United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1998 - Bulgaria, 1 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8be48.html [accessed 26 September 2016]
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At the end of 1997, Bulgaria hosted about 2,400 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included 368 persons granted refugee status and 2,041 asylum seekers pending a status determination. The largest number of asylum seekers came from Afghanistan (599), the former Yugoslavia (261), and Iraq (208). During 1997, the National Bureau on Territorial Asylum and Refugees (NBTAR), the agency responsible for adjudicating asylum claims, granted 128 individuals refugee status. Asylum Procedure Bulgaria acceded to the UN Refugee Convention and Protocol on May 12, 1993 without geographical limitations. Article 27 (2) of the 1991 Bulgarian constitution provides that "the Republic of Bulgaria shall grant asylum to foreigners persecuted for their opinion and activity in defense of internationally recognized rights and freedoms," and Article 98 empowers the president to grant asylum. Although a draft refugee law has existed for several years, Bulgaria gives a low priority to refugee issues, and adopted no legislation in 1997. Bulgaria's refugee status determination procedure is governed by administrative regulations set forth in two decrees: No. 207, passed on October 23, 1992, which established the NBTAR, and No. 208, enacted on October 4, 1994, which adopted the Ordinance for Granting and Regulating Refugee Status. UNHCR has expressed concern that certain provisions of the ordinance are incompatible with international refugee law. According to the refugee ordinance, an asylum seeker may apply for refugee status at the border or within 48 hours of arriving in Bulgaria, although the deadline is reportedly not strictly enforced. Applicants must provide a written statement explaining the basis for their claim. After NBTAR conducts the initial screening, the NBTAR director determines the applicant's status. Applicants can appeal negative decisions. Despite Bulgaria's economic crisis, particularly severe in the first half of 1997, UNHCR reported that accommodation and support for asylum seekers and refugees improved during the year. UNHCR continued to finance housing for refugees and asylum seekers, mainly through local nongovernmental organizations. Because of the low number of asylum-seeker arrivals during the past two years, the Bulgarian government abandoned plans to establish registration and reception centers. Skinheads and local citizens groups obstructed attempts to open a center in 1994, and the project was ultimately shelved in 1997. Recognized refugees continued to face obstacles to self-sufficiency and integration during 1997. Many recognized refugees reportedly have not received proper identification documents, inhibiting their ability to find work and move freely within Bulgaria. Detention and Deportation During 1997, domestic and international humanitarian organizations continued to criticize Bulgarian detention methods, the denial of entry and access to the asylum procedure at borders to would-be claimants, and their summary deportation to third countries. UNHCR has noted that the Bulgarian authorities do not follow many refugee ordinance provisions. Border officials apply the Law of the Stay of Foreigners (governing immigration and status of foreign residents in Bulgaria) and routinely detain for long periods asylum seekers who are undocumented, carry fraudulent travel documents, or who have no visa. Domestic and international humanitarian organizations expressed concern that some asylum seekers whose claims were rejected summarily were immediately forced to return to countries where they feared persecution. Readmission Agreements Bulgaria has concluded readmission agreements with Poland, Germany, Switzerland, Slovakia, and Greece. These readmission agreements appear to apply to the return of nationals of the contracting states and to third-country nationals who entered without proper documents. They do not address the special situation of asylum seekers.