On 13 November, the Bulgarian government adopted a draft bill, amending Bulgaria’s Asylum Law to introduce systematic detention of asylum seekers arriving irregularly on Bulgarian territory. The draft bill, that will become law if approved by the Parliament, renders detention a rule and not an exception. The detention facilities are labelled as “centres of a closed type”.
The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) expressed that this draft bill, if adopted by Parliament, would be a blatant violation of the recast Reception Conditions and Asylum Procedures Directives, as well as a number of international, European and national human rights standards, e.g. Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights (protection against arbitrary deprivation of liberty). Particularly alarming is that if the draft bill is adopted, unaccompanied children will not be excluded from this detention scheme.
Both Nils Muiznieks, Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights and the European Commission emphasised that asylum seekers should be interned only in exceptional circumstances; thus vowing against the proposal of establishing such new centres.
Furthermore, BHC underlines that asylum seekers would be denied immediate judicial review of the lawfulness of their detention orders, which also violates the standards laid down in the recast Reception Conditions Directive. According to the draft bill, judicial review will only be available to appeal the length of detention.
Bulgaria has been in the press for the past months due to increasing numbers of refugees arriving on its territory – the majority coming from Syria – and its inability to receive and accommodate them adequately. Bulgaria has the capacity to accommodate 5,000 refugees and currently has 10,000 new arrivals on its territory. Amnesty International reported that “[t]he Bulgarian authorities’ response to the increase has been wholly inadequate. Instead of providing people with adequate living conditions and ensuring their access to asylum procedure, the authorities ‘accommodate’ them in centres where they are lost and forgotten by the system. [… At the Harmanli refugee camp at the border to Turkey] there is currently nobody even in charge of asylum claims.” These dire living conditions led to protests among asylum seekers; some of whom have been held in border camps for months without access to any assistance including legal advice. Furthermore, Bulgaria’s newspaper Novite reported that the increase of asylum seekers has been met with violent xenophobic attacks and harassment, tacitly supported by the lack of any counter-reaction by authorities against the raging hate speeches in the press, media and Bulgarian society.