
Hungary 1 0 Slovakia 59 41
The Netherlands 2 0 The Netherlands 432 4
Norway 2 0 Norway 20 0
Poland 2 0 Poland 10 1
Romania 2 0 Romania 155 0
Sweden 4 1 Sweden 26 7
Slovenia 1 0 Slovenia 954 0
Belgium 443 22
Czech Republic 12 5
Iceland 1 0
Ireland 22 0
Italy 69 0
Luxembourg 4 2
Malta 7 2
Portugal 3 0

 Source: SAR.

 

Outgoing Dublin requests by criterion: 2023
Dublin III Regulation criterion Requests sent Requests accepted
Take charge”: Articles 8-15: 67 34
 Article 8 (minors) 50 28
 Article 9 (family members granted protection) 4 2
 Article 10 (family members pending determination) 1 0
 Article 11 (family procedure) 0 0
 Article 12 (visas and residence permits) 6 2
 Article 13 (entry and/or remain) 0 0
 Article 14 (visa free entry) 0 0
“Take charge”: Article 16 2 0
“Take charge” humanitarian clause: Article 17(2) 4 2
“Take back”: Article 18 69 12
 Article 18 (1) (b) 69 12
 Article 18 (1) (c) 0 0
 Article 18 (1) (d) 0 0
 Article 20(5) 0 0

Source: SAR.

 

Incoming Dublin requests by criterion: 2023
Dublin III Regulation criterion Requests received Requests accepted
“Take charge”: Articles 8-15 255 92
 Article 8 (minors) 13 6
 Article 9 (family members granted protection) 29 1
 Article 10 (family members pending determination) 7 0
 Article 11 (family procedure) 20 2
 Article 12 (visas and residence permits) 75 60
 Article 13 (entry and/or remain) 99 18
 Article 14 (visa free entry) 0 0
“Take charge”: Article 16 0 0
“Take charge” humanitarian clause: Article 17(2) 12 5
“Take back”: Articles 18 and 20(5) 17,644 12,928
 Article 18 (1) (b) 17,636 12,924
 Article 18 (1) (c) 0 0
 Article 18 (1) (d) 8 4
 Article 20(5) 0 0

Source: SAR.

 

The LAR does not establish criteria to determine the state responsible, but simply refers to the criteria listed in the Dublin Regulation.

Application of the Dublin criteria

 Family unity criteria are applied fully, though in practice the prevailing type of cases relate to joining family members outside Bulgaria, not the opposite. If the family link cannot be established or substantiated through relevant documents, some EU Member States (Germany, Austria) require DNA tests in cases of unaccompanied children to prove their origin. In such cases the parent or parents are usually advised to travel to Bulgaria and provide blood samples to be matched, tested, and compared with the unaccompanied child or children’s DNA. Considering that the majority of asylum seekers arrive in Bulgaria via Türkiye and Greece, cases when the responsibility of another EU Member State can be established under any other of the Dublin criteria, except the family provisions, are scarce.

The most common criteria that continue to be applied in incoming cases are previously issued documents and first Member State of entry, as well as “take back” cases. Bulgaria accepts responsibility for the examination of asylum applications based on the humanitarian clause, and mostly vis-à-vis document and entry reasons. In 2023, Bulgaria received 17,899 incoming requests and made 136 outgoing requests, compared to 20,014 incoming and 175 outgoing requests in 2022; 7,811 incoming and 190 outgoing requests in 2021; 1,904 incoming requests and 116 outgoing requests in 2020; and 3,088 incoming and 80 outgoing requests in 2019.

Incoming / Outgoing Dublin requests ratio: 2019 – 2023
Year Incoming requests Outgoing requests
2019 3,088 80
2020 1,904 116
2021 7,811 190
2022 20,014 175
2023 17,889 136
The dependent persons and discretionary clauses

In the past, the sovereignty clause under Article 17(1) of the Regulation was used in few cases, mainly for family or health condition reasons. The sovereignty clause has never been applied for reasons different from humanitarian ones. Since 2017 and including in 2021, Bulgaria did not apply the sovereignty clause. In 2022, Bulgaria applied the humanitarian clause of Article 17(2) in 1 case, but none in 2023.

