DEFINING THE TERMINOLOGY
Integration, on the one hand, is a process of implementing specific measures and services in priority social areas that provide protection against discrimination, equal treatment, equal rights and access to Bulgarian language training, as well as education in general, housing, health care and social assistance, recognition of qualifications and employment, integration into the social, cultural and civic life of the society. The integration policy creates economic, social, political and cultural prerequisites for the adaptation and acceptance of the beneficiaries of international protection in society and for the adoption and consolidation of the basic common principles and values of the policy of refugee integration in the European Union.
Integration requires host communities to tolerate and assist newcomers as equal and active citizens of the country, maintain their trust in political institutions as well as the respect for human rights and the rule of law for all citizens and guide them into protecting the public life in municipalities. This, however, is a two-way process presupposing the active willingness of foreigners to accept the proposed adaptive measures and the basic principles of social guidance, the establishment of partnership relations, the coordination and permanent dialogue with all parties in the process of adaptation, socio-economic, socio-political and cultural orientation and active behavior in the provision of basic social services for a favorable integration environment avoiding conflicts based on cultural and local differences by implementing operational interaction of a wide range of participants, i.e. state institutions, representatives of local self-government and the non-governmental sector, representatives of refugee communities.
After the Second World War which ended on 9 May 1945, many people who had fled their states during the war were either unable or unwilling to return there due to their experiences, destruction and the lack of security. Hence, the international community decided to solve this issue by adopting a number of legal provisions enabling such people to remain in the states where they had fled in order to live in peace and without fear for their life.
Thus, in 1951 the United Nations (UN) adopted the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. As this Convention was signed in Geneva, Switzerland, it became to be known as the “1951 Geneva Convention”. Later on, in 1967, the Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, known as the “New York Protocol” was signed in addition to the Convention. These two international legal instruments regulate the rights of individuals who have fled their country of origin to reach another state in order to seek asylum and protection. All the states of the European Union observe the Geneva Convention and apply its provisions in a mandatory manner. In addition, the European Union has introduced other common rules which provide for the possibility to receive not only refugee status, but yet another type of status on the territory of European Union, called “subsidiary protection”. In Bulgaria this subsidiary protection is referred to as “humanitarian status“. Therefore, a person seeking protection in the states of the European Union can receive either of the two types of status – refugee status or subsidiary protection (humanitarian status), which are both known as “international protection”.
Bulgarian acceded to and signed the Geneva Convention and the New York Protocol in 1992, and in 2007 became member of the European Union. Thus, Bulgaria is bound not only by the UN rules regarding refugees’ protection, but also by the EU’s rules for granting international protection – both in the form of refugee status and in the form of humanitarian status (subsidiary protection).
Unlike illegal immigrants, asylum seekers do not leave their states voluntarily and on their own will for economic, family or educational reasons. The asylum seeker is an individual who is forced to âee his/her country of origin due to fear of persecution, violation of basic human rights or a threat to his/her life and security by reason of his/hers race, religion, nationality, belonging to a particular social group, or political opinion or belief. For the above reasons, such an individual seeks protection in another state in order to ensure protection against harm for himself/herself or his/her family. This is why the legislation has regulated a special type of residence for foreigners, called “international protection”. For the purpose of international protection, the individuals who flead their country of origin for the above reasons may receive this special residence permit even if they do not meet the usual requirements for legal migration – holding a regular passport, visa or crossing the border only via the designated points. The person seeking asylum and protection is called an asylum seeker.
Person granted asylum by the President of Bulgaria
Asylum is one of the types of protection granted to foreigners who are persecuted for reasons of their opinions or activity in the defense of internationally recognized rights and freedoms, and is granted by the President of the Republic of Bulgaria in conformity with Art. 98, item 10 of the Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria.
The Bulgarian Constitution guarantees equality before the law, including for foreigners, and does not allow any privileges or restriction of rights on the grounds of race, national origin, ethnic background, gender, religion, education, opinion, political affiliation, personal or social status or property status.
