Dublin statistics: 1 January – 31 December of 2021
|Outgoing procedure||Incoming procedure|
|Take charge||106||71||Take charge||113||6|
|Take back||84||1||Take back||7,698||72|
|Outgoing Dublin requests by criterion: 2021|
|Dublin III Regulation criterion||Requests sent||Requests accepted|
|“Take charge”: Articles 8-15:||106||42|
|Article 8 (minors)||80||37|
|Article 9 (family members granted protection)||19||5|
|Article 10 (family members pending determination)||1||0|
|Article 11 (family procedure)||0||0|
|Article 12 (visas and residence permits)||2||0|
|Article 13 (entry and/or remain)||0||0|
|Article 14 (visa free entry)||0||0|
|“Take charge”: Article 16||0||0|
|“Take charge” humanitarian clause: Article 17(2)||4||1|
|“Take back”: Article 18||84||8|
|Article 18 (1) (b)||84||8|
|Article 18 (1) (c)||0||0|
|Article 18 (1) (d)||0||0|
|Incoming Dublin requests by criterion: 2021|
|Dublin III Regulation criterion||Requests received||Requests accepted|
|“Take charge”: Articles 8-15||113||18|
|Article 8 (minors)||0||0|
|Article 9 (family members granted protection)||44||2|
|Article 10 (family members pending determination)||0||0|
|Article 11 (family procedure)||5||0|
|Article 12 (visas and residence permits)||27||15|
|Article 13 (entry and/or remain)||34||1|
|Article 14 (visa free entry)||0||0|
|“Take charge”: Article 16||0||0|
|“Take charge” humanitarian clause: Article 17(2)||3||0|
|“Take back”: Articles 18 and 20(5)||7,698||3,274|
|Article 18 (1) (b)||7,691||3,272|
|Article 18 (1) (c)||0||0|
|Article 18 (1) (d)||7||2|
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 with relevant documents, some EU Member States (Germany, Austria and United Kingdom as a former Member State during the transition period) require DNA tests in cases of unaccompanied children in order 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. It has to be noted that the vast majority of asylum seekers arrive in Bulgaria via Turkey and Greece, therefore cases when the responsibility of another EU Member State can be engaged 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 2021, Bulgaria received 7,811 incoming requests and made 190 outgoing requests, compared to 1,904 incoming requests and 116 outgoing requests in 2020; 3,088 incoming and 80 outgoing requests in 2019; 3,448 incoming and 125 outgoing requests in 2018 and 7,934 incoming and 162 outgoing requests in 2017.
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. However, in 2021, Bulgaria applied the humanitarian clause of Article 17(2) in 4 cases.
The LAR establishes the Dublin procedure as a non-mandatory stage, which is applied only by a decision of the respective caseworker, if and when there is information or indications to either engage the responsibility of another Member State to determine the asylum application in question.
Eurodac has been used as an instrument for checking the previous 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 for the purpose of implementing the Dublin Regulation. Nonetheless, all asylum seekers are systematically fingerprinted again by the Dublin Unit of the SAR for technical reasons.
Following recommendations from the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), now the European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA), information relevant to Dublin procedures is gathered during the initial registration interviews with asylum seekers in a separate checklist, which mainly focuses on eventual family members in other Member States. Amendments of the law in 2020 were introduced to optimise the decision-making in Dublin procedures by removing the requirement of a formal decision and rendering an automatic legal effect to the majority of acts. However, many problems are still created by the fact that the decision-making process remains multi-staged and 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. This creates problems with respect to observation 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 where applicants are accommodated can consume time before all relevant documentation is prepared in order to make a proper Dublin request.
Bulgaria does not seek individualised guarantees ensuring that the asylum seekers will have adequate reception conditions upon transfer in practice. Outgoing transfers relating to vulnerable groups were only carried out with respect to unaccompanied children since 2016 and up until the end of 2021. 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 or Sweden in 2021 are better in most aspects than those in Bulgaria.
In cases where another Member State accepts the responsibility to examine the application of an asylum seeker who is in Bulgaria, the outgoing transfer is implemented within 5 months on average in practice. If incoming transfer is being organised, however, the duration of actual implementation varies up to 15 months.
Asylum seekers are usually not detained upon the 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 practice asylum seekers sometimes agree to be detained for a couple of days before the flight to the responsible Member State as this is the only way for them to avoid any procedural problems that can delay their exit.
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 Regulation 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 applicant him or herself requested the transfer and/or provided due evidence in this respect.
