Bulgaria preparing changes to rules on integration of migrants and refugees

Because of social tensions, Bulgaria’s caretaker government is preparing changes to the regulations and conditions for the integration of migrant and refugees, a Cabinet spokesperson said on March 8.

The forthcoming proposed changes to the legislation would not be contrary to European regulations and other rules to which Bulgaria is a party, the spokesperson said.

The government was looking for opportunities to firmly assert the national interest and ensure the security of the country, taking into account the March 7 2017 judgment of the European Court of Justice that confirmed the right of EU countries to refuse humanitarian visas to people seeking international protection, including refugee status.

There will be changes to the the ordinance that empowers the migrants with the right to asylum and international protection and municipalities to conclude agreements on integration, provided that both sides have expressed a desire to do so, according to the caretaker government spokesperson.

The proposals will be summarised by an interdepartmental working group.

In recent days in Bulgaria, reports have said that no local government has submitted an application to take part in a scheme, assisted by EU funding, for municipalities to receive assistance when concluding agreements with refugees on integration into local communities.

Bulgaria also has seen local protests against the acceptance of refugees in communities, accompanied by resistance by municipal officials, even though the refugees have official status that gives them the same rights of residence as other foreigners who are permanent residents.

Recent cases have included one in the town of Elin Pelin, where the municipality has failed to enable a Syrian refugee family to proceed with the process of registration required for identity documents, and another in the northern town of Belene, where a local politician and members of the community have campaigned against a Syrian refugee family sheltered by the Roman Catholic Church in the town.

On March 7, the Episcopal Conference of the Roman Catholic Church in Bulgaria issued a statement on the Belene case, following reports highlighting the plight of the Albakri family from Syria.

Resistance to the presence of the family had forced them to leave Belene, reports on March 7 said.

The statement, quoting Christian scripture, said that representatives of the Roman Catholic community in Bulgaria believed that every person, regardless of racial, national, ethnic and religious background, has the right to a dignified life in the country in which they choose to live, especially when they have legally received the documents required to do so.

“We believe in eternal gospel principles and human mercy, compassion and empathy that urge us to reach out to those in need,” the statement, issued by Bishop Hristo Proikov, said.

In the Belene case, facts had been distorted and thus hate speech provoked, the statement said.

The Albakri family had come to Bulgaria legally and had been given status that meant that they had the same rights as Bulgarian citizens, barring the right to vote and to serve in the military.

Their rights included that to decide where to live and to lay the foundation for a new life with honest labour and in peace with their neighbours.

The Catholic community in Bulgaria would continue its actions in favour of those in need, the statement said.

According to a March 7 report by bTV, Father Paolo Cortese, the Roman Catholic priest who sheltered the family in Belene, had said in response to the events that the church would stop its aid to Belene, valued at more than 100 000 leva in donations annually.

Reports on March 8 said that the UN High Commission for Refugees had written to Bulgarian caretaker Prime Minister Ognyan Gerdzhikov in connection with the Elin Pelin case, asking who in Bulgaria was responsible for the integration of refugees. So far, there had been no response, the reports said.

(Archive photo of the Syrian refugee family who sought residence in Elin Pelin: bTV)




The Sofia Globe staff

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