At the end of 2002, Bulgaria hosted nearly 1,200 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included 75 persons granted asylum and about 1,100 asylum seekers with pending claims.

During the year, around 2,900 asylum seekers applied for asylum in Bulgaria, up 19 percent from the 2,400 applicants in 2001. The largest numbers of asylum seekers came from Iraq (950), Afghanistan (860), Armenia (360), and Nigeria (170).

The Bulgarian Agency for Refugees (BAR), responsible for adjudicating asylum claims in the first instance, decided the cases of around 1,800 applicants. Of these, 75 received refugee status, an approval rate of 5 percent, down from 18 percent in 2001. Most successful applicants came from Iraq (39) and Afghanistan (18). Around 650 failed applicants received residence permits on humanitarian grounds for varying lengths of time, the majority from Iraq (290) and Afghanistan (200).

The BAR denied 770 asylum claims and revoked the status of 9 persons during the year (4 with refugee status and 5 with humanitarian status).

Some 4,800 Bulgarians, most of who were believed to be ethnic Roma, sought asylum in other European countries during 2002, up from 2,900 in 2001.

Asylum Procedure

Bulgaria acceded to the UN Refugee Convention in 1993. The country's 1991 Constitution includes a provision for granting asylum "to foreigners persecuted for their opinion and activity in defense of internationally recognized rights and freedoms." Prior to December 1, when a new Law on Asylum and Refugees was enacted, the 1999 Law Refugees governed Bulgaria's asylum procedure.

The new law created a State Agency for Refugees (SAR) under the Council of Ministers responsible for examining all asylum applications and providing public assistance to asylum seekers and refugees in Bulgaria. The new legislation brought Bulgaria's asylum procedure further into line with European Union and international standards.

Asylum seekers may apply at the border, in police stations, or at Bulgarian missions abroad. The 1999 law introduced an accelerated procedure for persons with cases deemed manifestly unfounded, including applicants arriving from countries designated as safe, or who knowingly provide false information or documentation. In 2000, Bulgaria adopted a list of 105 countries it deemed safe that included Yugoslavia, Indonesia, and India.

In the accelerated procedure prior to December, border police with no training in refugee law were responsible for determining applicants' admissibility to the normal procedure. Applicants rejected in the accelerated procedure only had 24 hours to appeal a negative decision, a time period that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) considered insufficient. However, the border police rejected less than ten applications as manifestly unfounded in 2001 and rejected no one in 2002, instead forwarding their applications to the SAR.

Under the new law, the SAR immediately interviews all applicants when they apply for asylum. All applicants, except minors, are determined first under a new accelerated procedure and receive a decision within three days of their application. The SAR may refuse their application as manifestly unfounded or admit them into the general procedure. The SAR rejected 23 cases as manifestly unfounded during its first month of operation in December. The new law increased the period for applicants rejected under the accelerated procedure to seven days to appeal negative decisions to the district courts. 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 new law guarantees legal aid to applicants at all stages of the procedure.

Rejected asylum seekers in the normal procedure may appeal negative decisions to the Supreme Administrative Court through the SAR on legal and administrative grounds; the deadline for appealing negative decisions in the normal procedure increased from 7 to 14 days under the new law. Submitting an appeal suspends deportation proceedings.

Bulgaria grants asylum for up to three years, or humanitarian protection for varying periods up to one year; both are renewable. Under the new law, Bulgaria grants humanitarian status to "an alien forced to leave or stay outside his country of origin or residence for reasons of threat to his life, security or freedom as a result of violence arising out of situations such as armed conflicts, or who faces a threat of torture or other forms of inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and who, for those reasons is unable or not willing to return to his country of origin or residence."

Assistance and Accommodations

Upon arrival, asylum seekers may be placed in one of Bulgaria's two reception centers in Sofia and Banya run by the SAR. After registering with the authorities, some asylum seekers move into private accommodations. While awaiting a decision, asylum seekers receive food, medical care, and a small allowance.

During the year, the government funded the National Service Border Police to run a temporary reception center in Lubimets on the Bulgarian-Turkish border and temporary reception facilities on the Bulgarian-Turkish-Greek borders. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) provided funds for their refurbishment. UNHCR agreed to provide support and advice to asylum seekers in the facilities until 2005, when more permanent facilities are due to open.

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

Government agencies and UNHCR made plans, in May, to increase care and protection mechanisms for refugee children and, in June, to offer public assistance to refugees and asylum seekers.

Restrictive Measures

Under the new law, asylum seekers in the accelerated procedure and foreigners who pose a threat to national security or who have committed serious crimes may be detained. According to the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC), 148 asylum seekers were detained during 2002.

In March 2001, the Bulgarian and Greek border police, the SAR, the BHC, and UNHCR reached an agreement to try to prevent refoulement of those seeking protection. Under the agreement, the SAR and the police would transfer people who submit asylum applications to the nearest reception center, and the BHC would be granted access to border areas. However, the BHC charged that there were mass cases of refoulement of asylum seekers in 2002, and that the border police "practice refoulement on a daily basis." The agency also predicted increased incidence of refoulement with the enactment of the new law because the border police are no longer obliged to accept asylum applications and the SAR is "neither ready, nor willing" to open transit centers for border procedures.

Bulgaria has signed readmission agreements with Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. In 2002, Bulgaria ratified agreements with Albania, Latvia, Lebanon, and Croatia.


Roma continued to face discrimination in housing, public assistance, education, and medical care, and continued to constitute a disproportionate number of the victims of police violence during 2002. Bulgarian authorities banned or dispersed Roma protests against electricity cuts or non-payment of public assistance during the year. However, the government took some positive steps towards implementing a Framework Program for Equal Integration of Roma in Bulgarian Society, signed in April 1999, including improvement of some Roma neighborhoods and funds for Roma culture and media projects.


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