03 July 2015
In a report released on 22 June 2015, Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed concern about summary returns of asylum seekers at the Bulgarian border and called on the government to make improvements to its asylum system.
Muižnieks was quoted as saying that Bulgaria had made some progress in strengthening human rights protection, but progress remained slow and fragile, including with regards to migrants.
He wrote the report following a visit to the country from 9 to 11 February 2015, during which he focused on: the human rights of people in institutions, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers and media freedom. During the visit, he met with Bulgarian authorities and NGOs.
The Commissioner was “seriously concerned” about push-backs at the border and urged the authorities to refrain from the summary returns. “Immigration detention must only be used as a last resort, for the shortest possible period of time and on the basis of individual assessments. Children should not be subjected to immigration detention, whether with or without their families,” he said.
He called on the government to make improvements in the early identification, assessment and referral of vulnerable asylum seekers with specific needs, in access to free legal aid and in the integration of those with refugee and protection status. The frequent unlawful detentions of asylum seekers and conditions at detention centres were also of concern.
The Bulgarian Red Cross agreed with the report, stating in a note to ECRE that: gaps and challenges remained, there was no integration programme for refugees in place for 2015, the Law on Asylum and Refugees was still under revision and that detention facilities remained overcrowded.
In a press release, the Bulgaria Helsinki Committee welcomed the report and its recommendations, saying it had made similar warnings regarding the human rights situation in the past. In a press statement on 17 June 2015, prior to the report’s release, it had expressed its concerns regarding the speed of registration and legal assistance for asylum seekers and the insubstantial protection for unaccompanied minors.
In 2014, according to Eurostat, Bulgaria granted protection in 7,000 of the 7,435 asylum applications.