No-shows prompt Bulgaria to shut down relocation operation for Ukrainian refugees

Against a background of mass no-shows of Ukrainian refugees meant to be relocated within Bulgaria, Deputy Prime Minister Kalina Konstantinova announced on the second day of the three-day operation that it was being shut down.

Bulgaria’s government has been paying hotels 40 leva per person per day for Ukrainians who arrived in Bulgaria from February 24 onwards, fleeing Russia’s war on Ukraine.

This phase of the accommodation scheme comes to an end on May 31, to be succeeded by housing Ukrainians who say that they need shelter, in state facilities and hotels willing to be paid 10 or 15 leva a day – depending on whether food is provided.

The first two days, May 29 and 30, saw turnout of Ukrainians massively below the projected figures that had been calculated on the basis of those who had said they wanted state-arranged accommodation after May 31.

The reasons for the phenomenon are not fully clear, but are said to include rumours that have been spread among the Ukrainians, including that they will be sent to “concentration camps” in Bulgaria’s mountains.

With the end of the 40 leva per person per day system, some Ukrainians have decided to return to their country and others have sought to rent private accommodation in Bulgaria. A few who have been transferred to new accommodation have complained to the media about the conditions.

Konstantinova, who chairs the operational HQ in charge of co-ordinating arrangements for the Ukrainians who have temporary protection in Bulgaria, said that those Ukrainians who had been accommodated in hotels on the country’s Black Sea would – if they had nowhere to go – be temporarily housed in centres in Sarafovo and Elhovo.

She said that since the beginning of Russia’s current invasion of Ukraine, close to 300 000 Ukrainians had arrived in Bulgaria.

More than 110 000 had received from the state temporary protection and shelter. Konstantinova said that this number was twice as large as, for example, the entire population of the town of Gabrovo and more than the entire Gabrovo district.

“For three months we have been providing daily, completely unforeseen care for more than 110 000 people,” Konstantinova said in a video message.

“Yes, there must be people who received social benefits late. Yes, there are probably some for whom it took time to arrange treatment. Yes, there must have been those who failed to enroll their children in kindergarten. But doesn’t this happen to Bulgarians every day?” she said.

Konstantinova said that Bulgaria could no longer afford to support Ukrainian citizens in hotels on the seafront.

She said that it had been announced from the outset that the measure was temporary and aimed at providing a time for refugees from Russia’s war on Ukraine to feel at ease and get back on their feet.

“To our great disappointment, in return we received on a large scale specific and personal desires, which definitely can not be satisfied. And here we are not talking about vulnerable people – they have the fewest household requirements.

“That is why our efforts today are focused on them,” Konstantinova said.

She said that for a second day, the institutions responsible had not received reliable and timely information from those who had received temporary protection.

Those who have temporary protection had not informed mediators and field teams of their intentions.

For a second day, buses had arrived without being full and trains with empty carriages had left the railway stations.

Thus, Bulgaria’s government was terminating the integration plan for resettlement of refugees in the interior of the country.

In this regard, all Ukrainian refugees who are in hotels by the sea and at this stage claim that they have nowhere to go will be temporarily accommodated in the buffer centres in Sarafovo and Elhovo.

“We have done absolutely everything so that we do not have to set up tent camps, as is the case in other countries,” Konstantinova said.

Konstantinova said that protection is something that is sought, not offered. 

“Protection is a right, not an obligation,” she said.

“Therefore, not a single empty bus or an empty carriage will be allowed to leave. The development of the situation from that moment on is in the hands of the Ukrainian community in Bulgaria.

“I strongly urge those of you who do not need shelter to declare that now. Only in this way will we be able to immediately take care of people in real need. For people in real need, we have bases, food and teams that are waiting for them,” Konstantinova said.

Until it is clear exactly how many people really need shelter, the authorities have no choice but to house everyone in the buffer zones, Konstantinova said.

She said that the conditions in the state facilities meet all the minimum requirements, similar to the centres in Poland, the Czech Republic, Moldova and other countries.

“Our empathy continues to be very great and boundless, but our ability to offer more than tents and vans has been inexplicably sabotaged,” Konstantinova said.

For The Sofia Globe’s continuing coverage of Russia’s war on Ukraine, please click here.

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