18 March 2015

No integration perspectives for persons being granted international protection, refugees being pushed back at the border with Turkey and discrimination against asylum seekers from Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa in detention. This is the picture described by the new AIDA report on Bulgaria, written by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC).

The report qualifies 2014 as ‘zero integration year’. Recognised refugees have received no integration support in Bulgaria during 2014, apart from being allowed to stay in reception centres for 6 months after being granted asylum. In consequence, 23% of the individuals accommodated in reception centres (850 people) by January 2015, were recognised refugees. In consequence, refugees have had an extremely limited access to basic social, labour and health rights and their willingness to permanently settle in Bulgaria has decreased to a minimum.

Regarding the situation at the borders, the report details that 6,400 people who had fled Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, were refused access to Bulgaria and were returned to Turkey in 2014. Since January 2015, Bulgaria has intensified border controls and police officers at the borders have been replaced by the army.

In 2014, reception conditions in centres for asylum seekers have achieved minimum standards. However, UNHCR expressed concerns regarding the sustainability of these improvements, namely considering that by the end of 2014 6,873 asylum seekers were facing being sent back to Bulgaria under the Dublin regulation. As of January 2015, Bulgaria’s reception and registration centres had capacity to host 5,650 people.

The study also underlines that 96% of the persons seeking asylum at the border (3,851 people) were detained at Elhovo Allocation Centre in 2014. Here, asylum seekers stay for three to six days before moving to reception centres, well beyond the 24 hours maximal delay allowed by national law. The average detention period in other centres decreased from 45 to 11 days, in 2014.

The report also stresses that detained asylum seekers from Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa are discriminated against regarding their release and access to international protection. The authorities register, interview and determine in the detention centres the applications lodged by people from these nationalities, who are released only if they challenge these procedures and a court orders their release.

Finally, in 2014, decisions on asylum cases were taken on an average of 6 months, Syrian asylum seekers (the majority of asylum seekers in Bulgaria) had their applications examined under accelerated procedures for “manifestly well-funded demands” and half of the total applying for protection in 2014 was granted asylum.

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This article was first published on the ECRE website on 18 March 2015 and subsequently appeared on the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 20 March 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.