Reception conditions for asylum seekers have improved in the recent months in Bulgaria, as shown in the updated AIDA country report, compiled by the ECRE Member Organisation Bulgarian Helsinki Committee. However, the sustainability of the improvements made and some residual gaps in the asylum system remain a concern.
In February 2014 the government started to provide meals to asylum seekers accommodated in the reception centres or shelters, while a monthly monetary allowance is also being provided, although not on a regular basis.The provision of food and medical assistance are a result of the efforts made by the government and various other actors, including UNHCR, civil society organisations, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and the European Commission. Reception centres are being renovated to ensure their compliance with the reception standards laid down in the Recast reception Conditions Directive. Yet some centres (Vrazhdebna and Voenna Rampa) are still below standards. In addition, at the end of February 2014, the Bulgaria’s State Agency for Refugees (SAR) was finally able to register all asylum seekers accommodated in the reception centres.
As highlighted in the report, the sustainability and the consolidation of the efforts undertaken raise concerns in the medium and longer-term. In particular, some improvements are the result of temporary initiatives by NGOs such as Doctors without Borders, whereas continuing efforts are urgently needed to further improve other aspects of Bulgaria’s asylum system. At present, aspects of the system remain below standard and fail to ensure full access to adequate reception conditions, fair asylum procedures and social and economic rights to all asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection in Bulgaria. For example, no material, social or financial support is provided to asylum seekers who live outside the reception centres of the SAR, and their registration and documentation are often subject to unduly delays.
Given the fragility of improvements in the Bulgarian asylum and reception system and the need for further consolidation, ECRE and Amnesty International have reiterated their call on States not to send asylum seekers back to Bulgaria under the Dublin procedure until the conditions for asylum seekers in the country improve substantially and the Bulgarian authorities are able to comply in practice with their obligations under EU and international law.
On 15 April, in its updated guidance on the situation for refugees and asylum-seekers in Bulgaria, UNHCR has noted that asylum conditions in the country have improved, but has warned against returning vulnerable people to Bulgaria under the Dublin Regulation due to remaining “serious gaps in the system”.
For more information:
Interview: Iliana Savova, Bulgarian Helsinki Committee: “The Bulgarian Government chose not to react to the possible arrival of Syrian refugees”, 11 April 2014