Operations in Bulgaria
UNHCR has been present in Bulgaria since 1992 when the country has acceded to the 1951 Geneva Convention and the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees. From 2000, a Representation operates in Sofia.
According to the latest provisional figures, Bulgaria received some 890 asylum-seekers in 2011, 23 unaccompanied minors and separated children among them. In 2011 some 10 refugee status were granted, whereas 182 people received a complementary form of protection. The largest number of asylum-seekers arrived from Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia and as a stateless.
Projects and activities
Bulgaria has an external EU border and is under active preparation for joining the Schengen space. Therefore border management is a priority for UNHCR. Border monitoring has been carried out since mid-2010, under a Tripartite Agreement signed between the Chief Directorate Border Police, UNHCR and the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee.
UNHCR in Bulgaria implemented the Asylum System Quality Assurance and Evaluation Mechanism (ASQAEM) Project and the Further Developing Asylum Quality project, both part of UNHCR Quality Initiative. UNHCR in Bulgaria was also involved in the earlier project Improving EU Asylum Procedures: Comparative Analysis and Recommendations for Law and Practice, completed in 2010.
As a result of the projects, among other improvements, the asylum-seeker registration form was amended according to UNHCR recommendations, interpreters were trained and a Code of Conduct for Interpreters was developed. UNHCR continues to monitor the implementation of a number of other issues that emerged.
Most asylum seekers enter Bulgaria through smuggling or trafficking. Therefore, UNHCR is involved in the work of the anti-trafficking Commissions and raises awareness about asylum-seekers and refugees who are easy targets. UNHCR also tries to ensure that they can have access to protection.
UNHCR in Bulgaria has been carrying out participatory assessments in detention, reception and accommodation facilities since 2005. This is part of UNHCR’s global Age, Gender and Diversity Strategy. Throughout these years, the field visits and group discussions have helped detect problems and gaps in the protection and assistance system and improved the living conditions of asylum-seekers.
Bulgaria has acceded to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. There are, however, no legal framework and a practical mechanism yet to determine stateless people, just as there are no reliable data on the number of stateless. UNHCR actively supports the government by providing information on the procedures. It has also commissioned a study to analyse the compatibility of the national legislation with the two UN Statelessness Conventions from a legal point of view.
In order to facilitate refugee integration, UNHCR in Bulgaria systematically lobbies with the authorities for the development of supportive integration and related policies and measures, their monitoring and evaluation as well as for the wider participation of civil society organizations in the implementation of integration measures, for instance, by delegating specific activities and funding to NGOs. Through the Bulgarian Council on Refugees and Migrants, UNHCR also organizes advocacy workshops and round-table discussions on refugee protection and integration.
In 2009, the government expressed its intention to become a resettlement country and in the following year it established a working group on resettlement. UNHCR assists in developing the first pilot resettlement programme. It also emphasizes the need to significantly improve the conditions for refugee integration such as Bulgarian language course, vocational training, employment opportunities in order for the resettlement to be successful.
Public Information in UNHCR Bulgaria focuses on sensitizing the public through promoting refugee protection, addressing false concepts, in particularly concerning refugees, migrants and irregular migrants and showcasing the contributions of refugees to the host communities. It also strengthens and develops new partnerships with media outlets and corporate and foundation partners. It strives to tackle the problem of xenophobic attitudes through analysing its causes, frequency and possible future trends. In 2010, it has prepared a handbook on social rights of refugees and humanitarian status holders, published in Bulgarian, English and Arabic with Farsi to follow.