The updated Country Report on Bulgaria documents developments in the area of asylum procedures, reception conditions, detention of asylum seekers and content of international protection in 2019.
The Bulgarian governments draft proposal to amend the Law on Asylum and Refugees (LAR) introduced following the European Commission’s infringement procedure fails to address issues of accommodation and legal representation of unaccompanied minors; the correct identification of and support to vulnerable asylum seekers; the provision of adequate legal assistance; and safeguards for detention.
In 2019, the national border monitoring registered 337 alleged pushback incidents affecting 5,640 individuals. Those who are able to access Bulgaria often transit through and exit the country without being registered by the authorities seeking to avoid any responsibility under the Dublin Regulation or under readmission arrangements. As a result, the official statistics on new arrivals are at the lowest since the first influx in 2013. During most of 2019 and at the time of writing, the national reception centres operated around or below 10% of their capacity.
The recognition rate of asylum applicants remained much lower compared to other European countries, namely 11% for the refugee status and 19% for the subsidiary protection status.
The delays in the release and registration of asylum seekers applying for international protection while in pre-removal detention centres reached 4 days in 2019 and registrations took around 12 calendar days / 10 working days. With an average of 109 days the length of detention in closed reception facilities for applicants awaiting status determination exceeded by far the limits laid down in law. The Migration Directorate within the Ministry of Interior (MOI) continued to refuse to release first-time asylum applicants from pre-removal centres in cases where they are deemed “deportable”, i.e. when they possess valid documents or such documents can be obtained without great obstacles. As a result, the State Agency for Refugees (SAR) continued to conduct asylum procedures in pre-removal centres in violation of national law, and courts continued to ignore such violations.
Although there is no systematic review of protection status in practice, cessation procedures initiated by the SAR when the MOI provides information indicating that status holders have either returned to their country of origin, obtained residence or citizenship in a third country, or have not renewed their Bulgarian identification documents for a period exceeding 3 years. The latter broadened interpretation of the recast Qualification Directive de facto introduces an additional cessation ground in violation of national and EU legislation. The undue cessation of protection status affected a total of 3,378 status holders in 2018 and 2019; i.e. 770 persons in 2018 and 2,608 persons in 2019 respectively. Out of the 2,608 cessations in 2019, 1,981 concerned Syrians, 267 concerned stateless persons, 177 Iraqis, 81 Afghans and 102 other nationalities).
No integration activities are planned, funded or made available to recognised refugees or subsidiary protection holders; thus marking the sixth consecutive year of the national “zero integration” policy.
*This information was first published by AIDA managed by ECRE.