 

Procedure

The LAR establishes the Dublin procedure as a non-mandatory stage, which is applied only following a decision from the caseworker assigned to the specific case, only if there are indications regarding the possibility to establish that another Member State is responsible to examine the asylum application in question.[2]  In June 2022 the government adopted amendments[3] to the ordinance[4] regulating the coordination between the asylum and police (border and immigration) administrations while implementing Dublin III Regulation. The amendments updated and clarified the division of responsibilities among these authorities, but did not bring any noticeable change as they only formalised the already existing practical arrangements.

Eurodac has been used as an instrument for checking the status records of all irregular migrants. Fingerprints taken by the Border or Immigration Police are uploaded automatically in the Schengen Information System (SIS) and can be used to implement the Dublin Regulation. Nonetheless, all asylum seekers are systematically fingerprinted again by the Dublin Unit of the SAR for technical reasons.

In 2020, the law was amended to optimise the decision-making in Dublin procedures by obliging the asylum agency to issue formal decisions only if another Member State has taken charge of or taken back the responsibility to examine the case. If this is not the case, asylum applications are automatically referred for eligibility determination without any written referral decision required, which has been the rule before the amendment. However, many problems are still created by the fact that the decision-making process remains centralised as far as the Dublin decisions are concerned, as such decisions can be issued only by the SAR’s Dublin Unit, which is located in the headquarters of the SAR in Sofia.[5] This in some cases could create problems connected to respect of the 3-month deadline under the Dublin Regulation for issuing a request to another Member State, as sometimes the congested communication between the Dublin Unit and the local reception centre outside Sofia, where applicants are accommodated, can consume time before all relevant documentation is prepared in order to make a proper Dublin request.

Individualised guarantees

In practice, Bulgaria does not seek individualised guarantees to ensuring that asylum seekers will have adequate reception conditions upon transfer. The overwhelming part of outgoing transfers relating to vulnerable groups were carried out with respect to unaccompanied children since 2016 and up until the end of 2023.[6] Since all transfers were based on family reunification and consent from the children and family members, the Dublin Unit did not request guarantees from receiving countries.

It is also a general understanding within the national stakeholders that the reception conditions in the countries of transfer, e.g. such as Germany, France, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Austria, and Norway in 2023, are better in most aspects than those in Bulgaria.

Transfers

In cases where another Member State accepts the responsibility to examine the application of an asylum seeker who is in Bulgaria, the outgoing transfer was usually implemented within 5 months on average in practice. However, in 2023 SAR reported this period to has been up to 3 months.[7]  If incoming transfer is being organised, however, the duration of actual implementation varies, reaching in the past up to 15 months. In 2022, some reorganizations undertaken by SAR in its Internal Regulations[8] decreased the implementation of incoming transfers up to 4 months on average, and to 3 and a half months in 2023[9].

Asylum seekers are usually not detained upon notification of the transfer. However, in certain cases, transferred asylum seekers can be detained for up to 7 days before the transfer as a precautionary measure to ensure their timely boarding of the plane. In all cases the transfer is carried out without an escort. It should be noted that in the past asylum seekers sometimes agreed to be detained for a couple of days before the flight to the responsible Member State as this was the only way for them to avoid any procedural problems that can delay their exit. No cases of detention based on this reason were reported in 2023[10].

Asylum seekers to be transferred under the Dublin Regulation to another Member State are given a written decision stating the grounds for applying the Dublin III and the right to appeal the transfer to the other Member State before the court. However, asylum seekers are not informed of the fact that requests have been made for “take back” or “take charge” requests to the Member State deemed responsible, nor of any progress made with regard to such requests, unless the applicants actively require information on the progress. In distinction with many other national authorities, SAR continue to provide such information to asylum seekers pending outgoing but also incoming transfers, including to their duly authorised representatives from Bulgaria or abroad.

In 2023, 46 outgoing transfers were carried out compared to 67 requests, indicating a 68% outgoing transfer rate. In the same time period, out of 17,899 incoming requests just 590 transfers were carried out in practice, thus marking 3% incoming transfer rate. The majority were Dublin transfers of unaccompanied children to members of their family in receiving Member States.

 

Personal interview

The law does not require to conduct a personal interview in the Dublin procedure. Instead, it gives the interviewer an opportunity to decide whether an interview is necessary in light of all other relevant circumstances and evidence.[11] If an interview is conducted, it is mostly follows the same rules and practices as eligibility interviews in the Regular Procedure, except relating to the type of questions asked in order to verify and apply Dublin criteria. Similar to the regular procedure, an audio or audio-video recording is now mandatory and applied in the majority of cases.[12]

 

Appeal

Contrary to appeal against other decisions, appeals against decisions in the Dublin procedure are heard only before the Administrative Court of Sofia and only at one instance. Dublin appeals do not have automatic suspensive effect, but it can be awarded by the court upon an explicit request from the asylum seeker.

