U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Bulgaria
|Publisher||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants|
|Publication Date||1 January 1999|
|Cite as||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Bulgaria , 1 January 1999, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8c00.html [accessed 25 April 2014]|
At the end of 1998, Bulgaria hosted more than 2,800 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included 455 persons granted refugee status, 9 individuals granted residence permits on humanitarian grounds, and about 2,400 asylum seekers pending a status determination.
Some 834 asylum seekers applied for asylum in Bulgaria in 1998, almost double the 429 asylum seekers applying in 1997. In 1998, the largest number of asylum seekers came from Afghanistan (261), Iraq (229), and Iran (75).
During 1998, the National Bureau on Territorial Asylum and Refugees (NBTAR), the agency responsible for adjudicating asylum claims, decided the cases of 435 applicants. Of these, it granted 87 individuals refugee status (55 from Afghanistan), an approval rate of 20 percent. Another 7 applicants received residence permits on humanitarian grounds. NBTAR denied the applications of 341 individuals during the year.
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 Bulgarian legislators were preparing a draft law on refugees in 1998, the parliament did not pass any legislation by year's end. A law on refugees is expected to pass sometime in 1999.
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.
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. Domestic and international human rights organizations expressed concern over the quality of NBTAR's asylum adjudications in 1998 and complained that the determination procedure was too slow. UNHCR reported that applicants can wait as long as four years to receive a decision.
Applicants can appeal negative decisions to Bulgaria's supreme administrative court. After several years of delay, the court began reviewing appeals and issuing decisions at the end of 1997.
Accommodation and support for asylum seekers and refugees reportedly continued to improve during 1998. UNHCR and NBTAR split the costs of housing for refugees and asylum seekers. Asylum seekers are accommodated in reception centers upon their arrival. After registering with the authorities, most asylum seekers move into private housing. NBTAR opened a new reception center for asylum seekers in eastern Bulgaria in July 1998. The Future Foundation, a local NGO, also opened two new transit facilities for asylum seekers during the year, doubling the number of transit centers it runs. Funding shortages delayed plans to open a reception center at Sofia Airport in 1998.
Recognized refugees receive renewable residence permits, social assistance on the same terms as Bulgarian nationals, and the right to work. UNHCR grants integration assistance to recognized refugees through the Bulgarian Red Cross.
Detention and Deportation
During 1998, 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.
Bulgaria has concluded readmission agreements with Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, and Switzerland. In 1998, Bulgaria also signed readmission agreements with Austria, the Czech Republic, Finland, and Norway. These 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.