The updated AIDA Country Report on Bulgaria documents recent legislative reforms and developments in relation to the asylum procedure, reception and detention, as well as integration.
Bulgaria registered 19,418 asylum applications last year, mainly from Afghan, Syrians and Iraqi nationals. Yet Afghans have overwhelmingly seen their claims rejected, as they have been treated as a “manifestly unfounded” nationality by the State Agency for Refugees (SAR) in 2016. Only 2.5% of Afghan asylum seekers received a positive decision in Bulgaria.
Single asylum procedure: Several major changes were introduced into the national asylum system in the end of 2015 as a result of the still ongoing transposition of recast EU Directives, The most important change relates to the unification of asylum procedure stages in one, single regular procedure. Dublin and accelerated procedures are now considered as non-mandatory phases of the status determination.
Access to the territory: Regarding asylum seekers’ access to territory and procedure, the national situation has remained unchanged. The Bulgarian police continue to apprehend irregular arrivals, to fingerprint and detain them for deportation.
Accommodation: Until mid-2016 the national reception centres’ population gradually increased from 12% of occupancy as of 31 January 2016 to reach a 35% occupancy as of 31 July 2016. This situation remained until the beginning of August 2016 when the Serbian border authorities fully closed their border with Bulgaria. This resulted in a gradual increase of the reception centres population, reaching by the end of September 2016 an occupancy of 110%. It resulted in overcrowded facilities and additional deterioration of already poor sanitary and living conditions in the majority of the centres.
Asylum detention: As of 1 January 2016, the law allows for detention of asylum seekers in accordance with the recast Reception Conditions Directive. Following riots in Harmanli in August and November 2016, two “closed reception centres” have been opened with a view to detaining asylum seekers.
Integration support: Following a third “zero integration” year since the end of 2013, in December 2016 the government finally introduced a long-expected Integration Decree, with respect to integration of recognised individuals. It envisage funding for municipalities to which the integration of refugees and subsidiary protection holders is entrusted. However, these legal provisions remain futile and out of use as none of 265 local municipalities nationwide has so far applied for such funding in order to commence the integration process with any of those granted in Bulgaria either of the two international protection types.
In December 2016, the Human Rights Committee ruled against the readmission of a Syrian family from Denmark to Bulgaria, on the ground that their residence permit would not protect them from obstacles to accessing health care, or risks of destitution and hardship. At the same time, courts in countries including Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, France and Switzerland, as well as the Human Rights Committee, have halted Dublin transfers to Bulgaria between January and November 2016.
Read the full country report here.