Overview of the of the main changes since the previous report update

Bulgaria

Country Report: Overview of the of the main changes since the previous report update Last updated: 30/11/20

Author

Bulgarian Helsinki Committee Visit Website

The report was previously updated in January 2019.

 

Asylum procedure

  • Draft amendments: In response to the European Commissions’ (EC) letter of formal notice on 8 November 2018 concerning the incorrect implementation of European Union (EU) asylum legislation in Bulgaria,[1]  the government tabled for public consultations a draft proposal to amend the Law on Asylum and Refugees (LAR). [2] However, the core of the proposal does not address the issues raised by the EC, namely the accommodation and legal representation of unaccompanied minors; the correct identification of and support to vulnerable asylum seekers; the provision of adequate legal assistance; and safeguards for detention. Moreover, while the draft proposal introduces additional provisions on the access to information for unaccompanied children, it deletes the present safeguards that outline the obligations relating to their legal representatives, thereby raising additional concerns in this regard.

 

  • Access to the territory: Push backs at the main entry point of the country, which borders Turkey, persisted in 2019. Moreover, the Turkish authorities reported that 90,000 individuals were held in the first nine months of the year in the Edirne Province, which borders both Bulgaria and Greece.[3]  In 2019, the national border monitoring registered 337 alleged pushback incidents which affected 5,640 individuals. Those who are able to access the territory are also able to transit and exit the country without being detected by the authorities, which is a strategy operated by the latter so as to avoid any responsibility under the Dublin Regulation or under readmission arrangements. As a result, the official statistics on new arrivals are at the lowest since the first influx in 2013. [4]​

  • Determination and recognition: Notwithstanding the low number of new arrivals, the recognition rate of asylum applicants remained much lower compared to other European countries, namely 11% for the refugee status and 19% for the subsidiary protection status. One of the most disputed administrative arrangement relates to the possibility for the caseworkers’ superior to request a re-examination of an asylum claim where he or she disagrees with the proposed decision. This request does not need to be motivated, nor to follow a specific written procedure.[5] Moreover, in cases where a re-examination has been ordered, there will not be any trace or record in the applicant’s file, thus raising concerns as regards transparency and compliance with relevant safeguards against bias and corruption.

 

  • Legal aid: Since the end of 2017 the National Legal Aid Bureau provides legal aid to vulnerable asylum seekers at first instance. The pilot project, funded by the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) was extended until 31 January 2021.

 

Reception conditions

  • Accommodation of unaccompanied children: A safe zone for unaccompanied children in the refugee reception centre (RRC) of Sofia at the Voenna Rampa shelter has been established in mid-2019. [6] Children are provided appropriate care and support is tailored to their needs. However, only unaccompanied children originating from Afghanistan are accommodated in this centre, while unaccompanied children from other nationalities remain in mixed dormitories in other reception centers. Moreover, despite the availability of places in the operational safe-zone, some Afghan children were also accommodated in other reception centres such as the RRC Harmanli in 2019. A second safe-zone at the RRC Sofia, in the Ovcha Kupel shelter, opened on 20 January 2020 and meant to accommodate children originating from Arab speaking countries. Both safe-zones are operated by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Bulgaria and funded by AMIF. However, the government has not proposed new measures yet which would foresee the durability and expansion of the safe-zones upon the termination of the AMIF project

 

  • Reception capacity: During most of 2019 and at the time of writing, the national reception centers operated around or below 10% of their capacity.[7] The Vrazhdebna shelter in Sofia, which re-opened in May 2019 for the visit of Pope Francis, began to regularly accommodate asylum seekers only as of the end of June 2019. With the exception of this centre, the conditions in national reception centres remained poor; i.e. either at or below the foreseen minimum standards.

 

Detention of asylum seekers

  • Duration of detention: The delays in the release and registration of asylum seekers applying for international protection while in pre-removal detention centres significantly increased. While delays in the release amounted to 1 day in 2018, it reached 4 days in 2019 and registrations took around 12 calendar days / 10 working days.[8]

 

  • Status determination in closed reception facilities: Since the introduction of closed centres for asylum seekers in 2015, 32 asylum seekers have been subject to detention orders pending their status determination. However, the length of detention in these cases exceeded by far the purpose and limits laid down in law. While the duration of detention decreased from 196 to 150 days on average during the period 2016 – 2019, it remained very long by reaching 109 days on average in 2019.

