Refugees at the Border: The Situation in Bulgaria in 2014

Syrians and other refugees continued to have difficulty entering Bulgaria, which saw its influx of migrants fall by 60 percent between 2013 and 2014.

The number of third-country nationals who entered Bulgaria in 2014 declined in comparison to 2013, according to a new trilateral report on access to Bulgarian territory and international protection by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, the Ministry of the Interior Chief Directorate "Combating Organized Crime" and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Fighting and flow

A total of 4,467 third-country nationals were detained for irregular entry in 2014. This figure is a 60 percent reduction from 2013, when 11,243 third-country nationals were detained for irregular entry. The enhanced measures undertaken by Bulgaria to limit the pressure of mixed-migratory flow via Turkey led to a significant reduction in the number of third-country nationals detained along the green border zone in 2014. Even though Turkey currently hosts more than 2 million people seeking protection, the country does not grant asylum under the Geneva Convention to refugees from third countries.

The developing conflicts in the Middle East, the political instability and the so-called Islamic State growing influence in the region, are major factors generating mixed-migratory flows to the EU. As in previous years, Syrians make up the highest number (58 percent) of third-country nationals attempting to irregularly enter Bulgaria via its border with Turkey. This reflects the disastrous situation in Syria and the desperate circumstances of Syrians seeking asylum in the EU.

Unaccompanied children

The intensified border control and the preventive measures against irregular movements of mixed-migratory flows have mostly affected the inflows of forced migration. Bulgaria’s Ministry of Interior reported that 6,400 third-country nationals (mostly Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans), had been officially refused access to the Bulgarian territory in 2014 and returned, mainly to Turkey. Those persons may be in need of international protection as their countries of origin are characterized with persecution, armed conflicts and indiscriminate human rights violations.

As an improvement in the national system, the report takes into account the proper application of the non-penalization principle for irregular entry or presence. Border practices with respect to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children also improved in 2014 as the Border Guard initiated referrals of unaccompanied children to the local Child Protection Services, which assisted them with asylum applications. However, more work is needed to provide translation services and 24-hour registration of asylum seekers by the State Agency for Refugees.

The full report can be downloaded in Bulgarian and English.