10 January 2014
In its Observations on the Current Situation of Asylum in Bulgaria, UNHCR considers that asylum seekers in Bulgaria face a real risk of inhuman or degrading treatment due to systemic deficiencies in reception conditions and asylum procedures in the country. In such circumstances, the halting of Dublin transfers to Bulgaria is required by judgments of the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the European Union, as well as by Article 3(2) of the Dublin III Regulation. Alongside this legal prohibition, UNHCR and ECRE underline that such a suspension would demonstrate the commitment of Member States to the fundamental EU principle of solidarity.
UNHCR describes the receptions conditions for asylum seekers in Bulgaria as ‘deplorable’ and ‘at variance with the right to human dignity and respect for privacy’. UNHCR’s analysis is in line with the findings of ECRE’s Asylum Information Database (AIDA) Country Report on Bulgaria, updated by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee in December 2013. Asylum seekers in Bulgaria reside in overcrowded and understaffed reception centres, especially since the sharp increase in applications since August 2013, mainly by Syrians.
In addition, UNHCR cites the risk of lengthy and arbitrary detention due to delays and to the absence of a clear basis for detention in Bulgarian law. Another critical problem is the denial of access to a fair and effective asylum determination procedure, which leaves asylum seekers sent to Bulgaria under the Dublin Regulation at risk of refoulement to their countries of origin.
ECRE criticises the draft law in Bulgaria amending the Asylum Act, which foresees widespread detention of asylum seekers, contrary to international EU norms and standards, and allows the detention of unaccompanied children.
ECRE reminds European states that they are precluded as a matter of law from returning anyone under the Dublin mechanism, or any bilateral agreement, if this would create a risk of a violation of any of the obligations they have undertaken under the European Convention on Human Rights or the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. ECRE also endorses UNHCR’s statement that a Dublin transfer may be precluded by the risk of a rights violation ‘even in the absence of systemic deficiencies’ in the responsible country’s asylum system.
It is recommended that Bulgaria adopt a crisis management plan, in accordance with Article 33 of the Dublin III Regulation, to reinforce EU efforts to improve the situation in Bulgaria. Such a plan would require Bulgaria to report regularly to the Commission and the European Asylum Support Office as well as inform the European Parliament of any progress made.
ECRE also notes the growing number of cases in which national courts have ordered suspension of Dublin transfers to EU Member States, including Bulgaria, Hungary, Malta, Poland and Italy. As a result, ECRE calls on the EU institutions to recognise the failures of the current system and seize the opportunity of the upcoming discussions on the EU’s strategic guidelines for the Post-Stockholm era to fundamentally review the principles underlying the Dublin system.