The law provides a definition of vulnerability. According to the provision “applicant in need of special procedural guarantees” means an applicant from a vulnerable group who needs special guarantees to be able to benefit from the rights and comply with the obligations provided for in the law. Applicants who are children, unaccompanied children, disabled, elderly, pregnant, single parents taking care of underage children, victims of trafficking, persons with serious health issues, psychological disorders or persons who suffered torture, rape or other forms of psychological, physical or sexual violence are considered as individuals belonging to a vulnerable group.
There are no specific measures either in law or in practice to address the specific needs of these vulnerable categories except some additional arrangements in practice to ensure medication or nutrition necessary for certain serious chronic illnesses, e.g. diabetes, epilepsy, etc. The law only requires that vulnerability be taken into account when deciding on accommodation, but this is applied discretionary and without any written criteria. In 2018 the SAR adopted new internal rules of procedure whereby social experts provide assistance to its staff during the initial medical examination so as to enable the early identification of vulnerable applicants and their special needs. If an applicant is identified as vulnerable, the new rules foresee that the vulnerability will be added to the registration form, including a detailed explanation and a follow-up assessment to be described in an appendix. Monitoring in 2021 established that needs assessment was conducted in 41% (145 of 350 cases) when vulnerability or special needs were actually established. However the needs assessment and the support plans were actually added to the asylum seeker’s personal file only in 9% of these cases (32 cases). This practice was considerably better with respect to unaccompanied asylum seeking children where in 54% of the cases the needs assessment were found in the children’s files.
Additionally, a new early identification questionnaire was established for applicants who experienced traumatising experiences in order to determine their special needs and to facilitate the referral to adequate psychological or medical care. In many reception shelters however, and mostly in Sofia, group consultations continue to be applied to new arrivals in order to identify their potential medical or social issues.
An applicant’s belonging to a vulnerable group has to be taken into account by the authorities when deciding on accommodation. In practice, except the two safe-zones for unaccompanied children other separate facilities for vulnerable applicants, families, single women or traumatised asylum seekers do not exist in the reception centres.
Reception of unaccompanied children
In July 2017 the State Agency for Child Protection and national stakeholders developed SOPs to safeguard unaccompanied migrant and refugee children identified to be present in Bulgaria. Although the SOPs for unaccompanied children were endorsed by the National Child Protection Council, the final formal endorsement by the government has not been formally given yet, which makes the developed SOPs for unaccompanied children inapplicable in practice. As of 31 December 2021 no progress has been achieved in this regard. (see section on Identification).
The LAR provides that unaccompanied children are accommodated in families of relatives, foster families, child shelters of residential type, specialised orphanages or other facilities with special conditions for unaccompanied children. In practice, none of these opportunities are used or applied.
A safe zone for unaccompanied children in the refugee reception centre (RRC) of Sofia at the Voenna Rampa shelter with capacity to accommodate 150 children is available since mid-2019,  where children are provided round-the-clock care and support tailored to their needs. However, only unaccompanied children originating from Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan are accommodated in this centre. This being said, some Afghan children were also accommodated in other reception centres such as the RRC of Harmanli in 2021. A second safe-zone at the RRC Sofia, in the Ovcha Kupel shelter, opened on 20 January 2020 with capacity to accommodate 138 children hosts primarily children originating from Arab speaking countries. Both safe-zones are operated by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Bulgaria and funded by AMIF, and has been extended at least until the end of 2022.
Moreover, at the end of 2017, the EEA Grants secured considerable funding for the State Agency for Child Protection as well as for the Bulgarian Red Cross to jointly establish and run an Interim Care Center for unaccompanied children, proposed and endorsed by UNICEF and UNHCR. As of 31 December 2021, however, this centre is still not established.
Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in RRC Harmanli continue to be accommodated in mixed dormitories and in many cases in rooms with unrelated adults. These children often complain to be deprived of sleep on account of noise, gambling or alcohol consumption during the night by the adults accommodated in their rooms, or by being forced to run errands for them such as shopping, laundering or cleaning. Many also complain that their food or possessions are often taken by the adults with whom they live together.
In 2021, following the incidents and fire at the Greek Moria Camp, Bulgaria pledged to relocate unaccompanied children. Out of 32 children who initially consented to be relocated to Bulgaria only 17 arrived by the end of 2021 and were accommodated in a specially prepared unit in Harmanli reception center.
Reception of victims of violence
Back in 2008, the SAR and UNHCR adopted standard operating procedures (SOPs) with respect to treatment of victims of Sexual and Gender-based Violence (SGBV). In 2014 both agencies agreed that the SOPs need to be updated, as they have never been applied in practice, but also to include other categories applicants with special needs. The SOPs revision process is still ongoing, however.
 Additional Provision 1(16) LAR.
 Additional Provision 1(17) LAR.
 Article 29 SAR Internal Rules of Procedure; .SAR, Internal Rules of Procedure for assessing and granting international protection, adopted on 17 December 2018.
 Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, 2021 Annual RSD Monitoring Report, 31 January 2022.
 Early Identification and Needs Assessment form (ФИОН), Individual Support and Referral Plan form (ФИПП) and Social Consultation form (ФСК).
 Article 29(4) LAR.
 State Agency for Child Protection, ‘Тридесет и шестото редовно заседание на Националния съвет за закрила на детето се проведе в зала „Гранитна“ на Министерски съвет’, 11 July 2017, available in Bulgarian at: http://bit.ly/2FzwLxk.
 Article 29(10) LAR.
 Standard Operating Procedures on sexual and gender-based violence, Exh. No 630, 27 February 2008.
 UNHCR, SGBV Task Force, established on 15 February 2014.