Last Updated: Monday, 29 May 2017, 09:03 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Bulgaria

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 20 June 2001
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Bulgaria , 20 June 2001, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3b31e15f8.html [accessed 29 May 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

At the end of 2000, Bulgaria hosted about 3,000 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included 267 persons granted asylum, 507 individuals issued residence permits on humanitarian grounds, and about 2,227 asylum seekers with pending claims.

In 2000, 1,755 asylum seekers applied for asylum in Bulgaria, up 30 percent from the 1,349 applicants in 1999. The largest numbers of asylum seekers came from Afghanistan (675), Armenia (418), and Iraq (300).

During 2000, the Bulgarian Agency for Refugees (BAR), the agency responsible for adjudicating asylum claims in the first instance, decided the cases of 2,211 applicants. Of these, 267 individuals received refugee status, an approval rate of 12 percent. Some 507 applicants received residence permits on humanitarian grounds for varying lengths of time. The BAR denied the applications of 509 individuals during the year. In addition, the BAR terminated the protection statuses of 928 persons. In most cases, the authorities terminated the status of persons believed to have left Bulgaria.

Asylum Procedure

Bulgaria acceded to the UN Refugee Convention in 1993. Article 27 (2) of Bulgaria's 1991 Constitution states that "Bulgaria shall grant asylum to foreigners persecuted for their opinion and activity in defense of internationally recognized rights and freedoms." Article 98 empowers the president to grant asylum.

Bulgaria passed a new law on refugees that became effective on August 1, 1999. Under the law, asylum seekers may apply at the border, in police stations, or at Bulgarian missions abroad. Asylum seekers in Bulgaria must apply within 72 hours of arrival, rather than the previous requirement of 48 hours. The BAR should adjudicate asylum claims within three months. The agency may grant an asylum seeker Convention refugee status for up to one year, or humanitarian protection, valid for varying periods up to one year. Both statuses may be renewed.

Rejected asylum seekers may appeal negative decisions to the Chairman of the Agency for Refugees on administrative grounds and to the Supreme Administrative Court on legal grounds. In the normal procedure, applicants have seven days to appeal negative decisions. Submitting an appeal suspends deportation proceedings.

In September 2000, Bulgaria implemented an accelerated procedure for "manifestly unfounded" applicants, which refers to asylum seekers arriving from "safe" countries, or applicants who knowingly provide false information or documentation. In addition, several of the grounds for placing an applicant in the accelerated procedure overlap with the exclusion clauses denying refugee status. Bulgaria put 110 cases into the accelerated procedure in 2000.

In the accelerated procedure, the border police determine admissibility to the normal procedure. Applicants rejected in the accelerated procedure have only 24 hours to appeal a negative decision, which nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) consider insufficient. Decisions made in the accelerated procedure are subject only to administrative, not judicial, review. The authorities do not process the applications of unaccompanied minors in the accelerated procedure.

The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) expressed concern that although "safe third country" and "safe country of origin" concepts do not necessarily contradict the 1951 Convention, they could pose a serious problem in Bulgaria, where mechanisms for preventing refoulement through expulsion or extradition remain imperfect. On April 19, Bulgaria adopted a list of 105 "safe" countries that included Yugoslavia, Indonesia, and India. NGOs criticized the list and expected it to be revised in 2001.

Bulgaria's asylum legislation includes extensive exclusion clauses under which asylum seekers may be denied refugee status if they: already hold residence permits (not protection statuses) in Bulgaria or another safe country; fail to apply within 72 hours of legal entry; or upon illegal entry, fail to submit a claim immediately. Bulgarian authorities may also deny asylum to an alien who, "having had ample opportunity earlier to submit an application, submits an application to forestall an impending administrative measure such as withdrawal of right of temporary residence, expulsion or extradition." Bulgarian NGOs consider these provisions excessively strict and contrary to the UN Refugee Convention.

The BAR and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) share the costs of housing refugees and asylum seekers. Upon arrival, asylum seekers may be accommodated in one of Bulgaria's two reception centers. After registering with the authorities, some asylum seekers move into private accommodations. While awaiting a decision, asylum seekers receive food, basic medical care, and a small financial allowance.

The government does not provide asylum seekers with any legal aid, and reportedly often fails to inform asylum seekers of the legal counsel available from UNHCR and local NGOs. During 2000, BHC lawyers had access to the airport transit zone and to the Drujba Detention Center for the second year. However, UNHCR cut off its financial support for legal counsel mid-year.

Recognized refugees receive renewable residence permits, social assistance on the same terms as Bulgarian nationals, travel documents, and the right to work. Refugees may apply for family reunification, and three years after recognition may apply for Bulgarian citizenship. The BAR provides integration assistance such as language courses and employment training for recognized refugees through programs implemented by UNHCR and the Bulgarian Red Cross.

The refugee status determination procedure speeded up significantly in 2000, with average waiting times for initial decisions down to between two and four months.

Restrictive Measures

During 2000, domestic and international humanitarian organizations continued to criticize Bulgarian detention methods (particularly at the borders), the denial of entry and access to the asylum procedure at borders, and the summary deportation of potential claimants to third countries. According to official government statistics for 2000, 137 asylum seekers were detained and 30 deported. However, BHC reported that border guards detained an estimated 3,439 "foreigners" during the year, and would not allow an additional 6,635 foreigners to enter the country.

Although Bulgaria is not part of the European Union (EU), on December 1, the Justice and Home Affairs Ministerial Council of the EU decided the country should be taken off the Schengen visa list. In response to this, the Bulgarian government started to set up visa regimes with several countries, including Georgia, Russia, the Ukraine, and Tunisia. The government estimated that the procedure would be completed by mid-2001. During 2000, Bulgaria signed a readmission agreement with Romania.

Roma

Human Rights Watch reported that in 2000, Roma were victims of police brutality and violent attacks by private citizens who acted with impunity in Bulgaria. Numerous cases of police brutality in 2000 included a sixteen-year-old Roma boy who suffered third-degree burns in April in police detention in Vidin after being beaten and losing consciousness. In July, a nineteen-year-old Roma boy was shot dead upon arrest on suspicion of a car theft in Sofia. A survey by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee showed that 60 percent of Roma convicts alleged they had been beaten during arrest or interrogation.

On a more positive note, in September, 75 percent of Roma children from the Nov Pat Roma settlement started being bussed to non-segregated schools in Vidin under a local and international nongovernmental initiative to improve their education. The Bulgarian minister of education, Dimitar Dimitrov, reportedly stated in September 2000 that the ministry would support the initiative, but did not specify what kind of support it would offer.

This nongovernmental desegregation action is an example of the Bulgarian government's commitments under the 1999 Framework Program for Equal Integration of Roma in Bulgarian Society. However, the Bulgarian Parliament failed to implement any projects under the 1999 legislation or to adopt any further legislation in 2000 to prevent discrimination against Roma. Some 2,690 Bulgarians sought asylum in other European countries during 2000, up from 1,710 in 1999.

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