2021 as the tenth “zero integration year”


Country Report: 2021 as the tenth “zero integration year” Last updated: 10/07/24


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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]

2023 as the tenth “zero integration year”

Since 2013 and up to 2023, Bulgaria followed a “zero integration policy”. 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 2023, 46% of asylum applicants abandoned their status determination procedures in Bulgaria, [4]  which were subsequently terminated. In comparison, this percentage was 45% in 2022, 26% in 2021, 39% in 2020, 83% in 2019, and 79% in 2018.

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 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day of its mandate, the caretaker Cabinet fulfilled the election promise of the newly elected Bulgarian President and repealed the Decree without any reasonable justification.[6] A new Decree was adopted on 19 July 2017, which in its essence repeated the provisions of its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 125 status holders benefitted from integration support,[8] however all of them were relocated with integration funding provided under the EU relocation scheme, not by the general national integration mechanism. Following relentless advocacy efforts by UNHCR, the Refugee Council and the Red Cross with the support of the SAR, in 2021 and 2022 the Vitosha and Oborishte Districts (Sofia municipality) provided this integration support, although in 2023 the only provider was Vitosha District. The support itself consisted of rent expenses covered by the municipalities and the fee for the Bulgarian language courses, covered by the Red Cross. In 2023, just 22 individuals benefitted from these integration agreements.[9] In 2021 Oborishte District received funding from the Norwegian financial mechanism to refurbish municipal flats which later to be used as transitional accommodation of unaccompanied children granted protection,[10] and who traditionally are the most difficult age group to find accommodation in the regular child care facilities. No other integration measures or activities were planned, funded or available to individuals granted international protection – refugee or humanitarian status. The program for the integration of displaced persons from Ukraine under temporary protection drafted by the regular government was not adopted as this government was ousted by a vote of no confidence on 22 June 2022. Therefore, Bulgaria marked the ninth consecutive year of the national “zero integration” policy.

In his report issued in April 2018, the Council of Europe Special Representative on migration and refugees also underlined that, while the decentralization 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.[11]

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.[12] 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.[13] 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.[14] For example, the German Administrative Court of Köln, for example, found that risks of inhuman and degrading treatment existed for both for asylum seekers and BIPs in the country, through a decision issued on 15 November 2022.[15] In the case of BIPs, the Court concluded that there was a lack of almost any state support to ensure minimum subsistence and fulfilment of basic needs, as well as widespread racism and intolerance, at the very least ignored by the police.

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.[16] 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.[17]

The National Strategy on Migration was adopted in Bulgaria for the period 2021-2025, including a chapter on integration, which mentions that policies are implemented with AMIF funding but no specific areas for improvement are listed.  As an initiative from non-state actors, the Multi-Kulti Collective, the Bulgarian Council on Refugees and Migrants and UNHCR Bulgaria started to develop the country’s first Refugee Integration Manifesto, which is planned to be used as an advocacy document to shape the integration of beneficiaries of international protection at national and local levels.[18]




[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] Ibid.

[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] SAR statistics, 2021: 83 beneficiaries, 2022& 20 beneficiaries and 2023: 22 beneficiaries

[9] Statistics provided by the Bulgarian Council for Refugees and Migrants on 8 January 2024.

[10] Teleconference on 14 January 2022 with Nadezhda Bobcheva, Deputy Mayor, Oborishte District, Sofia Municipality.

[11] 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.

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

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

[14] See AIDA Country Report on Bulgaria – 2021 Update.

[15] (Germany) Administrative Court of Köln, 20 K 3733/22.A, 15 November 2022, available at: https://bit.ly/3zdPDQp.

[16] UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), A.M. (au nom de M.K.A.H.) c. Suisse, No 95/2019, 6 October 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3rv6iur.

[17] See also : EDAL summary, CRC: Declares Switzerland did not consider the best interests of the child in a removal decision to Bulgaria, 6 October 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3GguTIQ.

[18] EUAA, Annual Asylum Report 2022, 2022, available at: https://bit.ly/3YD0NYU, 230.

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