Conditions in reception facilities

Bulgaria

Country Report: Conditions in reception facilities Last updated: 11/04/24

Author

Bulgarian Helsinki Committee Visit Website

State of the facilities

Since 2015 conditions in national reception centres in general have been deteriorating and as a whole, substandard, with support limited to accommodation, nutrition and rudimentary medical help without provision of psychological care or assistance.[1] 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. Except Vrazhdebna shelter and the two safe zones for unaccompanied children in Sofia reception centre, all the other SAR shelters and centres during this eight-year period were maintained solely in a survival mode and have been experiencing recurring problems with the infrastructure and the material conditions, at some instances failing to provide even the most basic services including adequate amenities for personal and community spaces hygiene. Regular water, hot water, repair of utilities and equipment in bathrooms, rooms and common areas remain problematic. Vermin infestation, such as bedbugs, lice, cockroaches and rats also remain among the most persisting problems in reception centres for many years. Occupants from all reception centres, except in Vrazhdebna, have complained about the poor sanitary conditions, especially regarding soiled mattresses infested with bedbugs which regularly cause health issues, i.e. constant skin inflammations and allergic reactions. This problem arose after 2013 and has been continuously neglected until 2023. Owing to the monthly disinfection, pest control and desacarization which began in May 2022,[2] and continued in 2023[3] on the basis of contracted services which was regularly carried out in all reception centres, the situation with regard to bedbugs noticeably improved, not without the similar measures undertaken in both MOI detention centres in Busmantsi and Lyubimets. It was not before September 2023 when SAR was able to receive the first instalment of the next AMIF funding from MOI and re-appoint cleaning staff. Until then SAR had to organize the cleaning of all reception centres with the assistance of the hosted population. However, crumbling buildings and poor sewage and bathroom conditions prevented any significant improvements in this respect and kept sanitation levels to, or in the case of Ovcha Kupel shelter below, the necessary minimum. The sub-standard reception conditions in SAR as were explicitly noted in a report of the national Ombudsperson[4] in 2022 with recommendations for immediate redress.

The running costs for medicines and medical supplies, Bulgarian language courses as well as urgent maintenance and refurbishment were met only to the extent of the remaining funds of a SAR AMIF project, which, however, ended on 31 December 2022. Supply of clothes, shoes, product for personal hygiene and other basic items was held regularly by the SAR although within a restricted annual budget in 2023[5]. patrol car is granted only in the largest Harmanli reception centre, which, however, is just one and located at the central entrance, therefore insufficient to ensure the safety and security of the nearly 4,000 individuals it accommodated. The rest of the reception centres continue to be guarded by private security companies, which for the purposes of cost effectiveness usually employ as guards predominantly men of retirement age or above and therefore, therefore security services are rather formal than real[6].

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 daily. However, there is an ongoing competition among asylum seekers to be accommodated in premises/rooms found to be in a better condition than others, thus corruption among SAR staff, who deals with accommodation issues, is widespread. For example, throughout 2023 the BHC office in Harmanli and Sofia reception centres received accounts from asylum seekers that SAR employees continued to collect money from asylum seekers for different ‘services’, e.g. changing the room with one in better condition, accelerating the decision-making, etc.

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.[7] In December 2023, the SAR reported to have its reception occupancy at 77%, i.e. 2,736 occupants out of 3,592 available places,[8] compared to 2,412 occupants at the end of 2022; 2,447 occupants at the end of 2021; 1,032 occupants at the end of 2020, and 461 occupants at the end of 2019.

 

 

 

[1] See, AIDA Country Updates on Bulgaria: Forth Update from October 2015, 2016 Update from February 2017, 2017 Update from February 2018, 2018 Update from January 2019, 2019 Update from February 2020, 202 Update from February 2021 and 2021 Update from February 2022.

[2] SAR, reg. No.РД05-72 from 26 February 2023.

[3] SAR reg.№ЦУ-РД05-123/27.02.2024.

[4] Ombudsperson of the Republic of Bulgaria, Доклад на Националния превантивен механизъм за извършени проверки в структури на Дирекция „Миграция“ към Министерство на вътрешните работи и Държавна агенция за бежанците към Министерски съвет, published in September 2022, available at: https://bit.ly/3wVwNPS.

[5] SAR reg.№ЦУ-РД05-123/27.02.2024.

[6] Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, reg.No.Б-88 from 18 September 2023.

[7] Article 29(4)-(9) LAR.

[8] 127th Coordination meeting held on 28 December 2023.

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