The time limit for lodging the appeal is 7 calendar days, which is equal to the time limit for appeal in the Accelerated Procedure: Appeal. Appeal procedures are held in an open hearing, and legal aid can also be awarded.

In practice, the court accepts all kind of evidence in support of the appeal, including on the level of reception conditions and procedural guarantees to substantiate its decision. The court’s practice however is quite poor as very few Dublin decisions on transfers to other Member States are challenged. For this reason, no clear conclusions can be made as to whether the Administrative Court of Sofia takes into account the reception conditions, procedural guarantees and recognition rates in the responsible Member State when reviewing the Dublin decision.

 

Legal assistance

The Law on Legal Aid provides for state-funded representation at first instance and appeal. As a result, legal aid financed by the state budget should have become available to asylum seekers during the Dublin procedure since 2013, in addition to the already available legal aid during an appeal procedure before the court. However, in practice in 2023, legal aid to initiate and undergo a Dublin procedure was only provided to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in order to assist their reunion with parents, relatives or family members in other European countries. This special legal aid was provided under the adopted 2020 amendment to the law, when the obligation to represent unaccompanied children was shifted from the municipalities to the National Legal Aid Bureau (see section Regular Procedure: Legal Assistance).[13] The statutory legal aid lawyers who represented unaccompanied children were assisted with training, interpretation and support to make sure that they are able to provide adequate and child-friendly information, and to manage their Dublin cases in accordance with the ad-hoc arrangements established jointly by BHC and SAR’s Dublin Unit since August 2019. These ad-hoc arrangements were funded by UNICEF, and ended on 31 December 2023.

 

Suspension of transfers

Bulgaria had suspended all Dublin transfers to Greece in 2011, based on the European Commission Fourth Recommendation,[14] thereby assuming responsibility for examining the asylum applications of the asylum seekers concerned.

In 2023, Bulgaria resumed take back request to Greece with 2 requests sent.  However, no transfers were implemented.

Suspensions of transfers are not automatic, as there might be cases of “take charge” requests where applicants have family members in other EU Member States or other circumstances that engage the responsibility of another state. Due to the level of material reception conditions in Bulgaria, there have just several appeals against Dublin transfer decisions to other EU Member States.

 

The situation of Dublin returnees

In 2023, Bulgaria received 17,899 incoming requests under the Dublin Regulation and 590 incoming transfers.[15] In 2023, the number of Dublin returns actually implemented to Bulgaria increased by 192% compared to 2022, by 158% compared to 2021 and by 1,342% compared to 2020 (see table below). Overall, the percentage of actual transfers remains moderate compared to the number of incoming requests:

Incoming Dublin requests and transfers: 2015-2023
2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023
Requests 8,131 10,377 7,934 3,448 3,097 1,904 7,811 20,014 17,899
Transfers 262 624 446 86 73 14 78 202 590

Source: Eurostat, migr_dubro and migr_dubto; SAR.

Asylum seekers who are returned from other Member States in principle do not face any obstacles in accessing the territory of Bulgaria upon return. Prior to the arrival of Dublin returnees, the SAR informs the Border Police of the expected arrival and indicates whether the returnee should be transferred to a reception centre or to immigration pre-removal detention facility. This decision depends on the phase of the Bulgarian asylum procedure of the Dublin returnee as outlined below:

  • If the returnee has a pending asylum application in Bulgaria, or the procedure was terminated because of the returnee’s absconding, he or she is transferred to a SAR reception centre. In the past the SAR usually suspended asylum procedures when asylum seekers had left Bulgaria before their procedures were completed. After the amendments of the law in 2020, the SAR obtained the right to directly terminate (discontinue) the asylum procedure in such cases without passing through a stage of suspension. In both cases, no decision on the merits is issued, therefore the procedure can be reopened.[16]
  • If, however, the returnee’s asylum application was rejected with a final decision on the merits before, or after, leaving Bulgaria, and the decision was served in absentia and therefore became final,[17] the returnee is transferred to one of the immigration pre-removal facilities, usually to the Busmantsi detention centre in Sofia, but also to the Lyubimets detention centre near the Turkish border. Such refusal and serving of the refusal’s decision in absentia is legally possible,[18] if an interview has been conducted[19] with the returnee prior their absconding from Bulgaria and if based on the information gathered from the interview the case worker could form an opinion about the credibility of the asylum claim. In the case of families, when returned, parents whose application was finally rejected are usually detained together with their children. In exceptional cases children may be placed in child care social institutions while their parents are detained in immigration facilities, however it is applied only when an expulsion order on account of threat to national security is issued to any of the parents.

