In previous years, the detention centres were frequently overcrowded due to the increase of the number of asylum applications and to the delayed release for registration of detained asylum seekers. Despite COVID-19 lockdowns the irregular migration to and through Bulgaria increased. In 2020, the capacity of pre-removal detention centres was not exceeded, while the overall number of persons in detention gradually increase from 119 persons at the end of 2019, to 337 at the end of 2020.
Overall conditions with respect to means to maintain personal hygiene as well as general level of cleanliness nevertheless remain unsatisfactory. Shower and toilets available are not sufficient to meet the needs of the detention population, especially when premises are overcrowded. Detainees are allowed to clean the premises themselves. However, they are not provided with means or detergents therefore they have to buy them at their own cost. Clothing is provided only if supplied by NGOs. Bed linen is not washed on a regular basis, but usually once a month.
Nutrition is poor, no special diets are provided to children or pregnant women. Health care is a big issue as not all detention centres have medical staff appointed on a daily basis. A nurse and/or a doctor visits detention centres on a weekly basis, but the language barrier and lack of proper medication make these visits almost a formality and without any practical use for the detainees.
Access to open-air spaces is provided twice a day for a period of one hour each, the spaces in all detention centres are of adequate size. Children in detention centres are using the common outdoor recreational facilities, but not many possibilities for physical exercise exist except the usual ball sports. Reading and leisure materials are provided if only supplied by donations. Computer / internet access is not available in any of the detention centres.
Similar to Busmantsi, communal toilets in Lyubimets were reported to be locked and inaccessible at night. Toilets and showers for women and families with children, though freely accessible, have been found to be dilapidated, dirty and flooded. The collective showers for men, recently refurbished and located in the basement, were accessible in groups twice a day.
Worrying conditions are also reported in police stations where newly arrived asylum seekers may be held upon entry. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) condemned Bulgaria of a violation of Article 3 ECHR due to poor living conditions and insufficient and delayed food provision to children detained in the police station of Vidin.
Staff interpreters are not required by law, nor provided in practice. Verbal abuse, both by staff and other detainees, is reported often by the detainees. In 2020, as in previous years, detainees have complained about the lack of tailored and translated information and uncertainty on their situation. This has led to risks of re-traumatisation for persons with vulnerabilities.
With regard to material conditions, the latest report of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) published in July 2019 stressed that some improvements were observed by the delegation at Busmantsi and Lyubimets centers since the CPT’s previous visit in 2018, but this is mainly due to the fact that both establishments were operating well below their official capacities. However, the CPT found that the accommodation continue to be dilapidated and that the large-capacity dormitories offer no privacy. It stated the following:
“Communal toilets for men are still run down and dirty in Lyubimets. In both detention centers, the lack of access to a toilet at night for most of the detainees forces them to use bottles or buckets, or to urinate out of the windows. The accommodation areas were inadequately heated (especially in Busmantsi) and, in both detention centers detained foreign nationals complained that were not being provided with clothing and shoes adapted to the season. Many complaints also related to the food, especially its quality, and about the prohibition for detainees to cook their own meals”.
Moreover, the CPT did not find any improvement in the provision of healthcare to detained foreign nationals at the Busmantsi and Lyubimets detention centers, where the only positive changes were the 24/7 staff presence and the clean infirmary in Lyubimets (as opposed to the infirmary in Busmantsi). The medical equipment was found to be very scarce and often out of order, while the range of free-of-charge medication was also very limited, with expired medicine and restricted access to specialist care. The CPT was particularly concerned by the lack of access to psychiatric care, which is limited to emergencies. The CPT thus urged for measures to address these deficiencies.
Vulnerable groups in detention
There are no mechanisms established to identify vulnerable persons in detention centres. According to the last research on the topic made by the Assistance Centre for Torture Survivors (ACET), mental health professionals in Busmantsi have observed that persons who are socially inhibited or depressed are not being identified by the police as persons in need of assistance insofar as they do not cause problems. If identified, there are no provisions in the law for vulnerable persons’ release on that account, unless before the court.
In its July 2019 report, the CPT found insufficient access to health care and communication problems with medical staff due to the language barrier. The report highlighted the lack of access to psychiatric care, which is limited to emergencies but which also results from the lack of interpretation and the lack of health insurance of the concerned persons. The CPT underlined that communication problems between detained foreign nationals and psychologists severely limited the possibilities to provide any psychological assistance.
Article 45e(3) LAR envisages that vulnerable groups shall be provided with appropriate assistance depending on their special situation. Separate wings are provided for families, single women and unaccompanied children, in line with the law. Single men are separated from single women. Other vulnerable persons are detained together with all other detainees. The LAR provides for access to education and leisure activities for children in closed asylum facilities, but there is no relevant practice yet as children have not been placed in closed reception centres in 2020.
The lack of mechanisms for identification and support of vulnerable asylum seekers was also indicated by the European Commission in its 8 November 2018 letter of formal notice.
 Ministry of Interior, Migration statistics, 2020..
 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(e); Centre for Legal Aid – Voice in Bulgaria, Who Gets Detained?, September 2016, 25.
 ECtHR, S.F. v. Bulgaria, Application No 8138/16, Judgment of 7 December 2017, paras 84-93.
 CPT, ‘Report to the Bulgarian Government on the visit to Bulgaria carried out by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) from 10 to 17 December 2018, Executive Summary, available at: https://bit.ly/2uFmEXu.
 Cordelia Foundation et al., From Torture to Detention, January 2016, 18.
 Ibid. para 35
 Article 45f(4) LAR.
 Article 45f(2) LAR.