In 2021, 72 outgoing transfers were carried out compared to 190 requests, indicating a 38% outgoing transfer rate. Some issues persist in the context of COVID-19 such as delays, cancelled flights and requirements to obtain a negative COVID test, but the situation has largely improved compared to 2020. The prevailing majority were Dublin transfers of unaccompanied children to members of their family in receiving Member States.
The law does not require the conduct of a personal interview in the Dublin procedure, rather it gives an opportunity to the interviewer to decide whether an interview is necessary or not in light of all other relevant circumstances and evidence. If an interview is conducted, it is not different from any other eligibility interviews in the Regular Procedure: Personal Interview, except relating to the type of questions asked in order to verify and apply the Dublin criteria. Similar to the regular procedure, an audio or audio-video recording is now mandatory and applied in the majority of the caseload.
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.
The court accepts in practice 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.
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 2021, 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). 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 are funded by UNICEF, which will continue to provide funding until 31 December 2022.
Suspension of transfers
Bulgaria had suspended all Dublin transfers to Greece in 2011, thereby assuming responsibility for examining the asylum applications of the asylum seekers concerned. On 8 December 2016, the European Commission issued a Fourth Recommendation in favour of the resumption of Dublin returns to Greece, starting from 15 March 2017, without retroactive effect and only regarding asylum applicants who have entered Greece from 15 March 2017 onwards or for whom Greece is responsible from 15 March 2017 onwards under other Dublin criteria. Persons belonging to vulnerable groups such as unaccompanied minors are to be excluded from Dublin transfers for the moment, according to the Recommendation. However, until the end of 2021, Bulgaria has not ruled out or implemented any Dublin transfer to Greece in practice despite the submission of 2 outgoing requests.
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 been no appeals against Dublin transfer decisions to any other EU Member State.
As mentioned above, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the national lockdown from 13 March to 13 May 2020 all Dublin transfers were suspended. However, even without any other lockdowns in 2020 or 2021 in Bulgaria many of the already consented transfers were not implemented either due to still ongoing or re-introduced lockdowns in the receiving countries, or because of quarantines applied, which congested flight and reception arrangements.
The situation of Dublin returnees
In 2021, Bulgaria received 7,811 incoming requests under the Dublin Regulation and 78 incoming transfers. The number of Dublin returns actually implemented to Bulgaria increased by 497% compared to 2020 (see table below). Overall, the percentage of actual transfers remains quite low compared to the number of incoming requests:
|Incoming Dublin requests and transfers: 2014-2021|
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 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.
- If, however, the returnee’s asylum application was rejected with a final decision on the merits before, or after, he or she left Bulgaria, and the decision was served in absentia and therefore became final, the returnee is transferred to one of the immigration detention facilities, usually to the Busmantsi detention centre in Sofia, or to the Lyubimets detention centre near the Turkish border. Parents are usually detained with their children. In exceptional cases children may be placed in child care social institutions while their parents are detained in immigration facilities, in cases when an expulsion order on account of threat to national security is issued to any of the parents.
Since 2015, the LAR explicitly provides for the mandatory reopening of an asylum procedure with respect to an applicant who is returned to Bulgaria under the Dublin Regulation, provided that he, or, she has not been issued a decision on merits while in absentia. The SAR’s practice following this particular amendment is in line with the law so far 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 as these are guaranteed only to vulnerable applicants. For the other returnees, who are not considered vulnerable, food and accommodation is contingent on the limited national reception capacity and availability. If there is no available place for accommodation in reception centers of the asylum agency SAR, the returnees will have to secure their accommodation and food at their own expenses. Although the access to the national health care system is automatically reinstated after the Dublin return, 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. Therefore the patients need to pay for them at their own expense. Access to the labour market is guaranteed for the duration of the procedure after a period of three months from their personal registration. However, the COVID-19 pandemic deteriorated the (already challenging) national economic situation, which further hindered asylum seekers’ and refugees’ employment and self-sufficiency. In 2021 only 97 asylum seekers were actually employed.
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 of their asylum applications, they are treated as irregular migrants. In the vast majority of the cases these returnees are arrested upon return and detained in Busmantsi or Lyubimets pre-removal centers 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 the majority of the basic public services (health care, social support, bank services, etc.) becomes nearly impossible.
In principle, no “take back” requests have been made so far under the Dublin Regulation with regard to individuals with special needs. In the few cases where the return of two parents’ families with minor children and a family of three with their spouse and parent have been sought, the requesting states usually asked for assurances on the provision of accommodation and adequate reception conditions and services 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 state’s embassy in Bulgaria.
