UN to help Bulgaria accommodate refugees

by Reuters
Friday, 22 November 2013 15:45 GMT

SOFIA, Nov 22 (Reuters) - The United Nations will give Bulgaria technical assistance to cope with a soaring number of asylum seekers, mainly Syrian refugees, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said on Friday.

More than 9,800 people, mainly from Syria, have sought asylum in Bulgaria, the poorest country in the European Union, this year, a total that the Interior Ministry says may reach 11,200 by the end of 2013 - a sharp rise from 1,380 last year.

Guterres said after visiting a refugee camp in Sofia that UNHCR would send a technical assistance mission to Bulgaria next week.

"The team will have three tasks: aiding the work of state agency for refugees with the Council of Ministers, simplifying the procedure for granting refugee status and aiding the Bulgarian government...(with) refugee issues," he said.

Earlier this week human rights group Amnesty International urged the Bulgarian authorities to improve conditions at an emergency accommodation centre for asylum seekers.

"It is appalling that people seeking refuge in the EU are being trapped in limbo in such awful conditions with winter rapidly approaching," Barbora Cernusakova, the group's Bulgaria researcher, said after visiting the Harmanli camp near the Turkish border.

She said asylum seekers at several camps complained they had only a flimsy mattress and thin, damp blankets to fend off the cold in unheated tents. Residents are confined to the camps and live on food staples from the government or relief groups.

More than two million Syrians have fled the war in Syria, most of them to neighbouring Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.

"For Bulgaria, 10,000 refugees create a much bigger problem than 100,000 would for Germany," Socialist party (BSP) leader and former Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev said during a discussion on refugees in Sofia on Friday. (Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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