Poor conditions in detention centers persist despite a major reduction in the number of detentions


Recent reports indicate that Bulgarian pre-removal detention facilities continue to house migrants in poor conditions, even as the total number of migrants being detained has decreased considerably in the past year.

According to the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior, a total of just 2,487 third-country nationals were detained in Bulgaria in 2017, compared to 18,844 in 2016. Despite this 83.5% reduction, facilities do not appear to have taken advantage of the opportunity presented by this decrease in migratory pressure to upgrade their facilities and bring them in line with European standards.


Pre-removal detention facilities have suffered from overcrowding in recent years, and several courts in EU Member States have cited the poor material conditions and lack of safeguards for individual rights as precluding transfers of migrants to Bulgaria as their first state of entry to the EU (so-called Dublin transfers). The data provided by the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior demonstrates that as of September 2017, pre-removal detention facilities accommodated a total of 487 persons, representing an occupancy rate of just 51%. Nevertheless, the Bulgarian Ombudsman reports that despite the decrease in the number of occupants, detention conditions in these facilities remain unsatisfactory. Although some superficial facelift renovations have taken place, the buildings remain worn-out and in a poor state of repair. Moreover, they are still not adequately equipped for hosting children.


The Ombudsman’s concerns echo a leaked letter sent in July 2017 by the Director of the European Commission Directorate for Migration and Protection Laurent Muschel to Krasimir Tsipov, Deputy Minister of Interior of Bulgaria and to Petya Parvanova, Head of the State Agency for Refugees. The letter, which is 7 pages long, outlines major shortcomings in the country’s asylum system and expresses specific concerns regarding the low rate of asylum recognition for Afghan asylum seekers. These concerns are supported by the data from the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior, which demonstrates that Afghans remain the most-represented national group detained in pre-removal facilities, accounting for 23,2% of detainees in September 2017 (down from an even higher proportion of 38% in December 2016). The EU letter furthermore asserts that detention should only be resorted to when necessary and that in Bulgaria there are systematic problems with “delays in serving detention orders; prolonged detention for specific nationalities (several months compared to less than 10 days in general), and; shortcomings in access to legal assistance”.


In recent months efforts have been made to improve the circumstances of migrants detained in Bulgaria. In July 2017 the Center for Legal Aid - Voice in Bulgaria and Bulgarian Lawyers for Human Rights submitted a joint statement concerning a recent bill to amend the Law on the Foreigners in Bulgaria, which concerns the detention of foreign nationals in the country. The proposal stresses the need for community-based approaches as an alternative to detention. Additionally, in August 2017 the Migration Directorate of the Bulgarian Ministry of the Interior and UNCHCR, which focuses specifically on the implementation of European immigration detention standards and reducing the detention of migrants and asylum-seeking children, have signed a memorandum of understanding and mutual co-operation.


Article by Marina Kisyova de Geus