Place of detention


Country Report: Place of detention Last updated: 10/07/24


Bulgarian Helsinki Committee Visit Website

Asylum seekers are never detained in prisons unless they have been convicted for committing a crime. Detention is implemented both in pre-removal immigration detention centres and, more recently, in “closed reception centres” where asylum seekers are detained for the purpose of the status determination procedure.


Pre-removal detention centres

There are 2 detention centres for irregular migrants in the country, with a total capacity of 1,060 places. Due to the increased number of the new arrivals from 25 August to 19 November 2021, the Ministry of Interior reopened as auxiliary the former Elhovo Triage centre with a capacity 240 places. However, from August to November, the detention capacity increased to 1,300 places:

Pre-removal detention centres in Bulgaria
Detention centre Location Capacity Occupancy end 2023
Busmantsi Sofia 400 92
Lyubimets South-Eastern Bulgaria     660[1] 295
Total   1,060 387

Source: MOI.

Although designed for the return of irregular migrants as pre-removal centres, these are also used for the detention of undocumented asylum seekers who have crossed the border irregularly but were unable to apply for asylum before the Border Police officers and therefore apply for asylum only when they are already in the detention centres. The most common reason for these late asylum applications was the lack of 24-hour interpretation services for all languages at national borders.

Initially designated for the pre-registration of asylum seekers,[2] Elhovo was thereupon used as an “allocation centre” or “triage centre” to detain asylum seekers apprehended at the land borders outside the official border checkpoint until its closure in February 2017. In 2021, due to the increased number of new arrivals the Ministry of Interior reopened as auxiliary the former Elhovo Triage centre with capacity of 240 places from 25 August to 19 November 2021, after which the centre was closed again. In May 2022, the MOI finished working on the creation of a new detention facility in the town of Elhovo, which consists of 221 container compartments fit for 1,768 individuals. In 2022, the regular government which first tried to use it as a transit centre for Ukrainian refugees.[3] This attempt was abandoned following widespread protests from the general public and non-governmental organisations. On 16 November 2022, the caretaker government[4] officially designated Elhovo detention center to serve as a transit centre for re-distribution of newly arrived Ukrainian refugees despite its utterly unsuitable conditions, including due to its remote location, and the repeated protests.[5] Since November 2022, just 589 Ukrainian refugees (2%) passed through Elhovo center in order to be assigned accommodation, out of 24,441 Ukrainians registered in 2023 under the temporary protection.

Regarding short-term detention, which entered into force on 6 June 2018, the LARB foresees separate detention facilities for the purpose of this form of detention.[6] However, the few short-term detention orders issued in 2023 were implemented in the pre-removal detention centres.


Asylum detention centres (“closed reception centres”)

The law foresees the asylum detention under the responsibility of the SAR (see Grounds for Detention). The only operational centre at the moment is the closed reception ward (ПЗТ) in Busmantsi detention centre, with 20 places.

The SAR Pastrogor transit centre, situated on the Bulgarian-Turkish border can also be used as a closed facility, if necessary. Presently, it operates as an open reception facility with a capacity of 320 places.




[1] 360 containers installed in Lyubimets detention centre.

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

[3], Временният център в Елхово е готов за бежанците, ето как изглежда, published on 31 May 2022, available in Bulgarian at:

[4] COM No. 980 from 16 November 2022.  

[5] Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Кой настанява украниските бежанци в лагера за задържане на мигранти в Елхово?, published on 4 November 2022, available in Bulgarian at:

[6] Article 44(13) LARB.

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