Place of detention



Bulgarian Helsinki Committee

Asylum seekers are never detained in prisons unless convicted for committing a crime. Detention is implemented both in pre-removal immigration detention centres and, more recently, in “closed reception centres” where asylum seekers are detained for the purpose of the status determination procedure.


Immigration detention centres

There are 3 detention centres for irregular migrants in the country, totalling a capacity of 940 places:

Detention centre







South-Eastern Bulgaria


Elhovo “allocation” centre

South-Eastern Bulgaria





Although designed for the return of irregular migrants as deportation (removal) centres, these are also used for the detention of undocumented asylum seekers, who have crossed the border irregularly but were unable to apply for asylum before the border police officers and therefore apply for asylum only when they are already in the detention centres. The most common reason for these late asylum applications was the lack of 24-hour interpretation services for all languages at national borders.

Presently, almost 98% of asylum seekers who applied at national borders are transferred to Elhovo Allocation centre (see section Detention: General) or, if the latter is overcrowded, to any of the two other detention centres in Busmantsi or Lyubimets to satisfy the requirements of the State Agency for National Security (SANS) to avoid any release of third-country nationals, including families with children, before being screened and questioned on account of possible threats to the national security.  

At the end of 2016, amendments to the LARB introduced “allocation centres” as separate detention facilities to be used for security checks, profiling and identification and allowed a duration for these purposes up to 30 calendar days.1 Initially designated for the pre-registration of asylum seekers,2 Elhovo is thereupon being used to detain asylum seekers apprehended at the land borders outside the official border checkpoint. Prior to the amendments, this period in 2016 was approximately 12 to 16 days before asylum seekers’ further transfer to any of the SAR reception centres.


Asylum detention centres

The 2015 amendments to the LAR have introduced asylum detention under the responsibility of the SAR (see Grounds for Detention).

At the end of August 2016, following a mass fight between Afghan and Iraqi asylum seekers in the biggest reception centre in Harmanli, the first national closed reception facility was opened on 10 September 2016 within the premises of the Busmantsi pre-removal centre. The facility is called “3rd Block” and has a capacity of 60 places.

In the autumn of 2016, a coalition of three minor far-right parties exhilarated their xenophobic rhetoric against asylum seekers in Harmanli reception centres by exaggerating the risks of spreading of infectious diseases. Following an ultimatum to the government to fully close the centre on 23 November 2016 without any information or early warning to asylum seekers the centre was put in quarantine with the police blocking all exits. The riot which followed the next day, organised predominantly by Afghan asylum seekers, demanding the camp’s opening and a free passage to the Serbian border, was smothered by the police with excessive use of force.3 In order to be able to detain nearly 400 Afghan asylum seekers, arrested after the riot, the SAR opened in heist another closed reception centre on 26 November 2016, although many were also detained in Busmantsi deportation centre in violation of the law. The centre is the Gymnasium of Elhovo Regional Border Police Directorate and can host up to 150 individuals, but was only opened until December 2016. Asylum seekers placed in suffered delays in serving of detention warrants, lack of secured legal aid and were subjected to a duress to consent for a “voluntary” return to their country of origin.4

Accordingly, the detention capacity of the two asylum closed centres was 210 places. The only operational centre at the moment has 60 places.

  • 1. Article 44(13) LARB, as amended by Law 97/2016.
  • 2. EASO, Stock taking report on the asylum situation in Bulgaria, March 2014, 3.2. Asylum Determination Procedure.
  • 3., ‘Riot in Bulgarian Refugee Camp Caused by Political and Media Manipulation’, 8 December 2016, available at:
  • 4. BHC, Monthly Monitoring Report, December 2016.

About AIDA

The Asylum Information Database (AIDA) is a database managed by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), containing information on asylum procedures, reception conditions, detenti