State agency: Bulgaria’s six refugee centres are 75% full

The six refugee centres in Bulgaria are 75 per cent full, with a total of 2563 people seeking protection accommodated in the six territorial divisions, State Agency for Refugees head Mariana Tosheva told Bulgarian National Radio on January 3.

Tosheva said that 2023 had seen 22 515 applications for protection, the largest number in the 31-year history of the State Agency for Refugees.

Three of the centres are in Sofia, one in Harmanli, which is the largest, and two in Pastrogor, Svilengrad, and the village of Banya, Nova Zagora.

The third safe zone in Harmanli for minors and unaccompanied persons has already been built, Tosheva said.

The facility is funded by Unicef, it has been completed and will be equipped and opened by the end of January, she said.

Tosheva said that migrant centres need renovations to improve reception conditions.

“The existing centres are extremely depreciated, especially the centre in Ovcha Kupel, where there is a secure area for unaccompanied minors, but for there and the other two we need funding and I believe that such will be requested from the EU,” she said.

Tosheva became the latest government official to deny claims that Bulgaria had agreed to admit 6000 refugees transferred from Austria in return for Vienna having agreed to Bulgaria’s partial admission to the Schengen visa zone.

She said that reality showed that in 2023, Austria sent Bulgaria a request for the readmission of 193 asylum-seekers, of which, by the end of the year, 113 were returned under the Dublin Regulation.

On January 2, Interior Minister Kalin Stoyanov told Bulgarian National Radio that Bulgaria had not accepted additional conditions related to refugees from Syria and Afghanistan being transferred from Austria to Bulgaria.

“Our country’s commitment concerns obligations under the Dublin Regulation – responsibilities of the member state of first entry,” Stoyanov said.

He said that Bulgaria would not and could not accept people for whom it is not responsible. “There is absolutely no room for concern,” he said.

Soon after Council of the EU approval of the deal between Austria and Bulgaria and Romania was announced on December 30, Bulgaria’s government dismissed the claims of 6000 refugees being transferred from Austria as disinformation.

In a joint statement on December 31, Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov and Deputy PM Maria Gabriel said: “Contrary to the spread of fake news in recent days, there are no new conditions related to the number of migrants from Syria and Afghanistan that Bulgaria and Romania as Schengen member states will register and accept”.

(Archive photo of the Harmanli refugee centre, in 2014: EC Audiovisual Service)

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