The Law on Asylum and Refugees lays down the terms and the procedure for granting protection to foreigners on the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria, including the terms and the procedure for granting asylum.
Pursuant to the Law on Asylum and Refugees any foreigner can request asylum in the Republic of Bulgaria by making an application in person and on his/her own will to the President.
During the procedure for granting protection and after receiving protection, the foreigner shall not be returned to the territory of a country where his/her life or freedom is threatened due to his/her race, religion, nationality, membership of a specific social group or political opinion, or where he/she faces a threat of torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
The foreigners who have lodged an application for asylum or have received asylum in the country shall bear civil, administrative criminal and criminal liability under the terms and procedures applicable to Bulgarian nationals.
Pursuant to Art. 6 (2) of the Law on Asylum and Refugees at the request of the President of the Republic of Bulgaria, the officials of the State Agency for Refugees shall establish all the facts and circumstances relevant to the procedure for granting asylum and shall assist the administration of the President of the Republic of Bulgaria.
During the procedure for granting asylum, the applicants shall have all the rights and obligations under the Law on Asylum and Refugees.
On the grounds of Art. 31 in conjunction with Art. 32 (1), items 1-4 of the Law on Asylum and Refugees, a foreigner who has been granted asylum shall have the rights and obligations of a Bulgarian citizen, with the exception of:
- the right to participate in general and municipal elections, in national and regional referenda, to participate in the establishment of political parties and to be a member of such parties
- the right to hold positions for which Bulgarian citizenship is required by law
- the right to serve in the army
- other restrictions explicitly provided for by law
Beneficiaries of international protection
‘Beneficiary of international protection’ means a person who has been granted refugee status or subsidiary protection status.
Refugee status holders
Pursuant to the law, the Bulgarian state grants refugee status to a foreigner who has a well-founded fear of persecution due to his/her race, religion, nationality, membership of a social group or political opinion and, for these reasons, is unable or unwilling to avail himself/herself of the protection of his/her country of origin or return to it. Therefore, a foreigner must meet the requirements and grounds laid down in the law in order to be granted and receive refugee status in Bulgaria. Upon receiving refugee status, a foreigner acquires the rights which the Bulgarian legislation guarantees to the beneficiary of this status.
Rights of refugee status holder
The Bulgarian law stipulates that upon receiving refugee status, a foreigner acquires the rights and obligations of a Bulgarian citizen. This means that after receiving refugee status foreigners have the right to:
- employment without a special permit;
- education in state schools and universities;
- family reunion on the territory of Bulgaria;
- apply for Bulgarian citizenship 3 years after receiving the status;
- travel abroad under the terms and conditions applicable to Bulgarian citizens.
The law, however, provides for some limitations. Refugee status holders do not have the right to:
- participate in general and municipal elections;
- vote in national and regional referendums;
- take part in the establishment of political parties or be members of political parties;
- hold positions for which Bulgarian citizenship is required by law;
- serve in the Bulgarian armed forces.
The rights of refugee status holders may also be subject to other limitations in case a particular law has explicitly provided for such limitations. The spouse of a refugee status holder and their children who are minors or underage and are not married are considered to be refugees. Such members of the family of a refugee status holder are entitled to the same rights, but only if this entitlement is compatible with their personal status (for example, if they do not hold another type of legal residence permit in Bulgaria or in another state). The members of the family of the refugee status holder cannot avail themselves of his/her rights, either, if the circumstances for the cessation or withdrawal of the status are established with respect to them. For example, if they have committed a serious non-political crime before arriving in Bulgaria or, if after receiving the status, they have had new passports issued in their country of origin. Where a refugee status holder gets married after receiving the status, the spouse, if he/she is a foreigner, may receive refugee status only on his/her individual grounds due to fear of persecution.
