Uncertainty for Ukrainians in Bulgaria as scheduled end of accommodation system looms

Thousands of Ukrainian refugees in Bulgaria face uncertainty as the final hours tick away before the scheduled end on October 31 of the state-supported accommodation scheme.

The scheme was put in place by the former Petkov government earlier in 2022 as large numbers of Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s war on their country sought refuge in Bulgaria.

The first phase of the scheme involved payments to hoteliers of 40 leva per person per day for taking in Ukrainian refugees. The second phase involved 10 or 15 leva per day, without value-added tax, depending on whether food was provided. This phase was extended until the end of October by the caretaker government that took office in early August.

Bulgarian National Television (BNT) reported that hoteliers on Bulgaria’s northern Black Sea coast were worried that the programme for housing Ukrainian refugees ends today and it was not clear whether it would be continued beyond October 31.

BNT said that the district governor of Varna said that there was no information whether the programme would be extended. The same was said by the Ministry of Tourism, which has been in charge of administering payments to the hospitality industry.

Bulgarian National Radio said on October 31 that Ukrainian citizens had started moving out of hotels in Sunny Beach, pending a decision by the national operational headquarters on whether the humanitarian assistance programme would be extended.

Some of the Ukrainians were going to Romania, where there was greater certainty about support for them, the report said.

The month of October has seen significant changes in the figures posted on the dedicated government portal on Ukrainians who have arrived in Bulgaria since the February 2022 invasion of their country by Russia.

In the past three weeks, more than 55 000 Ukrainians have arrived in Bulgaria, against the background of the Russian military’s persistent targeting of civilians as it suffers continuous reverses at the hand of the Ukrainian armed forces.

The number accommodated rose against this background, from 16 011 on October 11, to 16 873 on October 17, 19 181 on October 19 and 20 285 on October 28. However, as of October 31, the number stated is 16 130.

As of October 31, a total of 54 968 Ukrainians remain in Bulgaria, of the 852 998 who have entered the country since the February 24 invasion.

Separately, on October 31 the European Commission (EC) said that it had on October 28 made available a further 100 million euro to seven EU countries, among them Bulgaria, that have been hosting large numbers of Ukrainian refugees.

“Member States can use these funds to continue offering immediate assistance to refugees, such as food, transport and temporary accommodation,” the EC said.

“These funds can also support their capacity to integrate refugees, including the vulnerable ones, such as unaccompanied minors,” the Commission said.

“Civil society organisations, local and regional authorities also play a key role in offering assistance. Member States will therefore need to ensure that this emergency funding also flows to them,” it said.

The EC said that to ensure that funds are quickly disbursed, the Commission will release the money “based on results achieved, rather than the actual costs”.

A statement posted on October 24 on the website of the European Commission representation in Bulgaria said that the EC had recently approved the allocation of 37.4 million euro for CARE – Cohesion Actions for Refugees in Europe – for Bulgaria as one of the countries hosting a significant number of Ukrainian refugees.

These funds had been made available under the Environment and Good Governance operational programmes, 15.6 million euro and 21.8 million euro, respectively.

A sum of 13.3 million euro came from the European Regional Development Fund, 18.5 million euro from the European Social Fund and 5.6 million euro from national co-financing.

The October 24 statement said that a further 37 million euro was expected to be approved under the Innovation and Competitiveness operational programme.

“The funds programmed under CARE will contribute to cover the basic needs of refugees in Bulgaria fleeing the war in Ukraine — accommodation and food,” the statement said.

These funds were in addition to the support already approved in summer 2022 under REACT EU aimed at labour market integration and food and basic material assistance, 26 million euro.

(Photo: HeroS/freeimages.com)

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