* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
UNHCR today issued a position paper urging States participating in the Dublin Regulation to temporarily suspend transfers of asylum-seekers back to Bulgaria. The agency has concluded that asylum-seekers in Bulgaria face a genuine risk of inhuman or degrading treatment due to systemic deficiencies in reception conditions and asylum procedures.
UNHCR's assessment shows that asylum-seekers in Bulgaria routinely lack access to basic services, such as food and healthcare; face lengthy delays in registration which subsequently deprive them of their basic rights; and are at risk of arbitrary detention. In addition, there are serious challenges to access fair and effective asylum procedures alongside ongoing reports of push backs at the border.
The Dublin Regulation provides for a system to determine responsibility for examining asylum claims lodged in EU Member States and other States that are party to the Dublin regulation according to specific criteria. It aims to ensure that each claim is fairly examined by a State to deter multiple applications and enhance efficiency.
UNHCR has concluded that, despite progress in recent years, and improved reception conditions over the past few weeks, there are significant gaps in the implementation of laws and policies on international protection in Bulgaria. These gaps have worsened with the increase in the numbers of asylum-seekers arriving in recent months, particularly those fleeing the conflict in Syria. In 2013 over 9,000 people sought asylum in Bulgaria, up from an annual average of 1,000 asylum-seekers since its accession to the EU in 2007.
UNHCR also urges the Bulgarian authorities to take immediate steps to improve these deplorable conditions to ensure respect for the rights of asylum-seekers and people in need of international protection. We propose to re-assess the situation as of 1 April 2014. This three-month period will provide an opportunity for the Bulgarian authorities and their partners - including the European Commission, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), NGOs and UNHCR - to work together to improve the reception conditions and asylum procedures. In the meantime, refraining from transferring asylum-seekers would also represent an important demonstration of solidarity at this juncture.
UNHCR position paper is available here.
For more information on this topic, please contact:In Budapest: Ariane Rummery (Regional) on mobile: +36 30 530 9633 In Geneva: Babar Baloch on mobile +41 79 557 9106 Daniel MacIsaac on mobile +41 79 200 7617