The Asylum Information Database (AIDA) published its 2016 report on Bulgaria. The report documents thoroughly recent legislative reforms and policy developments in relation to the asylum procedure, reception and detention, as well as integration.
AIDA is an initiative coordinated by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) that aims to provide up-to date information on asylum practices in 20 countries and is accessible through the dedicated website www.asylumineurope.org.
The report reconfirms what is now already notorious – migrants are facing serious difficulties in accessing the territory of Bulgaria to seek asylum. The report relies on information from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and national and international human rights organizations, to conclude that the most serious concern is the practice of indiscriminate push-backs of migrants at the border by authorities.
The report further finds that detention of first-time applicants for international protection is systematically applied in Bulgaria, and that the majority of migrants apply for asylum from pre-removal detention centres for irregular migrants. In 2016, a total of 11,314 detentions orders were issued. This represents a slight decrease compared to 2015 when the number was 11,902.
The report notes that the closure of the Serbian border in mid-2016 and the subsequent increase in the occupancy rate of the reception centres of the State Agency for Refugees (SAR) had an effect on the Ministry of Interior’s (MoI) speed in releasing detainees from detention centres after they submitted asylum applications. This led to an increase in the detention duration from 3-6 days in mid-2016 to more than 11 days on average, and still growing, as of the end of December 2016. In some cases, the personal registration was delayed with several months, for no clear legal reasons.
As a result, the report finds, in November 2016 the SAR resumed its previous practice to register, fingerprint, and in some cases interview asylum seekers in the MoI immigration detention centres, and to keep them there after issuing them asylum registration cards. The report recalls that such practice is in clear violation of Bulgarian law. This unlawful practice, the report highlights, is applied particularly with respect to certain nationalities who are deemed either a security risk (Afghan and Pakistani nationals) or easily deportable (Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India, etc.). Their release and access to asylum procedure is usually secured only by an appeal against the detention and a court order for their release, and not simply on account of the registration of their asylum application as prescribed by the law.
The full text of the report can be read here.
 See Voice in Bulgaria, Who Gets Detained?, September 2016, available at: http://www.epim.info/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Detention_Report_CLA_2016_EN_final.pdf. These numbers do not describe the population of the centres but the number of times a person is placed there. It is possible, through not frequent, for the same person to be placed in a detention centre more than once during a given year, and each such instance of detention is counted separately.
 See Article 61(2) of the Law on Refugees and Asylum (LAR) in conjunction with Article 45b LAR.