News 29 May 17

Bulgaria Mulls Limiting Asylum Seekers' Movement

Bulgaria's refugee agency proposes introducing 'designated areas of movement' for asylum applicants - which rights groups say will violate their human rights. 

Mariya Cheresheva
Photo: Beta

A draft order in Bulgaria, which is open for public consultation until June 25, will create four zones of movement for refugees, according to the territorial departments of the State Agency for the Refugees where they applied for asylum.

Asylum seekers will not be allowed to leave their region of registration until their asylum procedure has been completed. Placement in “closed-type centres’’ is also foreseen for those who violate the borders of the designated zone of movement more than twice.

Bulgaria's State Agency for the Refugees, which has proposed the measure to the government, says the idea is to “improve administrative control during the procedure for granting international protection”.

The step was made possible by changes to the Law on Asylum and Refugees, enacted in December 2016, which toughened state policy towards refugees.

In September 2016, Bulgaria introduced closed centres for asylum seekers who violate public order or who it is thought may conceal themselves from the authorities.

Before that, detention was allowed only for illegal immigrants facing deportation.

Rights groups have criticised the plan to limit the free movement of refugees, calling it disproportionate and a violation of human rights, although EU directives allow for such measures.

“It is not a good idea to enforce the isolation of asylum seekers,” Radostina Pavlova from the Center for Legal Aid Voice in Bulgaria, an NGO that provides legal services for refugees and migrants, told BIRN.

“Asylum seekers often need to be close to people from the same cultural or religious community, as well as have access to Bulgarian society,” she added.

Pavlova also claimed the measure would violate asylum seekers’ right to seek work, as no procedure exists to move a person from one centre to another if they find employment outside the designated area for movement where they have been registered.

A source from the State Agency for the Refugees told BIRN that the measure is designed to improve controls over refugees who often migrate from one reception centre to another or leave the country illegally.

The designated zones will give refugees access to education, healthcare, the labour market and social services, the source said.

But Radostina Pavlova doubted limiting refugees' freedom of movement will improve the effectiveness of asylum procedures, as refugees often miss interviews not because they have moved to another municipality but because they have left the country.

The latest data of the State Agency for Refugees show a drop in the numbers of asylum seekers hosted in state-run reception centres to 2,119 by May 25.

Over 9,000 procedures out of 11,890 that the agency reviewed in 2017 have been cancelled, most probably because the asylum seekers left the country before being granted protection by Bulgaria, as that could limit their chances of living in Western Europe.

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