Dublin

Bulgaria

Country Report: Dublin Last updated: 21/04/21

Author

Bulgarian Helsinki Committee Visit Website

General

 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all Dublin transfers were officially suspended during the national lockdown from 13 March to 13 May 2020. However, even after the end of the lockdown, many of the already consented transfers were not implemented due to ongoing lockdowns, quarantine and other COVID 19 measures in the receiving countries, which congested flights and reception arrangements.

 

Dublin statistics: 2020

 

Outgoing procedure

Incoming procedure

 

Requests

Transfers   Requests

Transfers

Total

116

24

Total

1,904

14

Take charge

63 23 Take charge 44

6

Germany

14 2 Germany 18

5

Malta

13 3 France 10

0

United Kingdom

10 9 United Kingdom 4

0

Belgium

6 1 Sweden 3

0

Austria

4 2 Austria 2

0

Italy

4 2 Ireland 2

0

Cyprus

4 0 The Netherlands 2

1

France

2 1 Romania 1

0

The Netherlands

2 2 Switzerland 1

0

Norway

2 0 Czech Republic 1

0

Romania

1

1

     

Finland

1

0

     
Take back

53

1

Take back

1,860

8

Germany

14 0 France 695

1

Switzerland

6 0 Germany 360

5

Sweden

5 0 Austria 224

1

Denmark

4 0 United Kingdom 176

0

Austria

4 0 Belgium 116

0

Belgium

2 0 Romania 101

0

France

2 1 Italy 32

0

Greece

2 0 The Netherlands 31

1

The Netherlands

2 0 Slovenia 22

0

Norway

2 0 Greece 19

0

Romania

2 0 Switzerland 17 0
Slovenia 2 0 Czech Republic 14

0

Croatia

1 0 Slovakia 13 0

Hungary

1 0 Croatia 11

0

Italy

1

0

Sweden

11

0

Luxemburg

1 0 Poland 5

0

    Czech Republic

1 0 Spain 4

0

Spain

1 0 Ireland 3

0

     

Denmark

3

0

     

Cyprus

1

0

     

Malta

1

0

     

Norway

1

0

 

Source: SAR.

 

Outgoing Dublin requests by criterion: 2020

Dublin III Regulation criterion

Requests sent Requests accepted

Take charge”: Articles 8-15:

60

31

 Article 8 (minors) 48

21

 Article 9 (family members granted protection)

9 3
 Article 10 (family members pending determination) 0

0

 Article 11 (family procedure)

0 0
 Article 12 (visas and residence permits) 3

5

 Article 13 (entry and/or remain)

0 0

 Article 14 (visa free entry)

0

0

“Take charge”: Article 16 0

1

“Take charge” humanitarian clause: Article 17(2)

3 1
“Take back”: Article 18 53

6

 Article 18 (1) (b)

53 6
 Article 18 (1) (c) 0

0

 Article 18 (1) (d)

0 0
 Article 20(5) 0

0

 

Source: SAR

 

Incoming Dublin requests by criterion: 2020

Dublin III Regulation criterion

Requests received Requests accepted

“Take charge”: Articles 8-15

44

23

 Article 8 (minors) 1

1

 Article 9 (family members granted protection)

2 1
 Article 10 (family members pending determination) 1

0

 Article 11 (family procedure)

7 1
 Article 12 (visas and residence permits) 18

19

 Article 13 (entry and/or remain)

11 1
 Article 14 (visa free entry) 3

0

“Take charge”: Article 16

0 0
“Take charge” humanitarian clause: Article 17(2) 1

0

Take back”: Articles 18 and 20(5)

1,860 429
 Article 18 (1) (b) 1,859

429

 Article 18 (1) (c)

0 0
 Article 18 (1) (d) 0

0

 Article 20(5)

1

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 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 2020, Bulgaria received 1,904 incoming requests and made 116 outgoing requests, compared to 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. Similarly to 2017, 2018 and 2019, Bulgaria did not apply the sovereignty clause in 2020.

During 2020, Bulgaria issued 3 “take charge” requests based on the humanitarian clause of Article 17(2) and received 1 request based on the humanitarian clause, which was accepted.

 

Procedure

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.[2]

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), 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.[3] 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.

Individualised guarantees

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 2020. 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 2020 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 is implemented within 5months on average in practice.[4]  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 2020, 24 outgoing transfers were carried out compared to 116 requests, indicating a 21% outgoing transfer rate.

Personal interview

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.[5] 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.[6]

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.

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.

 

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, legal aid was only provided to vulnerable asylum seekers in 2020 (see section Regular Procedure: Legal Assistance). This concerned 25 unaccompanied minors who were reunified with their relatives or family members in other European countries under ad-hoc arrangements established jointly by BHC and SAR’s Dublin Unit since August 2019. This includes the establishment of an early identification mechanism for children, the provision of adequate and child-friendly information as well as a better management of their cases. These ad-hoc arrangements are funded by UNICEF.

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.[7] 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 2020, Bulgaria has not ruled out or implemented any Dublin transfer to Greece in practice.

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 after the end of the lockdown in Bulgaria many of the already consented transfers were not implemented either due to still ongoing lockdowns in the receiving countries, or because of quarantines applied, which congested flight and reception arrangements.

 

The situation of Dublin returnees

In 2020, Bulgaria received 1,904 incoming requests under the Dublin Regulation and 14 incoming transfers.[8] The number of Dublin returns actually implemented to Bulgaria decreased by 0.7% compared to 2019 (see table below). Overall, the percentage of actual transfers remains quite low compared to the number of incoming requests:

 

Incoming Dublin requests and transfers: 2014-2020

 

2014

2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
Requests 6,884 8,131 10,377 7,934 3,448 3,097

1,904

Transfers

174 262 624 446 86 73

14

 

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 asylum procedure in Bulgaria upon their 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, he or she is transferred to a SAR reception centre because the SAR usually suspends an asylum procedure when an asylum seeker leaves Bulgaria before the procedure was completed;[9]

  • If the returnee’s asylum application was rejected in absentia, but not served to the asylum seeker before he or she left Bulgaria,[10] the returnee is transferred to a SAR reception centre;

  • If, however, the returnee’s asylum application was rejected with a final decision before he or she left Bulgaria, or the decision was served in absentia and therefore became final,[11] 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.[12] The SAR’s practice following this particular amendment is in line with the law so far and returnees do not face obstacles in principle to have their determination procedures reopened.

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 2020, 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.[13]

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, Exh. No. РД05-22/13.01.2021

[2] Article 67a(2) LAR.

[3]   EASO, Stock taking report on the asylum situation in Bulgaria, March 2014, 3.2. Asylum Determination Procedure.

[4] SAR, Exh. No. РД05-22/13.01.2021

[5]  Article 67b(2) LAR.

[6]  Article 63a(3) LAR.

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

[8] SAR, Exh. No. Exh. No. РД05-22/13.01.2021.

[9]  Articles 18(1)(c) and (2) Dublin III Regulation.

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

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

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

[13] 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.

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