General

Bulgaria

Country Report: General Last updated: 11/04/24

Author

Bulgarian Helsinki Committee Visit Website

There are two pre-removal detention centres in operation: Busmantsi and Lyubimets. An additional container-type detention centre with capacity for 1,750 individuals was built in Elhovo Regional Border Police Directorate premises with the objective to serve as a buffer in a situation of mass arrivals from the global South. In 2022 it was the regular government which first tried to use it as a transit centre for Ukrainian refugees.[1] This attempt was abandoned following widespread protests from the public and non-governmental organisations. On 16 November 2022, the caretaker government[2] officially designated Elhovo detention centre 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 that such decision sparked.[3]

Asylum seekers can also be placed in closed reception centres i.e. detained under the jurisdiction of the SAR for the purposes of the asylum procedure. In 2023, 32 asylum seekers have been detained in the asylum closed facility, situated in the premises of the closed reception ward (ПЗТ) in the Busmantsi pre-removal centre, the only closed centre for that purpose. 4 asylum seekers were held there at the end of the year 2023.[4]

Not all persons who apply for international protection when apprehended at the border or inland are directly detained. For example, an exception is applied to unaccompanied children from July 2018, when a referral mechanism was included in the law,[5] although in practice the police apply it only with respect to unaccompanied children who are visibly minor and below 14 years of age.[6] In 2023, the Border police referred 35 children to childcare services.[7] The UN CAT Committee in its 2021 report[8] pointed an amendment in Internal Instruction 8121з-78 which provided that the child protection services with the Agency for Social Assistance (ASA) should be notified when an unaccompanied child has been identified by the immigration police in the detention centre. Instead, in practice this was not implemented in 2023[9] as the detention staff still opted for the quicker solution to assist unaccompanied children to apply for asylum in order to transport and hand them over to SAR reception centres.[10] The discriminatory approach of national ASA child protection services to assist and take care of unaccompanied migrant, asylum seeking or refugee children has been reported repeatedly by the refugee assisting non-governmental organisations[11].

Other exceptions from detention are arbitrarily applied by police authorities in cases where the border applicants have family members who are already in Bulgaria, when applicants provide valid documents, as well as when applicants have specific needs such as disabilities or infants.

Out of a total of 22,518 applicants registered in 2023, in total 16,075 individuals applied for asylum at border and immigration detention; just 4% had a direct access to asylum procedure without detention.[12]

There are several reasons for detention to be applied in most cases with respect to the third country nationals apprehended at the borders or inside the country’s territory. Instructions are given by the State Agency for National Security (Държавна агенция “Национална сигурност”, ДАНС/SANS) to all police authorities not to transfer anyone to open reception centres before screening and realisation of all security checks. Another reason is the situation at the border with Türkiye. Along this main entry border, those who are apprehended are either pushed back, or they are allowed to continue with their smugglers, board on different vehicles, transit the country and exit without being stopped.[13] The direct access to asylum procedure is additionally hindered by the congested coordination between the police and the SAR to enable registration and accommodation of asylum seekers after 17:00 or during the weekends. From September 2015, the SAR began to operate shift schemes and on-call duty during the weekends in order to assist with the reception of asylum seekers referred by the police. This on-call scheme however was fully cancelled by the SAR from 2019 to mid-2022, when it was re-established and put into operation once again.

Detention of first-time applicants from the making of their application until their personal registration is systematically applied in Bulgaria and most asylum seekers apply from pre-removal detention centres for irregular migrants.[14]

Immigration detention in Bulgaria: 2016-2023
Year 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023
Total detention orders 11,314 2,989 2,456 2,184 3,487 10,799 16,767 18,554

 

 

 

[1] dnes.bg, Временният център в Елхово е готов за бежанците, ето как изглежда, available in Bulgarian at: https://bit.ly/3l0ck73.

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

[3] Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Кой настанява украниските бежанци в лагера за задържане на мигранти в Елхово?, published on 4 November 2022, available in Bulgarian at: https://bit.ly/3YACdYW.

[4] Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Monthly Situation report on December 2023, prepared on 3 January 2024.

[5] LARB Regulations, amended with State Gazette No.57 from 10 July 2028, Articles 63k-63l.

[6] Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, 2023 Annual Progress report to UNICEF, 10 January 2024.

[7] Ministry of Interior, Migration statistics, December 2023, available in Bulgarian at: https://bit.ly/49xELgr/.

[8] UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Comments of Bulgaria on the recommendations and observations addressed to it in connection with the Subcommittee visit undertaken from 24 to 30 October 2021, published on 25 October 2022, available at: https://bit.ly/3uMsZ2T.

[9] Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, 2023 December 2023 UNICEF Progress report, 10 January 2024.

[10] UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Comments of Bulgaria on the recommendations and observations addressed to it in connection with the Subcommittee visit undertaken from 24 to 30 October 2021, published on 25 October 2022, available at: https://bit.ly/3uMsZ2T.

[11] Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, 2023 Annual Refugee Status Determination Monitoring Report, 31 January 2024, available at: https://bit.ly/3SX3ST7.

[12] Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Monthly Situation Report for December 2023, 2 January 2024: 61 applicants out of all 1,385 applicants at entry borders.

[13] See, Access to the territory and push-backs.

[14] 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).

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