Just until recently, asylum-seekers in Bulgaria received 65 BGN (33EUR) a month as part of the state’s social welfare designated to people in need. We are worried to learn however, that even this moderate social provision will be taken away from those seeking protection as of April 1st. This is part of the government’s efforts to both make Bulgaria unattractive destination but also because of the severe socio-economic situation in the country, which deepens exclusion by the day.
As any other peripheral EU border, the Bulgarian one is like a swing that oscillates between life and death. Annually, thousands are trying to cross it in order to find a better life but some, instead, find a fatal end. In Bulgaria, we rarely hear about the thousands who died at sea while trying to approach the Mediterranean shores. When we do, often such news leaves us in a sheer shock as we watch hundreds of bodies covering the coasts in Italy or Greece.
The situation for refugees in Bulgaria still exhibits extreme social vulnerability. As the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) and the European Council on Refugees (ECRE) pointed out in a report from January 2015 the push-backs, the lack of integration and discrimination against asylumseekers in Bulgaria are continuing. Meanwhile, the Bulgarian Defense Ministry deployed troops on the Bulgarian-Turkish border and Boyko Borisov, Bulgaria’s Prime Minister announced the extension of the fence project, which will now comprise 331 km.
Violent push-backs at the border are still taking place. One such violation of international norms took place on March 25 as a result of which Mohammed Jawad Kadima (30) and Elias Murad (35) died after freezing to death because of their impossibility to move while sustaining severe injuries on their limbs. A witness of the incident says the following about his experience with the Bulgarian Border Police:
We were 12 people. At the border we got arrested. They beaten us, massively. The bulgarian police took our mobiles, our money that they could find and all objects of value. One of the refugees was not able to walk and his legs couldn’t carry him anymore. The police called us to go back to Turkey. We returned to Turkey.
We remind our readers that violent push-backs often take place at the border. For more information, read our report from July 2014.
We are glad to inform you, that our new report is available in German language under the heading “Gefangen in Europas Morast: Die Situation von Asylsuchenden und Flüchtlingen in Bulgarien” is published. You can download the German Version here.
According to information received from asylum seekers, there has been a hunger strike in the detention facility in Lyubimets for the last few days. Nearly 100 people, including women and children, have taken part in the protest action. The reasons behind the strike, according to this information, lie in the bad living and sanitary conditions in the camp, where the toilets are unbearably filthy. People want to leave the camp. Hammad  a participant in the strike, said: “Please tell the media that we don’t want to claim asylum here, because Bulgaria is a very poor country.” On 18th September the strikers stopped the protest, because the authorities promised that the conditions will improve. “If things won’t get better, then we will continue”, Hammad added. At the moment there are about 400 people detained in Lyubimets.
Meanwhile push-backs at the Bulgarian-Turkish border continue. Human Rights Watch reported several incidents in August and September 2014. On 17th September, BMB was informed of another push back that happened the same day. According to information, received by a family member of the syrian asylum seekers who attempted to come into Bulgaria, the two families with children had reached Malko Tarnovo in Bulgaria. While on their way to the police station, where they intended to state they were seeking asylum, a police car stopped them, and the officers took their phones and some of their money. The families were then asked to leave Bulgaria. When they refused, the police threatened them and sent them back to Turkey.
Update: In November, 4 asylum-seekers from Syria and Iraq died while trying to cross the border to Serbia. All of them were registered by the State Ageny for Refugees (SAR) and waited for their status. Some days later, another Syrian refugee was found close to the border of Malko Tarnovo.
 Name changed by BMB.
A video, published by Bulgarian National Television, shows police men beating an asylum-seeker in the camp in Voenna Rampa, Sofia. The incident has taken place on July 30th 2014, when a group of asylum-seekers protested their removal from the camp in Sofia to the one in Harmanli. A while ago it became clear that there are thousands return applications from all over Europe awaiting approval by the Bulgarian government, where 3,000 come from the German government. In light of the large number of expected returns from other European countries and the increased number of newly registered applications (more than 600 for the months of April, May and June 2014) and border crossings, the Bulgarian government decided to remove status-holders from the camps in Sofia and to accommodate them in the camp in Harmanli so as to free space for the new comers.
In the light of the latest developments in the situation of refugees and asylum seekers in Bulgaria Bordermonitoring is sad to observe its most feared concerns coming true. It became apparent that the solutions to the refugee crisis with regards to accommodation that offered prolonged stays in the centers were temporary and easy to revoke, as we have underlined in our report. The returns to Bulgaria expose refugees and asylum seekers in the country to homelessness and institutional violence (the Head of SAR has warned that the refugees who do not wish to leave the SAR centers will be forced to do so). Thus, countries returning refugees and asylum seekers to Bulgaria not only add to the chaos but they also willingly send people back to a situation which fosters homelessness, economic disparity, and both institutional and physical violence. Meanwhile the Bulgarian authorities have announced the completion of the 33 km long fence on the turkish-bulgarian border.
Trapped in Europe’s Quagmire: The situation of asylum seekers and refugees in Bulgaria is Bordermonitoring’s report on Bulgaria. The making of the report was undertaken by four independent researchers and follows structural conditions in the country which place asylum-seekers and refugees in an extremely vulnerable position as well as their current precarious situation.
The themes covered in the report are as follows:
- Push-backs and violence at the Bulgarian border
- From overcrowded camps to the production of homelessness
- Integration in flux: a path to exclusion in a state of chaos
- Xenophobia and racists assaults: institutions, far-right, street violence
- Asylum procedures: the legal experts’ opinion
- Europe’s most unwanted: restrictions on free movement
It is available as of now: PDF download.
Bordermonitoring advises against the conduct of Dublin returns to Bulgaria until the country can ensure dignified treatment of all asylum-seekers and refuges on its territory. Bordermonitoring continues to closely follow the developments in Bulgaria.
The reports on stories collected in Bulgaria, while the journalist Andrea Rehmsmeier, visited the country in the months of April and May 2014. The broadcast covers the hardships that status-holders endure after the granting of their status. As a 19 year old Palestinian reports:
If you got this passport, than you have to leave the camp within a transition period of one month. Because the Bulgarian state is taking the view: From us you got what you wanted. Now go to work, or sleep in the street, this is not our problem anymore. From now on you are responsible for yourself!
Andrea Rehmsmeier shows the dangerous situation in Bulgaria that arises from the spread of extreme far-right tendencies. As one of her interviewees, a volunteer who helps asylum-seekers and refugees, shares:
On Facebook people write things that I don’t really want to say publicly. They also threaten me that they will send the “hooligans” after me.
Tomorrow, on July the 7th, Bordermonitoring is releasing a report of its findings in Bulgaria. “Trapped in EUs Quagmire: The situation of Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Bulgaria” covers topics ranging from push-backs and racism in Bulgaria to the newest developments in regards to integration and the spread of homelessness.
On April 21st, 2014 Border Monitoring Bulgaria (BMB) recorded yet another case of a push-back of a single Syrian mother with her four children (10, 17, 22, 24 years old) accompanied by severe police violence. Relatives reported that in their attempt to receive protection in Bulgaria, the family was forcefully returned to Turkey. After a day spent in Bulgaria, the family now finds itself in Turkey without their request for asylum having been respected, heard, or evaluated. BMB spoke to the victims who are now in a Turkish hospital treating their broken limbs and ribs.