The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC), member of ECRE, has accused the Bulgarian Interior Ministry of providing the Syrian embassy with biometric information about Syrians, such as fingerprints. In an open letter to Interior Minister, Tsvetlin Yovchev, BHC stresses that the provision of any kind of data to an asylum seekers’ country of origin is a gross violation of human rights and goes against national and international principles of protection, threatening the security of Syrian asylum seekers in the territory.

Svetlana Baeva, from BHC told the ECRE Weekly Bulletin that every refugee in the country is being monitored in the same way as other people who represent a possible security risk. Biometric data is being collected from asylum seekers and passed on to Interpol for confirmation. The State Agency for Refugees (SAR) is also sending the biography, fingerprints and other biometric data of asylum seekers to the Syrian Embassy in Sofia reportedly to confirm the identity of people who claim  they are Syrian.

In the open letter, BHC also opposes the plans of the government to accommodate asylum seekers in detention centres instead of open reception centres. Quoting the Reception Conditions Directive and the Asylum Procedures Directive, the organisation states that asylum seekers should not be held in detention for the sole reason that they are seeking protection.

Regarding the general situation for refugees in the country, BHC told the ECRE Weekly Bulletin that SAR continues to be ill-prepared to meet the rising numbers of asylum seekers arriving in the country and to provide appropriate housing. Baeva stated that “what we found were overcrowded spaces, dilapidated toilets, (making them almost unusable and presenting a sanitary risk), a lack of medical care, lack of administration/consultation or anyone who is from the State Agency for Refugees, lack of cooking utensils or stoves and broken windows”. Furthermore, asylum seekers are often held in detention facilities upon arrival and only then are they transferred to reception facilities where they might wait several weeks before being registered as an asylum seeker.

Furthermore, Bulgaria has recently announced the construction of a 170-km long fence along the border, which aims to prevent refugees from entering the territory through unofficial border crossings. Boris Cheshirkov, UNHCR’s spokesperson in Bulgaria, stated that introducing fences or other deterrents “may lead people to undertake more dangerous crossings and further place refugees at the mercy of smugglers”.  In the open letter, BHC asks the Interior Minister “Are you ready to find the bodies of Syrian families emerging on the beaches of the Bulgarian Black Sea coast?”.

Cheshirkov also stated that this situation can also exacerbate problems in other countries, namely because Turkey is already hosting over half a million refugees from Syria – “We need burden sharing, not burden shifting”, the Agency’s spokesperson stated. Currently there are around 8,000 asylum seekers registered in Bulgaria. The European Asylum Support Office will provide experts for asylum support to the country until September 2014 and some EU Member States and the European Commission have also agreed to provide material support.

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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 31 October 2013
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