 

  • Status determination in pre-removal centres: The Migration Directorate within the Ministry of Interior (MOI) continued to refuse to release first-time asylum applicants from pre-removal centers in cases where they are deemed “deportable”, i.e. when they possess valid documents or such documents can be obtained without great obstacles. As a result, the State Agency for Refugees (SAR) continued to conduct asylum procedures in pre-removal centres in violation of national law, and courts continued to ignore such violations. In total, 2.8% of first-time applications for international protection were examined in the MOI’s pre-removal centers in 2019,[9]  which marks a 0.3% increase compared to 2018.[10] Although this percentage might seem insignificant, it indicates a serious violation whereby the authorities are able to organise the deportation of applicants even though the determination procedure is still pending. The fairness and legality of these procedures is highly questionable as it seems like the SAR is expected to reject these applications for international protection for the sole purpose of deportation. In fact, 100% of asylum seekers whose applications have been examined in MOI’s pre-removal centers are subject to a negative decision in accelerated procedure.

 

  • Refoulement of first-time applicants: In 2019 the malpractice visible in the context of detention and status determination procedures of “deportable” first-time applicants downgraded to actual refoulement. Four cases of refoulement were documented during that year, whereby the Migration Directorate returned first-time applicants to their countries or origin prior to the end of their asylum procedures, namely to Iran, Algeria and Nigeria. In another case, two Syrian asylum seekers who reached the reception center in Harmanli have been handed over by the centre’s security guards to the Svilengrad Border Police precinct, where their valid passports were torn with applicants pushed back to Turkey later that day. 

 

Content of international protection

  • Cessation of protection: Although there is no systematic review of protection status in practice, cessation procedures are initiated by the SAR when the MOI provides information indicating that status holders have either returned to their country of origin, obtained residence or citizenship in a third country, or have not renewed their Bulgarian identification documents for a period exceeding 3 years. The latter broadened interpretation of the recast Qualification Directive de facto introduces an additional cessation ground in violation of national and EU legislation.[11] The undue cessation of protection status affected a total of 3,378 status holders in 2018 and 2019; i.e. 770 persons in 2018 and 2,608 persons in 2019 respectively. Out of the 2,608 cessations in 2019, 1,981 concerned Syrians, 267 concerned stateless persons, 177 Iraqis, 81 Afghans and 102 other nationalities).[12]

 

  • Integration: No integration activities are planned, funded or made available to recognised refugees or subsidiary protection holders; thus marking the sixth consecutive year of the national “zero integration” policy.


[1]European Commission, ‘November infringements package: key decisions’, MEMO/18/6247, 8 November 2018, available at: https://bit.ly/2RETZfR.

[2]Draft proposal of the Law on Asylum and Refugees, Public Consultations Portal, 13 December 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2Nxg4sz.

[3]Anadolu Agency, ‘Over 90,000 irregular migrants held in northwest Turkey’, 24 October 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2RnuM6M.

[4]Ministry of Interior, Migration Statistics, available at: https://bit.ly/2NyeTJo

[5] SAR, Internal Rules of Status Determination Procedure on LAR, Article 89 (5) and (8).

[6] IOM, ‘Official opening of the first Safety Zone for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in Bulgaria’, 29 May 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2RnAG7N.

[7] SAR, 91st Coordination meeting, 31 October 2019.

[8] Article 6(1) recast Asylum Procedures Directive (2013/32/EU) foresees that the registration shall take place no later than three working days after the application is made.

[9] Out of the 1,331 asylum applications lodged in detention in 2019, 36 have been examined in the immigration detention centres of Busmantsi and Lyubimets.

[10] In 2019, this reached 2.5%, compared to 0.9% in 2018 and 1.2% in 2017.

[11] Article 11 and 16 recast Qualification Directive.

[12] SAR, Exh. No. РД05-28/14.01.2020

 

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