2019 as the sixth “zero integration year”

Bulgaria

Country Report: 2019 as the sixth “zero integration year” Last updated: 21/04/21

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Recognised refugees are explicitly entitled to equal treatment in rights to Bulgarian nationals with just a few exclusions, such as: participation in general and municipal elections, in national and regional referenda; participation in the establishment of political parties and membership of such parties; holding positions for which Bulgarian citizenship is required by law; serving in the army and, other restrictions explicitly provided for by law.[1] Individuals granted subsidiary protection (“humanitarian status”) have the same rights as third-country nationals with permanent residence.[2]

 

2019 as the sixth “zero integration year”

 

Since 2013 and including in 2019, Bulgaria followed a “zero integration year”. The first National Programme for the Integration of Refugees (NPIR) was adopted and applied until the end of 2013, but since then all beneficiaries of international protection have been left without any integration support. This resulted in extremely limited access or ability by these individuals to enjoy even the most basic social, labour and health rights, while their willingness to permanently settle in Bulgaria was reported to have decreased to a minimum.[3] In 2019, 86% of asylum applicants abandoned their status determination procedures in Bulgaria, [4]  which were thus subsequently terminated shortly after the end of the legal 3-month time limit since the disappearance was duly established. In comparison, this percentage was 79% in 2018, 77% in 2017, 88% in 2016, 83% in 2015 and 46% in 2014.

The necessary integration legal framework, the Integration Decree, was finally adopted in 2016,[5] but it remained unused throughout 2016 and 2017, as none of the 265 local municipalities had applied for funding in order to launch an integration process with any of the individuals granted international protection in Bulgaria. On 31 March 2017, on the last day of its mandate, the caretaker Cabinet fulfilled the election promise of the newly elected Bulgarian President and repealed the Decree without any reasonable justification.[6] A new Decree was adopted on 19 July 2017, which in its essence repeated the provisions of its predecessor.[7] Since its adoption, only 13 status holders benefitted from integration support, however all of them were relocated with integration funding provided under the EU relocation scheme, not by the general national integration mechanism. The national “zero integration” situation has lasted for 6 consecutive years.

In his report issued in April 2018, the Council of Europe Special Representative on migration and refugees also underlined that, while the decentralisation of integration responsibilities from the government to municipalities would in principle be a sensible step forward, the fact that the discharge of such responsibilities was not mandatory but left to the discretion of municipalities raised questions about the effectiveness of integration measures in Bulgaria. This was illustrated by fact that no municipality has volunteered to conclude Integration Agreements, although funds would be allocated to them for every refugee participating in such agreements.[8]

Courts and human rights monitoring bodies have taken into account the treatment of beneficiaries of international protection in Bulgaria when assessing the legality of readmissions. In a case of 15 December 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Committee ruled against the return of a Syrian family from Denmark to Bulgaria, on the ground that their residence permit would not protect them against obstacles to accessing healthcare, or risks of destitution and hardship.[9] Similar arguments are found in the Human Rights Committee interim measures granted on 1 February 2017 to prevent the transfer of an Afghan family with three young children from Austria to Bulgaria.[10] Notwithstanding the family was returned to Bulgaria by the Austrian authorities shortly after it. National courts in some European countries have also halted transfers of beneficiaries of protection to Bulgaria on account of substandard conditions.[11]

 


[1] Article 32(1) LAR.

[2] Article 32(2) LAR.

[3] CERD, Concluding observations on the combined twentieth to twenty-second periodic reports to Bulgaria, CERD/C/BGR/CO/20-22, 31 May 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2wSzIpq, para 21(f); Bulgarian Council on Refugees and Migrants, Annual Monitoring Report on Integration of Beneficiaries of international protection in Bulgaria, Sofia, December 2014.

[4] Out of the 1,858 applicants, to whom in 817 cases status determination stopped and terminated in 1,041 cases.

[5] Ordinance No 208 of 12 August 2016 on rules and conditions to conclude, implement and cease integration agreements with foreigners granted asylum or international protection (hereafter “Integration Decree”), State Gazette No 65/19.08.2016, available in Bulgarian at: http://bit.ly/2jJwnEi.

[6] Liberties.eu, ‘Bulgarian caretaker government repealed regulation on refugee integration’, 13 April 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2BLqhsS.

[7] Ordinance No 144 of 19 July 2017 State Gazette No 60/25.08.2017, available in Bulgarian at: http://bit.ly/2Ec2uHL.

[8] Council of Europe, Report of the fact-finding mission by Ambassador Tomáš Boček, Special Representative of the Secretary General on migration and refugees to Bulgaria, SG/Inf(2018)18, 19 April 2018, available at: https://bit.ly/2HtHSgv, 17.

[9] Human Rights Committee, R.A.A. v. Denmark, Communication No 2608/2015, 15 December 2016.

[10] Human Rights Committee, Communication No 2942/2017.

[11] See e.g. German High Administrative Court of Lüneburg, Decision 10 LB 82/17, 29 January 2018.

 

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