Ukrainian refugees in Bulgaria unhappy at decision to shift them to state facilities

The day after the Bulgarian caretaker government’s last-minute announcement that Ukrainian refugees accommodated in hotels in a state-supported scheme are to be moved to state and municipal facilities saw protests and confusion.

The caretaker government made the announcement on October 31, just hours before the scheduled expiry of the hotel accommodation scheme.

According to official government statistics, more than 16 100 Ukrainians are accommodated through the scheme.

More than 100 Ukrainians and hoteliers protested in the centre of Sunny Beach on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast, on the night of October 31 and again on November 1, calling on the caretaker government to reverse its decision. There were reports of tensions in other places where Ukrainians are accommodated, and indignation that the announcement of the change to the scheme had come at the last minute.

Reportedly, some hoteliers refused to serve breakfast to the Ukrainians on November 1 because they were unsure whether the state would pay compensation. There were also reports of hoteliers demanding that the Ukrainians pay for their stay.

On November 1, the Tourism Ministry – which is in charge of administering the hotel accommodation system for the Ukrainians who have temporary protected status in Bulgaria – issued a statement saying that the funding under the current programme is being extended until the end of the grace period, November 15.

Bulgarian National Radio quoted a hotelier as saying: “How do I get people out after some of them locked themselves in their rooms and do not want to leave them?”

Others said that their children had just begun attending local schools and now it was not clear what would happen.

There were no announcements about which state facilities would be opened to accommodate the Ukrainians.

Bulgarian National Radio reported Bourgas deputy district governor Plamen Yanev as saying: “The facilities in which they will be accommodated must first become clear. And then the necessary organisation will be undertaken”.

In the summer, the former government relocated Ukrainians temporarily to state facilities, in a move that led to complaints about the state of the facilities and their distance from major centres, and a lack of pharmacies and shops.

Nova Televizia reported a Ukrainian, identified in the November 1 report as Lydia, as saying that the facilities were old and very uncomfortable.

She said that the children of the Ukrainians refugees were undergoing distance learning in Ukrainian schools. Good internet and quiet surroundings were essential, she said.

Hoteliers also complained about a backlog in the payment of the state support.

In Bansko, Kiril Zashev, owner of a hotel where 20 Ukrainians are staying, said: “There is no official information whether we will be paid for these people and when they will be relocated.

“I found out about this 15-day grace period from television. We have built some kind of relationship with these people. We live as one big family. We cannot drive them out into the street,” Zashev said.

(Archive photo from the relocation of Ukrainian refugees in Bulgarian in summer 2022)

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