Amnesty International Notes Bulgaria's Mixed Record on Human Righs in 2014

Views on BG | February 25, 2015, Wednesday // 10:05|  views

Accommodation centre for refugees in the Bulgarian town of Harmanli. Photo: BGNES/EPA

Amnesty International released its annual report on Wednesday, which documents the state of the human rights during 2014 in 160 countries, including Bulgaria.

The NGO notes that Bulgaria achieved partial improvements to reception conditions for asylum-seekers entering the country, but concerns remained over access and integration of refugees.

Amnesty International also expressed concern over the inadequate prevention and investigation of hate crimes in Bulgaria.

The report on Bulgaria starts by mentioning the influx of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants, which the country experienced in August 2013.

This represented a considerable surge in their numbers, as previously they had amounted to only 1700 in 2012, but their number rose to 11 000 by the end of 2013.

The Bulgarian authorities were initially unprepared to address the influx and provide adequate response.

As a result of this, hundreds of people in need of international protection were exposed to poor living conditions without access to asylum procedures.

In January 2014, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) concluded that refugees in Bulgaria were in risk of “inhuman and degrading treatment” due to deficiencies in the asylum and reception system.

UNHCR called on EU member states to stop transfers of asylum-seekers to Bulgaria and largely with the help of EU and bilateral assistance the conditions improved.

UNHCR reviewed the situation in April 2014, noting the modest progress, but pointing to serious shortcomings, which were still remaining.

It lifted the general suspension of transfers with the exception of certain groups, especially those with special needs.

Amnesty International notes that Bulgaria experienced a dramatic drop in the number of refugees and migrants in 2014, who amounted to 3966 by October.

Several NGOs established that violations, such as unlawful expulsions of people back to Turkey without providing them an opportunity to seek asylum-seekers, were committed.

Further problems were identified in the integration of recognised refugees, who experienced troubled access to education, healthcare and other public services.

In August 2014, the government rejected a plan for the implementation of the National Integration Strategy, which had been prepared by the Labour Ministry and the State Agency for Refugees (DAB).

According to DAB, only 98 out of 520 refugee children were enrolled in schools in September 2014.

This low number of enrollments was mainly due to the School Act, which provides that any new pupil should pass an exam in the Bulgarian language and other subjects.

The draft Law on Asylum and Refugees, which addressed some of these problems, was not adopted due to the resignation of the government of Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski.

A leading human rights NGO, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, which is vocal about the government's human rights record, faced tax inspection and harassment by far right groups.

Amnesty International also expressed concerns over the effectiveness and independence of investigations into police ill-treatment.

Investigations into the alleged use of excessive force during the anti-government protests in Sofia in the summer of 2013 were still ongoing by the end of 2014.

The report noted the violent attacks against ethnic groups and religious minorities, including refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants in the second half of 2013.

Amnesty International pointed to shortcomings in the investigation and prevention of hate crimes, as well as some legislative gaps.

Between July and September 2014, Amnesty International researched 16 cases of alleged hate crimes, noting that the hate motive was being investigated in only one of the cases.

The report concludes by noting that a new Criminal Code had been proposed, but not adopted yet.

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Tags: Bulgaria, Amnesty International, human rights, asylum-seekers, refugees, migrants, reception, Integration, UNHCR, EU, DAB, education, healthcare, hate crimes


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