UN refugee agency launches Compass: Network of refugee community centres in Bulgaria

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, in collaboration with partners, launched on April 30 the Compass Bulgaria Network of Protection and Inclusion Centres, a joint initiative in six refugee-hosting cities in Bulgaria spanning Sofia, Plovdiv, Bourgas, Varna, Dobrich, and Rousse, the agency said.

The community centres are established to promote collective empowerment, inclusion, and social cohesion for refugees of all nationalities and Bulgarians alike, through comprehensive support tailored to their diverse needs, the statement said.

More than 2.4 million refugees from Ukraine have transited through Bulgaria since the start of the full-scale war, and as of March 2024, about 73 000 are registered for temporary protection.

Bulgaria is also receiving an increased number of asylum applications with more than 57 000 claims for international protection filed since January 2021 – the vast majority Syrian and Afghan.

“Bulgaria has emerged as a significant host country for refugees, particularly from Ukraine, Syria, and Afghanistan. Its role will be crucial in the implementation of the EU Pact on Migration and Asylum, given its position as the external border of the EU,” Seda Kuzucu, UNHCR Representative in Bulgaria said.

“Today’s launch of the Compass Network, in collaboration with our partners and with the support of Municipalities, signifies a major milestone in our journey. It underscores our dedication to addressing the evolving needs of refugees and fostering their self-reliance.”

The Compass Network provides crucial context-dependent activities for the well-being of all, including legal assistance, social mediation, child-friendly and women empowerment activities, community mobilization, age-appropriate counselling, and livelihood support, the statement said.

Compass centres are also dedicated to promoting social cohesion between refugee and host communities through regular community events, workshops, and dialogues focused on mutual understanding and acceptance.

On April 29, Kuzucu participated in the official inauguration of the Plovdiv Compass community centre in cooperation with coordinating partner the Ukraine Support and Renovation Foundation.

This launch is part of the formal opening of six centres across Bulgaria and follows the launch of the Sofia community centre with coordinating partner the Bulgarian Red Cross earlier in April 2024.

The Bulgarian Red Cross will coordinate the centres in Bourgas, Dobrich, and Rousse. In Varna, UNHCR partner NRG is operating the local Compass chapter.

For the Compass Network, UNHCR is also partnering with municipalities, as well as Caritas-Bulgaria, the Foundation for Access to Rights, and other stakeholders, in joint efforts to reinforce a community-centred approach that contributes to a future where everyone can thrive.

Through consolidated spaces, Compass centres are open to refugee and host community members and offer essential and specialized services – from legal advice to psychosocial support, to vocational and language trainings, focused on the inclusion and integration of refugees in Bulgaria, the statement said.

(Photo: ©UNHCR/ Dobrin Kashavelov)

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