The updated AIDA Country Report on Bulgaria documents persisting obstacles to refugees’ access to a fair asylum procedure and dignified reception conditions, despite a substantial drop in the number of arrivals and asylum applications registered in the country. In 2017, Bulgaria recorded 2,985 apprehensions of irregular migrants and registered 3,700 asylum seekers in 2017, although large-scale push backs at the border continue to be reported.
Nationalities from countries such as Algeria, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Ukraine are discriminated and treated as manifestly unfounded, with 0% recognition rates. The same approach is applied to asylum seekers from Afghanistan who were subject to a 1.5% recognition rate in 2017, and who were the top nationality of applicants in Bulgaria.
Interpretation and appropriate communication in the language preferred by the applicant are not secured during registration and eligibility interviews to all applicants. With respect to those who speak languages without interpreters available in Bulgaria, communication takes place in a language chosen by the decision-maker, without the applicant’s consent or evidence that he or she is able to communicate clearly in that language.
One positive development relates to legal aid. At the end of 2017 the National Legal Aid Bureau received AMIF funding to commence for the first time the provision of legal aid to asylum seekers at first instance. The legal aid pilot project will be limited to vulnerable categories, however, and is expected to commence in February to March 2018.
Living conditions in the reception centres remain poor and below or at the level of minimum standard threshold, except for Vrazhdebna shelter in Sofia. Asylum seekers in Voenna Rampa report that outsiders have access to dormitories during night hours without any major obstacles, leading to alcohol consumption, gambling, drug distribution and other illicit trades or disturbances. Verbal and physical abuse, attacks and robbery committed against asylum seekers in the surroundings of Voenna Rampa shelter escalated in 2017. This led to a joint letter by NGOs urging the Sofia Police Directorate to take effective preventive and investigative measures, but to no avail so far.
Detention of asylum seekers
The delays in the release and registration of asylum seekers applying while in pre-removal detention centres exacerbated, rising from 9 days in 2016 to 19 days in 2017. However, the most negative development concerned the practice of the SAR to conduct status determination procedures in pre-removal detention centres, in violation of the law. This was applied to the nationalities discriminated as “manifestly unfounded”, while courts held that the violation of procedural standards was insignificant as asylum seekers’ rights were not severely affected.
Content of international protection
The Integration Decree adopted in 2016 remained futile and out of use throughout 2016 and 2017, as none of 265 local municipalities has so far applied for funding in order to commence an integration process with any of the individuals granted international protection in Bulgaria. On 31 March 2017, the caretaker Cabinet fulfilled the election promise of the newly elected Bulgarian President and repealed the Decree without any reasonable justification. A new Decree was adopted on 19 July 2017, which in its essence repeated the provisions of its predecessor. Nevertheless, the situation remained the same without any actual integration activities planned, funded or available to recognised refugees or subsidiary protection holders. The national “zero integration” situation thus now continues over 4 consecutive years.
Read the full country report here.