In 2021, the courts in some Dublin States, as well as the European Court of Human Rights, have continued to rule suspension of Dublin transfers to Bulgaria 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.
|Suspensions of Dublin transfers to Bulgaria in 2021|
|Country||Judicial authority||Case||Date of decision|
|Austria||Federal Administrative Court (BVwG)||W165 2240564-1||30 Mar 2021|
|W165 2240562-1||30 Mar 2021|
|W165 2240561-1||30 Mar 2021|
|W165 2240560-1||30 Mar 2021|
|W165 2240578-1||06 Apr 2021|
|Germany||Administrative Court of Hannover||3 A 5416/19||24 Mar 2021|
|Administrative Court of Freiburg||A 14 K 58/18||05 Jul 2021|
|A 14 K 1284/20||07 Sep 2021|
|A 14 K 1924/18||17 Sep 2021|
|A 14 K 1088/19||22 Sep 2021|
By way of illustration, in its decisions of 30 March 2021, the Austrian Federal Administrative Court (BVwG) suspended a Dublin transfer of an applicant and his family to Bulgaria, considering that the asylum authority had failed to investigate the living conditions in Bulgaria. It ruled that a violation of Article 3 ECHR could not be excluded given the situation of extreme material hardship the applicants would encounter in light of their particular vulnerability.
The German Administrative Court of Freiburg also ruled in favour of the suspension of a transfer to Bulgaria in a decision of 5 July 2021, where it found that the applicant, who was absent from the country for a long time, would face a withdrawal of his protection status upon return. The Court highlighted the difficult conditions that beneficiaries of international protection face in Bulgaria, such as limited access to economic support, difficult living conditions, lack of integration programmes and difficulties in accessing healthcare.
Moreover, the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) issued its decision in the case of MKAH v Switzerland on 6 October 2021, which was brought by the Centre Suisse pour la défense des droits des migrants (CDSM) with the intervention from the AIRE Centre, ECRE and the Dutch Council for Refugees. The CRC found that, although the applicants were granted subsidiary protection status in Bulgaria, they had to live for eight months in a camp with inadequate material conditions and no access to education nor the labour market. This forced them to leave Bulgaria and seek the support of relatives. The CRC thus recommended Switzerland to: reconsider the decision to return MKAH to Bulgaria; urgently re-examine the applicant and his mother’s asylum application ensuring the best interests of the child are a primary consideration, the applicant is duly heard and taking into account the particular circumstances of the case; take in to account that MKAH may remain stateless in Bulgaria, ensure MKAH receives qualified psychological assistance to facilitate his rehabilitation and to take all necessary measures to ensure violations don’t recur.
Other countries’ jurisdictions have upheld Dublin transfers to Bulgaria in 2021, however.
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.
 SAR, Exh. No. РД05-26/14.01.2022
 Article 67a(2) LAR.
 EASO, Stock taking report on the asylum situation in Bulgaria, March 2014, 3.2. Asylum Determination Procedure.
 SAR, Exh. No. РД05-26/14.01.2022.
 Article 67b(2) LAR.
 Article 63a(3) LAR.
 Article 25 LAR.
 Commission Recommendation on the resumption of transfers to Greece under Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013, C(2016) 8525, 8 December 2016.
 SAR, Exh. No. РД05-26/14.01.2022.
 Article 77(3) LAR.
 Articles 18(1)(d) and (2) Dublin III Regulation.
 Article 18(2) Dublin III Regulation.
 Article 29(7) LAR.
 Article 29(8) LAR.
 National Health Insurance Office, statutory health care package, available in Bulgarian at: https://bit.ly/3nDcrU1.
 Article 29 (3) LAR.
 SAR Еxh.NРД05-26/14.01.2022; National Employment Agency, Exh. No.10-00-4797#1 from 20.12.2021.
 See e.g. (Germany) Federal Administrative Court of Magdeburg, Decision 8B92/20, 24 March 2020. Other examples of cases in 2019 and 2018 are available in the previous updates of this report.
 See e.g. (Belgium) Council of Alien Law Litigation, Decision 260 760, 16 September 2021; (Czech Republic) Regional Court in Brno, Decision 41 A 90/2020 – 37, 22 January 2021; (Germany) Administrative Court of Bayreuth, Decision B 7 K 20.31318, 10 February 2021; (Netherlands) Regional Court of The Hague, Decision NL21.6350, 20 July 2021; (Switzerland) Federal Administrative Court, Decision D-1348/2021, 6 April 2021.