United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1997 - Bulgaria, 1 January 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8bb68.html [accessed 30 July 2016]
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Some 283 persons applied for asylum in Bulgaria during 1996, a substantial decrease from the 1,302 applicants who filed claims the previous year. Commenting on the drop in applications during the first six months of 1996, the Bulgarian Red Cross said that a high proportion of the applicant pool during the previous year consisted of foreigners who had lived in Bulgaria for some time before requesting asylum. In comparison, the smaller numbers during the first half of 1996 far more closely matched the actual number of new asylum-seeker arrivals in the country. During 1996, the largest number of applicants were Afghan nationals (67), Iraqis (31), and Liberians (29). At the end of the year, 1,585 asylum seekers and refugees reportedly resided in Bulgaria. The National Bureau for Territorial Asylum and Refugees (NBTAR), established in 1992 to administer the refugee status determination procedure, decided the cases of 293 applicants during 1996. Of this figure, 144 applicants were granted refugee status, an approval rate of 49 percent. NBTAR conferred humanitarian status on an additional 13 claimants. Only 22 applicants were denied refugee status during the year. The cases of the remaining 112 applicants, or 38 percent of the total cases decided, were closed either because the applicant withdrew his or her application or failed to appear for an interview. Most are presumed to have left Bulgaria. Asylum Procedure Bulgaria acceded to the UN Refugee Convention and Protocol on May 12, 1993 without geographical limitations. The 1991 Bulgarian Constitution gives the UN Refugee Convention and Protocol the force of national law. Article 27 (2) of the constitution provides that "the Republic of Bulgaria shall grant asylum to foreigners persecuted for their opinion and activity in defence of internationally recognized rights and freedoms," and Article 98 empowers the Presidency to grant asylum. Although a draft refugee law had been prepared in 1996, the growing political crisis surrounding the Bulgarian Socialist government's rule, which became acute by year's end, placed the refugee bill on hold, at least for the near future. In the absence of a comprehensive refugee law, the 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 not compatible 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. The 48-hour deadline for filing an application reportedly is not strictly enforced. Applicants must provide a written statement explaining the basis for their claim. NBTAR conducts the initial screening, and subsequently the NBTAR director determines the applicant's status. Negative decisions can be appealed. Despite the deepening economic crisis in Bulgaria during 1996, UNHCR reported that accommodation and support for asylum seekers and refugees had improved during the year. NBTAR and UNHCR together arranged and financed homes for 543 refugees and asylum seekers in private homes and rented rooms. The Bulgarian Red Cross also reportedly provided varying levels of assistance to approximately 1,000 asylum seekers and refugees. The government has had plans to establish registration and reception centers for asylum seekers since 1994, but "skinheads" and local citizens groups obstructed first attempts to open a center. The project still remained on hold in 1996. Detention and Deportation During 1996, domestic and international humanitarian organizations continued to express concern regarding Bulgarian practices with respect to the detention of asylum seekers, the denial of entry and access to the asylum procedure at borders for would-be claimants, and their summary deportation to third countries. UNHCR has noted that the Bulgarian authorities do not follow many of the provisions of the refugee ordinance. Border officials apply the Law on the Stay of Foreigners (governing immigration and status of foreign residents in Bulgaria) and routinely detain for long periods asylum seekers who are undocumented, carrying fraudulent travel documents, or who have no visa. Domestic and international human rights organizations and UNHCR have expressed concern that some asylum seekers whose claims were rejected summarily have been immediately forced to return to countries where they feared persecution. Even persons with valid visas who have requested asylum have been denied entry and access to the refugee determination procedure if they could not show that they had sufficient financial means for the duration of their stay. Border guards do not consider asylum seekers as bona fide applicants if they previously traveled through Bulgaria and did not request asylum before traveling on to a third country. If third countries then return them to Bulgaria, their asylum applications are rejected. Readmission Agreements Bulgaria has signed readmission agreements with Poland in September 1993 (which entered into force in February 1994), Germany in September 1994 (which entered into force in September 1995), and Switzerland in July 1994 (which entered into force in September 1994). During the first half of 1996, Bulgaria concluded readmission agreements with Slovakia and Greece and was in the process of negotiating agreements with Spain, France, and Romania. 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. The agreements do not take into account the special situation of asylum seekers. Bosnians In August 1996, a first group of Bosnian refugees returned to Sarajevo by plane under the auspices of a voluntary repatriation effort organized by UNHCR and the Bulgarian Red Cross. UNHCR reported that about 250 Bosnians remained in Bulgaria at the end of the year.