Besides the general geo-political situation following from the Schengen logic, the migrants/refugees in Bulgaria are facing some specific problems. Formally, all migrants are going through the procedure applied for asylum seekers.
Brochure on Asylum in Bulgaria by the Initiative for Solidarity with Migrants in Sofia (February 2013 in english and french)
Asylum Procedure in Bulgaria
Protection status in Bulgaria:
- a refuge (given by the President to persons who are persecuted because of their political activity)
- temporary protection (given by the government to groups of people who are fleeing their country because of an armed conflict, massive violation of the human rights in their country, civil war, etc.)
- refugee status (given by the State Agency for Refugees)
- humanitarian status (given by the State Agency for Refugees)
After crossing the border:
Until the State Agency for Refugees registers you as an asylum seeker, you are going to be treated as an „illegal” person. According to Article 279(5) of the criminal law in Bulgaria, asylum seekers are PROTECTED from criminal prosecution when crossing the borders without permission!!!
Instead, the asylum seekers arrested at borders are put into prisons and are held as criminals under the charge of Article 279(1) of the criminal law, which is the charge of illegal border crossing. That „crime” comes with a maximum sentence of 5 years. Usually, you are held in a prison in Lyubimetz, close to the Greek-Turkish border, or in Busmantzi, close to Sofia, waiting for deportation. Some people are held in an „open” centre in the village of Pastrogor, close to the Greek-Turkish border (e.g. minors, pregnant women etc. but not aways).
If you got arrested for illegal crossing for the first time, you will be told by a prosecutor to sign an „agreement” (a deal) with the court. In most cases this ends with a probationary („not real”) sentence from 4 months prison to a year in prison. In the same time, the law ensures a right of asylum and by starting a procedure at the State Agency for Refugees the charges for illegal crossing automatically fall off.
START YOUR APPLICATION PROCEDURE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE! (see next section)
The asylum application should be submitted without any delay; otherwise it might be rejected as manifestly unfounded.
The asylum application may be submitted through any state organ (for example the Border Police or the Migration Office in cases of irregular entry or the prison you are held), who are obliged to immediately report it to the State Agency for Refugees.
The asylum application may be in written or oral form. It is recommended that the asylum application is submitted in written form and that the state body is asked for an entry number from its registrar, which serves as proof of submission.
The asylum application may be written in a language that you speak or write. The State Agency for Refugees is able to translate it. It is recommended that the application clearly states that it is addressed to the State Agency for Refugees in the upper right corner of the paper write ДАБ ( ДАБ is the abbreviation for ‘State Agency for Refugees’ in Bulgarian).
Remember to write your name, your country of origin and your current location, also, write clearly that you are applying for protection in Bulgaria. (from the Brochure „Regulation[&]Asylum” in Bulgaria, 2012)
The people at the border or in prison are obliged to forward it to the State Agency for Refugees as quickly as possible. In Bulgaria there is a time gap between the submission and the registration of asylum applications. You
are regarded as an asylum seeker after the State Agency for Refugees registers you as an asylum seeker. If there is an expulsion ordered against you, it can be executed during the time gap.
If the State Agency has not registered you as an asylum seeker within two weeks of the day they received your asylum application, you have the right to appeal their inaction before the Sofia City Administrative Court.
The State Agency for Refugees
If you possess any personal documents (passport, id card etc.), they will be taken away from and kept in the Agency till the whole procedure is over. Instead they are going to give a temporary „blue” document.
If you are 14 or more years old, they are going to take your fingerprints. In this way, all countries in the European Union will have your biometric data and can follow your steps on the territory of the EU. (See section „Fingerprints”).
First, the State Agency for Refugees is going to check whether you are allowed to apply for a status in Bulgaria (See section „Dublin 2 Regulation). If they refuse to accept your application in Bulgaria, you are going to be sent to
another country. You can appeal this decision in front of the Sofia City Administrative Court not later than seven days after they hand it out to you before the Sofia City Administrative Court. You must submit your appeal through the State Agency for Refugees.
After announcing that Bulgaria is competent for processing your application, the State Agency for Refugees will start with the procedure.
„accelerated” procedure – the administration is going to decide within three days whether they are going to continue with the regular procedure or are going to refuse your application in general.
During your interview, you have the right to an interpreter in a language which you understand. Unfortunately, according to the law in Bulgaria, if they don’t find such interpreter they are going to organize the interview in a language they think you understand.
