Bulgaria + 4 more

Humiliated, ill-treated and without protection. Refugees and asylum seekers in Bulgaria

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Summary and calls for action

In the first months of 2015, PRO ASYL has heard shocking accounts from asylum seekers reaching Germany via Bulgaria. These accounts include reports of inhumane and degrading treatment as well as torture. PRO ASYL has written up some of these accounts, mainly from asylum seekers and refugees who arrived in 2014, to serve as an example of the treatment experienced by many who travel through Bulgaria. The majority of the accounts provided are those of Syrian or Iraqi nationals.

Following the closure of the Greek-Turkish border in August 2012, the overland flight route to Europe shifted course. This resulted in an increase in the number of asylum applicants in Bulgaria, as can be seen from the numbers of claimants:

  • 2012: 1.385 people

  • 2013: 7.145 people

  • 2014: 11.080 people

Of the claims made in 2014, over half were made by Syrian nationals.

As is also happening elsewhere, Bulgaria’s border zone is becoming increasingly militarised; the government is working towards sealing the border completely. According to Bulgarian authorities, 38.000 people tried to cross the Turkish-Bulgarian border in 2014.

Of these, only about 6.000 reached Bulgarian territory.

The attempts by the Bulgarian government to close the border have resulted in the refoulement of individuals at risk of persecution, contrary to human rights principles enshrined in international law. This has been independently verified by a number of international NGOs, including Human Rights Watch.

In 2014, Frontex provided further resources, through the deployment of 170 additional experts, to assist with the policing of the Bulgarian border. Frontex’s 2014 budget for Operation Poseidon Land, which operates in the zones along the Greek-Bulgarian borders, was 2.673.454, 90 Euros.

Those fleeing persecution arrive into a society that has had very little experience in receiving migrants. Racism is widespread and manifests itself in a number of ways, including physical attacks on asylum seekers of other skin colours.

Some of the Iraqi and Syrian asylum seekers who arrive in Bulgaria intend to continue their journeys onwards to Germany, because they have relatives there.

In 2014, more than 20 European member states requested a total of 6.873 transfers of asylum seekers from their territory to Bulgaria, despite the wholly inadequate reception conditions there7 . These include 4.405 asylum seekers who were to be returned from Germany.

Bulgaria is, after Italy, the country to which the most asylum seekers are to be transferred under the Dublin agreement. However, only 14 transfers were made from Germany. Many German courts prevent return to Bulgaria on the basis of a UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) report of 2014, according to which particularly vulnerable persons should not be transferred.

Bulgaria often grants protection status without interview or consideration of an individual’s substantive case. Around 70% of asylum claimants in Bulgaria receive international or subsidiary protection status. Those granted refugee status in another EU member state do not come within the remit of the Dublin Regulation.

The legal status of these people in Germany is precarious. Unlike Dubliners, who cannot be transferred after the statutory period of 6 months, refugees with international protection in Bulgaria can be removed from Germany at any time according to German regulations concerning safe third countries. Germany’s regulations relating to residence rights do not take into account the human rights abuses many of these people have experienced in Bulgaria.