Since 2020, the LAR explicitly provides for the mandatory reopening[20] of an asylum procedure with respect to an applicant who is returned to Bulgaria under the Dublin Regulation, provided that s/he has not been issued a decision on merits while in absentia.[21] The SAR’s practice following this particular amendment has been so far in line with the law, and returnees whose asylum procedures had been only terminated (discontinued) after their absconding do not face obstacles in principle to have their determination procedures reopened. However, it does not secure their access to state provided food and accommodation in reception centres as these are guaranteed only to vulnerable applicants.[22]

For any other Dublin returnees, who are not considered vulnerable, food and accommodation are contingent to the limited national reception capacity and availability. If there is no available place for accommodation in reception centres of the asylum agency SAR, Dublin returnees will have to secure accommodation and nutrition at their own expenses. In 2023, SAR continued to report[23] a severe lack of capacity to accommodate in its reception centres the Dublin returnees who were not identified as vulnerable,  both due to the constantly increasing new arrivals (+10% in 2023, +55% in 2022; +205% in 2021),[24] and to the reduced reception capacity, as in practice only 3,592 out of 5,160 official accommodation places were assessed as fit for living,[25] against the backdrop of 22,518 new arrivals just in 2023 (see Overview of the main changes since the previous report update, Reception capacity).

Although the access to the national health care system is automatically reinstated after the Dublin return,[26] the national health care package is generally scarce and does not provide for any tailored medical or psychological treatment or support, nor for the treatment of many chronic diseases or surgical interventions, prosthetics, implants or other necessary medications or supplies.[27] Therefore the patients need to pay for them at their own expense.

Access to the labour market is guaranteed to asylum seekers after a period of three months from their personal registration and for the duration of the procedure.[28] However, the national economic situation remains challenging. Any improvements which finally started to occur after the end of COVID-19 pandemic were reverted in the beginning of 2022 by the war in Ukraine. It further complicated asylum seekers and refugees’ employment and self-sufficiency. In 2023, the State Refugee Agency issued 579 work permits to asylum seekers who were looking to support themselves while their asylum claims were being processed.[29] Out of them, only 2 asylum seekers alongside 17 persons granted international protection were employed through employment programs, while the rest found work independently and on their own initiative.[30]

If, however, the Dublin returnee is among those, whose asylum procedures ended prior their return to Bulgaria with a refusal in absentia on the merits (substance), they are treated as irregular migrants with no access to labour market, the health care system or any other services that require legal residence and an identity document. In the majority of cases, these returnees are arrested upon return and detained in Busmantsi or Lyubimets pre-removal immigration centres to further enable their removal. In the few cases when the returnees are not detained after their arrival, usually – due to administrative or institutional entanglements, they may face homelessness and destitution because of their irregular status in Bulgaria and the lack of valid residence and/or identity documents. This means that even, if the returnees do have financial means, their access to the labour market and most of the basic public services (health care, social support, bank services, etc.) is nearly impossible.

In principle, no “take back” requests have been made so far under the Dublin Regulation regarding individuals with special needs. In the few cases in the past where the return of families with minor children, the requesting Member states usually asked the assurances of SAR for accommodation, adequate reception conditions as well as the nature of the services that will be provided. Usually, these individual guarantees are not made via DubliNet, but by using the available diplomatic channels, in most cases by the respective Member State’s embassy in Bulgaria.

In 2023, the courts in some Dublin States, as well as the European Court of Human Rights, continued to rule suspension of Dublin transfers to Bulgaria on different grounds, but especially with respect to certain categories of asylum seekers due to poor material conditions and lack of proper safeguards for the rights of the individuals concerned.

