On the 1st of January 2016, new amendments of the Law on the Asylum and Refugees (LAR) came into force. Basically, this change allows the State Agency for Refugees (SAR) “to place asylum seekers in closed centers“, impose curfews for existing open facilities or restrictions on the movement of people that live inside them – this was already published by the State Gazette on October the 16th in 2015. The new regime allows the “detention of unaccompanied minor asylum seekers“, as well. Valeria Ilareva, from the Bulgarian Foundation for Access to Rights (FAR), pointed out that „any detention of asylum seekers exposes them to a high risk of re-traumatisation(…)“.
The numbers of arrested migrants were increasingly high in 2015. After the SAR, about 1,700 applications (for demanding asylum) were submitted in December – 20,391 were registered by the SAR during the whole year. Nevertheless, only about one third of the capacity in the open refugee centers was recently occupied with people, who were seeking refuge. Many of the registered people made their way further to other European countries. The LAR was changed already by the end of the year, by a new amendment that justifies a rejection of the asylum seeker, without any interview. Radostina Pavlova, from the “Center for Legal Aid – Voice in Bulgaria“ (CLA), warned that this will increase “the number of undocumented persons who are failed refugee claimants and are a subject to detention“.
From 2011 until 2014, Border Monitoring Bulgaria (BMB) witnessed protests and several hunger strikes in the two Detention Centers of Lyubimets and Busmantsi, because of bad conditions and police violence, which was later as well the case in the closed center of Elhovo. The EP member Josu Juaristi Abaunz denounced recently the abuse of Afghani asylum seekers in Bulgaria. Human Rights Watch (HRW) came up with a report, on January the 20th, which included abuses in two Detention Centers together with violent incidents, like e.g. Push-Backs on the Bulgarian-Turkish border. BMB claims that such practice will come to an end immediately. At the end of January 2016, another two dead bodies were found on the border with Serbia.
Meanwhile, Rumyana Bachvarova, the Interior Minister stated that the 2nd fence of more than 130 km – in the regions of Haskovo, Yambol and Burgas – could “be completed by the end of March“ 2016. The Defense Minister, Nikolay Nenchev, admitted that the Bulgarian army is already supporting the Ministry of Interior (MoI) by “guarding the border“ since April 2015. Refugees are trying to take more dangerous parts, as it could be seen in the example of mid January: 111 so called ‚illegal‘ migrants were rescued from an island in the Maritsa (Greek: Evros) river. The group was composed of 61 children, 26 women and 24 men.