At a special sitting on the evening of March 31, the Bulgarian caretaker cabinet scrapped a decree providing for municipalities to voluntarily participate in an EU-funded scheme for the integration of refugees.
The system had been approved in August 2016 by Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s centre-right coalition government.
Opposition to the scheme had been a key part of the election platforms, respectively, of socialist-backed presidential candidate Roumen Radev, and Kornelia Ninova’s Bulgarian Socialist Party in the March 2017 parliamentary elections.
Radev won those elections, and appointed the current caretaker cabinet headed by Ognyan Gerdzhikov. Ninova’s BSP ran second in the parliamentary elections.
Caretaker Labour and Social Policy Minister Gulub Donev told a briefing after the special cabinet meeting that the government had cancelled the 2016 decree.
The caretaker government argued that the ordinance was “legally unworkable” and there were many omissions related to the criteria to be complied for the recognised refugees to be integrated.
According to the caretaker government, a working group of “experts” from the ministries of the interior and the social policy ministry had been formed to come up with a new version. This working group had committed itself to having a new draft regulation ready by April 7, to be put to the cabinet to vote on.
President Radev had agreed to this.
Donev said that the Friday cabinet meeting – which lasted about two hours – had taken its decision after “deep discussion”.
The August 2016 decree had made provision for the integration of foreigners who had been granted asylum or international protection.
It had been intended to fill a legislative vacuum on integration of people with asylum and international protection in Bulgaria.
The funding is available to settlements on a per capita basis for refugees accepted and provided with housing, employment and health care. The decree had provided for Bulgarian municipalities to come to an agreement with the State Agency for Refugees on receiving refugees.
The local government would be entitled to funding if in return it provided housing, kindergarten, school, Bulgarian language training, health insurance and care, guidance and inclusion in adult learning, inclusion in employment measures and information on job vacancies.
To date, no municipality in Bulgaria had applied to participate in the scheme.
On the campaign trail, Ninova promised that, in government, her party would abolish the scheme, which she described as discriminating against Bulgarians who do not receive such assistance from their own country.
Bulgarian media reports said that Radev, after taking office as head of state in January, had come under pressure from his supporters to follow through on his criticism of the refugee integration scheme during his campaign.
The Gerdzhikov caretaker cabinet decision was taken on a day that the first overtures began in the possible formation of a third Borissov government. On the morning of March 31, leaderships of GERB and the nationalist United Patriots held initial talks about a future coalition government.
(Photo: Ben Melrose/V Photo Agency)