State of the facilities
Apart from the Vrazhdebna shelter in Sofia and the safe-zone for unaccompanied children in Voenna Rampa and Ovcha Kupel shelters, living conditions in national reception centres remain poor, i.e. either below or at the level of the foreseen minimum standards and despite some partial renovations periodically conducted by the SAR. Regular water, hot water, repair of utilities and equipment in bathrooms, rooms and common areas remain problematic. Occupants from all reception centres, except in Vrazhdebna, have complained about the poor sanitary conditions, especially with regard to bedbugs which regularly cause health issues, i.e. constant skin inflammations and allergic reactions. This problem arose after the 2013 influx and has been continuously neglected since.
Food and health
Since 2018 three meals per day are provided in all centres (i.e. packaged food), except to unaccompanied children to whom three hot meals are served a day. Both the quality and quantity of the food is regularly criticised by asylum seekers.
As already mentioned, the individual monthly allowance provided for in the law is not provided in practice. The only other assistance provided by the government are sanitary packages. The costs of prescribed medicines, lab tests or other medical interventions which are not covered in the health care package, as well as for purchase of baby formula, diapers and personal hygiene products, are still not covered, thereby raising concerns despite the efforts of the SAR to address them through different approaches.
Activities in the centres
Places for religious worship are available in all of the reception centres, but not properly maintained. Activities for children are organised in the reception centres, but not regularly and entirely on volunteer and NGO initiatives and projects. During the previous years Caritas continued to carry out language training and leisure activities which lacked professionalism for the children in the reception centres in Sofia and Harmanli with the support of UNICEF. The Red Cross also has conducted language courses and social adaptation classes to relocated asylum seekers in the Vrazhdebna shelter throughout the year. Psychological support and treatment was provided in centers in Harmanli (Red Cross) and Sofia and Banya centers (Nadya Center). Volunteers, organised by Cooperation for Voluntary Service (CVS) have provided language, school preparatory classes, study circles and cultural orientation.
However, in 2020 due to COVID-19 pandemic all such activities were cancelled. The Red Cross re-organised online its language courses and managed to provide ten of them throughout the year. All children accommodated in the centers were supplied with laptops, purchased by the Red Cross with AMIF co-funding, to secure children’s online access to primary and secondary education.
Some level of standardisation has taken place in the intake and registration procedure in reception centres. There is a basic database of residents in place, which is updated on a daily basis.
However, measures to prevent sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) are not sufficient to properly guarantee the safety and security of the population in the centres. Except for Vrazhdebna shelter in Sofia, the security of asylum seekers accommodated in reception centres is not fully guaranteed. Verbal and physical abuse, attacks and robbery committed against asylum seekers in the surroundings of Voenna Rampa shelter, usually not investigated or punished, escalated in 2017 to an extent to provoke a joint letter by numerous non-governmental organisations, requesting the Sofia Police Directorate to step in and take effective preventive and investigative measures as prescribed by the law. No response or measures have been announced by the police in this respect and the situation did not improve in 2020.
The law does not limit the length of asylum seekers’ stay in a reception centre. Asylum seekers can remain in reception centres pending the appeal procedure against a negative decision. In December 2020, the SAR reported to have its reception occupancy at 25%, i.e. 1,032 occupants out of 5,160 available places, compared to 461 occupants at the end of 2019, 542 occupants at the end of 2018 and 977 occupants in the end of 2017.
 Bulgarian Red Cross, Refugee and Migrant Service: Annual Report, February 2021.
Caritas, Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Council of Refugee Women, Nadya Centre, Cooperation for Voluntary Service and Lumos Foundation, Letter to the Ministry of Interior, Sofia Regional Police Directorate, 22 December 2017.
Article 29(4)-(9) LAR.