To provide an example, in Belgium, in decision 289 752, the Council of Alien Law Litigation noted that, whereas Dublin returnees do not in principle face obstacles in re-accessing the Bulgarian asylum system, their access to accommodation and food is not guaranteed. In addition, the Council considered that the determining authorities did not sufficiently take into consideration the applicant’s well-documented submissions corroborating a risk of ill-treatment by police authorities in Bulgaria giving rise to risks of violations of Article 3 ECHR in case of return. Likewise, in decisions 290 112 and 290 220, the Council held that, by failing to consider the reported serious shortage of reception capacity for Dublin returnees, the determining authorities did not properly asses the risk of a breach of Article 3 ECHR.

In decision D-5019/2022, the Swiss Federal Administrative Court took into consideration the lack of access to appropriate healthcare, in particular for acute psychiatric treatment, and the risk of refoulement specifically faced by Turkish nationals in Bulgaria, to conclude that there was a risk that, upon return, the applicant would be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment within the meaning of Article 3 ECHR and Article 4 of the EU Charter.

Sample of cases on suspensions of Dublin transfers to Bulgaria in 2023
Country Judicial authority Case Date of decision
Austria Federal Administrative Court W239 2269761-1

W239 2269760-1

W240 2266512-1

W185 2267079-1

20 April 2023

20 April 2023

27 April 2023

05 May 2023

Constitutional Court E1044/2022 et al. 09 March 2023
Belgium Council of Alien Law Litigation 289 189

289 270

289 271

289 278

289 282

289 726

289 723

289 752

290 114

290 112

290 452

291 091

291 090

23 May 2023

25 May 2023

25 May 2023

25 May 2023

25 May 2023

01 June 2023

01 June 2023

05 June 2023

12 June 2023

12 June 2023

16 June 2023

27 June 2023

27 June 2023

Germany Administrative Court of Köln Az. 5 L 65/23.A 31 January 2023
Administrative Court of München M 10 K 18.51221 21 February 2023
Denmark Refugee Appeals Board Dub-Bulg/2023/2 September 2023
Slovenia Administrative Court UP00069332

UP00069455

UP00069170

08 June 2023

09 June 202

20 June 20233

Switzerland Federal Administrative Court D-5019/2022 24 August 2023

Courts throughout European countries have, however, also often upheld Dublin transfers to Bulgaria in 2023.[31]

Additional information on the access of Dublin returnees to reception and healthcare can be found under the sections on Access and forms of reception conditions and Health care.

 

 

 

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

[2] Article 67a(2) LAR.

[3] State Gazette No.46 from 21 June 2022.

[4] COM No.332/2007: Наредба за отговорността и координацията на държавните органи, осъществяващи действия по административно сътрудничество при прилагането на регламент Дъблин и регламент Евродак.

[5] SAR, Annual report on procedures for international protection in 2023, available in Bulgarian at: https://bit.ly/3IgTCjm.

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

[7] Ibid.

[8] SAR, Internal Regulations for Implementation of the Procedure for Granting International Protection, Article 55.

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

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

[11] Article 67b(2) LAR.

[12] Article 63a(3) LAR.

[13] Article 25 LAR.

[14] Commission Recommendation on the resumption of transfers to Greece under Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013, C(2016) 8525, 8 December 2016.

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

[16] Article 77(3) LAR.

[17] Articles 18(1)(d) and (2) Dublin III Regulation.

[18] Article 76(4) LAR.

[19] Article 63a(1), (5) and (7) LAR.

[20] Article 77(3) LAR.

[21] Article 18(2) Dublin III Regulation.

[22] Article 29(7) LAR.

[23] SAR, reg. No.РД-05-72 from 26 February 2023.

[24] MOI statistics, December 2023, available in Bulgarian at: https://bit.ly/48C57wC.

[25] 127th Coordination Meeting held on 28 December 2023.

[26] Article 29(8) LAR.

[27] National Health Insurance Office, statutory health care package, available in Bulgarian at: https://bit.ly/3nDcrU1.

[28] Article 29 (3) LAR.

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

[30] Employment Agency, reg. No.РД08-2852 from 22 December 2023.

[31] See e.g. (Austria) Federal Administrative Court, Decisions W240 2269956-1, W144 2273612-2, W161 2276527-1, W232 2277979-1 and W232 2278396-1; (Belgium) Council of Alien Law Litigation, decisions 293 616 and 296 780; (Netherlands) Council of State, decision 202206794/1/V3, Decision NL22.14416, 26 October 2022: (Switzerland) Federal Administrative Court, decisions F-3179/2023, F-5712/2023 and F-5523/2023.

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