Holders of humanitarian status
The law stipulates that the Bulgarian state grants humanitarian status to a foreigner forced to leave, or to stay outside his/her country of origin because of facing a real danger of severe encroachment in this state, such as death penalty or execution, torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Humanitarian status is also granted in the event of an armed conflict, where the population of a particular country is affected by a serious and personal threat to a civilian’s life or person by reason of indiscriminate violence in a situation of international or internal armed conflict. Therefore, a foreigner must meet the requirements and grounds laid down in the law in order to receive humanitarian status in Bulgaria. Upon receiving humanitarian status, a foreigner acquires the rights which the Bulgarian legislation guarantees to the beneficiary of this status.
Rights of the humanitarian status holders
The Bulgarian law stipulates that upon receiving humanitarian status, a foreigner acquires the rights and obligations of a foreigner with a permanent residence permit in Bulgaria. Hence, humanitarian protection holders have the right to:
- employment without a special permit;
- education in state schools and universities;
- family reunion on the territory of Bulgaria;
- apply for Bulgarian citizenship 5 years after receiving the status;
- travel abroad under the terms and conditions applicable to foreigners with a permanent residence permit in Bulgaria.
The spouse of a humanitarian status holder in Bulgaria and their children who are minor or underage and are not married are also considered to be humanitarian status holders. Such members of the family of a humanitarian status holder are entitled to the same rights, but only if this entitlement is compatible with their personal status. For example, if they do not hold another type of legal residence permit in Bulgaria or in another state. The members of the family of the humanitarian status holder cannot avail themselves of his/her rights, either, if circumstances for the cessation or withdrawal of the status are established with respect to them. For example, if they have committed a serious non-political crime before arriving in Bulgaria or, if after receiving the status, have procured a new passport for themselves from their country of origin. Where a humanitarian status holder gets married after receiving the status, the spouse, if he/she is a foreigner, may receive humanitarian status only on his/her individual grounds due to fear of persecution in the country of origin.
Temporary protection shall be granted in the event of a mass influx of aliens who are forced to leave their country of origin due to an armed conflict, civil war, foreign aggression, violation of human rights or indiscriminate violence on the territory of the relevant country or in a part of the country, and who for these reasons are unable to return thereto (Law on Asylum and Refugees, Art. 1 (3)). The Council of Ministers shall grant temporary protection, as introduced under a resolution of the Council of the European Union. The period of temporary protection shall be determined by a resolution of the Council of the European Union (Law on Asylum and Refugees, Art. 2 (2)).
Person relocated to Bulgaria from EU countries
Relocation is the transfer of persons who are in need of or already benefit from a form of international protection in one EU Member State to another EU Member State where they would be granted similar protection.
In 2015, EU member states agreed to take 160,000 people from Greece and Italy and relocate them to other EU countries. Mandatory quotas cover a total of 120,000 refugees to be relocated to countries across the European Union.
Quotas are calculated using a formula that includes economic development, unemployment rate, population, and the way a state has already integrated refugees.
After two years of operation, some 29,000 people have been reloated. Bulgaria has declared willingness to accept 860 people from Greece and 160 from Italy, effectively accepting only 50 people from its southern neighbor and none from Italy.
The relocation scheme for refugees from Greece and Italy to the interior of the EU ended on 25 September 2017.
Person resettled from third countries
Resettlement is the transfer of non-EU national or stateless persons who have been identified as in need of international protection to an EU state where they are admitted either on humanitarian grounds or with the status of refugee.
‘Refugee’ means a third-country national who, owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group, is outside the country of nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of that country, or a stateless person, who, being outside of the country of former habitual residence for the same reasons as mentioned above, is unable or, owing to such fear, unwilling to return to it (Art. 2, DIRECTIVE 2011/95/EU)
A foreign national who is a citizen of a non-EU country, the European Economic Area and Switzerland.
A person who voluntarily moved from one country to another in order to find work or better living conditions.
Although the term “economic migrant” does not exist in the legal world it is used for a strictly specific group of individuals who leave a country to live and work in another one.