Conditions in reception facilities



Bulgarian Helsinki Committee

In 2016 three meals per day are provided in all centres but Ovcha Kupel shelter, Sofia, where two meals are served a day.

Basic medical care in reception centres is provided either through own medical staff or by referral to emergency care units in local hospitals. As the management of the SAR failed to secure the necessary financing for the services provide to asylum seekers during the period May-September 2015 medical staff, doctor and a nurse were functioning only in Ovcha Kupel shelter, Sofia reception centre.

From September 2015 and throughout 2016, different forms and levels of medical services are again provided in all reception centres, but their scope and duration vary depending on the availability of funding for these services, but also of medical service providers in the particular centre or location.

Places for religious worship are now available in all of the centres, but not properly maintained. Activities to organise language training and leisure activities for children are presently not undertaken in any of the reception centres. UNHCR funded an Information Centre, located in the capital city, for urban asylum seekers and refugees living in the Sofia region, which will be maintained until the end of 2017.

Some level of standardisation has taken place in the intake procedure and registration procedure. There is a basic database of residents in place, which is updated regularly on a weekly basis. However, due to ongoing refurbishment and open access to the centres of all kinds of service providers, measures to prevent sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) are still not sufficient to properly guarantee the safety and security of the population in the centres.

The law does not limit the length of stay in a reception centre. Asylum seekers can remain in the centre pending the appeal procedure against a negative decision issued in any of the existing status determination procedures. In mid-2016, a relatively small number of individuals were residing at any given time on the national territory, with a 35% occupancy rate of reception centres.1 During this period it took between 15 to 30 days for irregular third-country nationals to be smuggled into Bulgaria, to submit formally an asylum application, if apprehended, in order to be released from deportation centres and transferred to open refugee camps only to abandon their asylum procedures shortly after, if not immediately. This was done with the aim of leaving the country, again in an irregular mode, across the land border with Serbia in order to move onward to any of the main countries of final destination. In the beginning of August 2016 the Serbian border authorities fully closed their border with Bulgaria. This resulted in a gradual increase of the population in reception centres (5190 places in total), reaching occupancy beyond their maximum capacity at the end of September 2016.2 As of end of December 2016, the SAR reported to have 79% occupancy in its reception centres.3 As of 10 January 2017, the SAR reported to have its reception capacity at 76%, with 4,153 occupants in 5,490 places.4

  • 1. SAR, Information provided at the 60th Coordination Meeting, 28 July 2016; Ministry of Interior, Migration Statistics July 2016, available in Bulgarian at:, 5.
  • 2. Ministry of Interior, Migration Statistics September 2016, available in Bulgarian at:, 5. An occupancy of 106% i.e. 5,519 residents was reported.
  • 3. Out of a total 5,490 places, 4,335 were filled: Ministry of Interior, Migration Statistics December 2016, available in Bulgarian at:, 5.
  • 4. This number includes the SAR closed reception centres, where asylum seekers are detained.

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