You can appeal the decision of the Agency not later than fourteen days after they hand it out to you before the Sofia City Administrative Court. You must submit your appeal through the State Agency for Refugees. The judgement of the Court is final.
„regular procedure” – the decision on your asylum application is going to be taken within three to nine months.
You can appeal the decision of the Agency not later than seven days after they hand it out to you before the Sofia City Administrative Court. You must submit your appeal through the State Agency for Refugees. You can appeal
this judgement before the Supreme Administrative Court of Bulgaria.
During your procedure you can:
- be informed about your procedure
- have a translator, interpreter
- stay in one of the open „reception” centers in Ovcha kupel, Sofia, or in the village of Banya, Eastern Bulgaria.
- receive 65 lv. (32 Euro) per month
- have a health insurance equal to the regular public health insurance of the Bulgarian citizens
- search for a job, if your procedure continues longer than one year because of administrative reasons
If your procedure has been aborted (because you do not go to your interview, change your address without telling this to the Agency or do not „cooperate” with the Agency about the reasons why you left your country) you are going to be left out of the reception centres or will not receive the 65 lv. You can appeal this decision in front of the Sofia City Administrative Court not later than seven days after they hand it out to you before the Sofia City Administrative Court. You must submit your appeal through the State Agency for Refugees.
During your procedure you are not allowed to enter the border zone of Bulgaria without a special permission.
Taking your fingerprints:
If you are 14 or more years old, they are going to take your 10 fingerprints when you submit your application for asylum. Your fingerprints are going to be kept in Bulgaria and will be sent to all countries in the European Union for
the next 10 years. There is a European data base system called Eurodac where your data are going to be kept. (See Section „Dublin 2 Regulation”).
If you are under 14 and there is no immediate proof of your age, you are going to be examined by a doctor. You can refuse this medical examination. Your refusal cannot stop you from continuing with the asylum procedure.
If you do not want to apply for an asylum in Bulgaria, they usually take your fingerprints as well.
The institutions which take the fingerprints are: The Border Police, The Section „Migration of the Ministry of Interior”, The State Agency for Refugees.
The fingerprints should be deleted from the local and European data base when a person: becomes an EU citizen; receives a residence permit; leaves the territory of the EU.
Camps in Bulgaria (detention and “reception”):
Last update: January 2014
The situation in Bulgaria is changing in the moment very often, so these are the camps existing in January 2014.
3 “open” camps for asylum-seekers (Vrajdebna, Voenna Rampa, Ovcha Kupel)
1 detention camp (Busmantsi)
Border (Turkey-Greece-Bulgaria) area:
1 closed camp (Harmanli)
1 Transit Center (Pastrogor)
1 detention camp (Lyubimets)
Border Police headquarters (Svilengrad)
1 “open” camp (Banya)
European Union and Schengen
Bulgaria is a member of the European Union
Currently there are 27 member states in the EU: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom.
The asylum policy of those 27 member states is heavily coordinated. That means if you apply for an asylum in one member state each one of them is going to be informed about your application. The Dublin II Regulation means that every member state can decide to deport you back to Bulgaria if you have been first registered here. For more info see:
Nevertheless, the asylum procedures are different in those 27 countries. They can last different periods of time.
Most important, the right to asylum is a universal right. It belongs to everybody. Usually, in each member state there are local groups, sometimes very small, who support asylum seekers and organize political work in solidarity with them.
The Schengen Agreement
In addition to the Dublin 2 Regulation, there is also the Schengen Agreement within the European Union. Most of the EU member states are parties to the Schengen Agreement as well. Ireland and the United Kingdom are not members of Schengen. Bulgaria, Romania and Cyprus are expected to join Schengen too. Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland apply the Schengen rules as well.
The citizens of the Schengen countries can move within the Schengen area without being checked at the border when they travel by car. They are always checked when they arrive at the airport. They are usually checked when they travel by bus. The border coordination among the Schengen countries is even stronger. If you are granted a Schengen visa you can travel freely within the whole Schengen area.
The asylum seekers are not allowed to move within the Schengen area while they are in a procedure. People with humanitarian status are usually required a visa to enter a Schengen country. It can cost 60 Euro or so. You should check this information with the embassy of each country. According to the Geneva Refugee Convention (1951) people with refugee status can apply for an international refugee identity card (passport) which they can use for traveling abroad. They can apply for a Schengen visa on the basis of this international passport.