PREPARATORY PHASE FOR CONCLUSION OF AN INTEGRATION AGREEMENT
The necessity of targeted support
Bulgaria’s efforts as a EU member regarding refugees are aimed at fulfilling its international obligations by creating effective mechanisms and conditions for their integration in the process of granting asylum or international protection.
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.
At a national level the legal framework regulates targeted support on the basis of the Law on Asylum and Refugees (LAR), which defines the rules and conditions for granting international protection to individuals from third countries residing on the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria. Pursuant to Art. 37a of the LAR with Decree No. 144 of 19.07.2017 of the Council of Ministers, gazetted in issue 60 of 25.07.2017 and in force since 25.07.2017 an Ordinance on rules and conditions to conclude, implement and cease integration agreements with beneficiaries of asylum or international protection was adopted, under which beneficiaries of asylum or international protection are offered to conclude an integration agreement.
The main guidelines of the Ordinance create the conditions, the order and the mechanisms of organization and control of the targeted support process.
General provisions of the Ordinance
The ordinance on rules and conditions to conclude, implement and cease integration agreements with beneficiaries of asylum or international protection regulates:
- the rules and conditions to conclude, implement and cease integration agreements with beneficiaries of asylum or international protection in the Republic of Bulgaria;
- the introduction of integration indicators for the effective assessment of the process, the degree of access to education, training, employment, housing, health, social assistance and services on the basis of quantitative and qualitative information on the progress at each stage of the integration process;
The assessment indicators /Art. 5/ include access to: education, employment, training, housing, healthcare, social assistance and social services.
Access to education /Art. 6/ includes: training of children beneficiaries of international protection in pre-school, primary and secondary education and ensuring equal access to education.
Access to employment /Art. 7/ includes: informing and consulting on vacancies, assistance in providing employment with an employer or as self-employed, implementing mechanisms for the inclusion and integration of beneficiaries of asylum or international protection into employment policies (including those aged 16) under the rules and conditions laid down in labor law and with a view to their special protection.
Access to training /Art. 8/ includes: provision of vocational training and implementing mechanisms for inclusion in lifelong learning policies.
Access to housing /Art. 9/ includes: counseling services for access to housing and implementing mechanisms to include integration into housing policies, social inclusion and regional development policies.
Access to healthcare /Art. 10/ includes: provision of health services.
Access to social assistance /Art. 11/ includes: providing monthly social benefits under the Social Assistance Act, provision of lump sum social benefits to satisfy incidental health, education, communal and other life needs, a lump sum targeted social assistance for issuing an identity card, access to the Temporary Accommodation Center social service within 3 months of the calendar year, provision of targeted financial aid for heating, provision of social services, ensuring the payment of provided hospital medical help for diagnosis and treatment in the healthcare establishments of the individuals who have no income and/or personal property to ensure their personal participation in the health insurance process; inclusion in programs and measures to protect children.
To assess the performance of the indicators under Art. 6-11 the competent institutions collect information on: the number of children enrolled in kindergartens and schools; the number of enrollments in higher education institutions; the number of employees; the number of individuals (according to their status) who have benefited from the targeted services for access to housing and the number of people to whom social assistance and social services have been provided.
The fulfillment of the criteria for integration of the beneficiaries of asylum or international protection is reflected in the individual integration plan under Art. 4, Para. 2.
Summary information is collected under the following headings: country of origin or stateless person, sex, age group, type of status obtained, type of service/access provided.
The regulation also includes:
- the participation of the central authorities and the mayors of municipalities in the implementation process of the integration agreement. The rights and obligations of the state and municipal bodies and institutions are specified, i.e. the State Agency for Refugees with the Council of Ministers, the Ministry of Education and Science, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Youth and Sport, the National Security Agency, the State Agency for Child Protection, the Employment Agency, the Agency for Social Assistance, mayors of municipalities, regional governors, etc.;
- the coordination and control over the implementation of the integration agreement;
- liability for non-compliance with the integration agreement.
The main stages in the conclusion of an agreement are also specified, i.e. what has to be taken into account is the specific risks to national security in carrying out the activities aimed at the integration of beneficiaries of asylum or international protection, the parties involved in the integration agreement /a beneficiary of asylum or international protection in the Republic of Bulgaria and the mayor of a municipality/, the one year period and the conditions for its extension, the terms of the agreement in the case of adult and minor members / individual integration plans for each person under the age of 18.
The Integration Agreement /under Art. 4/ includes: parties to the agreement, inclusion period, age, gender and educational background of the individuals /level of education, professional experience and qualification/, citizenship, information on minors, information from the personal file of a foreigner drawn up by the State Agency for Refugees with the Council of Ministers.
Specific integration activities have also been defined as well as the rights and obligations of the beneficiaries of asylum or international protection in Bulgaria, the rights and duties of the mayor of the municipality, the rules and conditions of the amendment and termination of the agreement.
An integral part of the integration agreement is the individual plan drawn up by the mayor of the host municipality, which includes the concrete integration measures and their results in the relevant social areas: education, social assistance, medical care, health insurance, access to the labour market, etc. SAR provides the mayor of the receiving municipality with preliminary information on the personal data of the individuals.
The Ordinance regulates the coordination and control over the implementation of the integration agreement, which are carried out by a Deputy Prime Minister assisted by the administration of the Council of Ministers.
Integration measures and activities are funded by European Union funds and programs, funds, programs and instruments from other donors, international institutions and organizations as well as national budget funds falling within the scope of the consolidated fiscal program.
Measures and activities for the integration of beneficiaries of asylum or international protection after relocation or resettlement are funded under the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund. The funds are provided by the authority in charge of the fund, i.e. the International Projects Directorate with the Ministry of the Interior following the order envisaged in the national mechanisms for fulfilling Bulgaria’s relocation and resettlement commitments.
The Ordinance defines as important the place of municipalities with their experience in organizing, coordinating and controlling the integration process by providing effective targeted support to those in need, promoting tolerance and clarifying the role, meaning and importance of a multicultural community. Support includes provision of housing, language courses and employment opportunities.
The Ordinance is at the core of building the overall integration program and creates conditions for initiatives related to different activities.
The role of the municipalities in the conclusion of the integration agreement is paramount. In this line of thought the Ordinance deals with the rights and obligations of the parties to the agreement in the process of integration under the Ordinance. The process of integration of foreigners into the municipality involves several stages – a preparatory phase, conclusion of the agreement and implementation of the agreement, including its termination.
Preparation for an Agreement Conclusion
Assessment of the needs of the municipality for new population as well as of the possibilities for providing a foreigner and his/her family members with the minimum set of public services required by the Ordinance as well as other services the municipality can offer.
Exemplary recommended actions of the host municipality:
At governance level (Mayor of the Municipality or Deputy Mayor), the municipal administration is committed to organize a discussion and a report on the benefits and the possibility of adopting new population, including the integration of beneficiaries of international protection. It is recommended that in the discussion participate experts from the municipal administration and from the municipal units providing public services, members of the relevant committees of the Municipal Council, representatives of NGOs and civil society on the territory of the municipality as well as external experts.
It is recommended that the discussion include:
- Assessment of the state of the public services provided on the territory of the municipality in view of the Ordinance and the possibilities for providing additional services focusing on the issues concerning the accommodation of foreigners, the enrolment of their children in the municipal kindergarten or school, the organization and the forms of attendance of Bulgarian language courses, the degree of vulnerability (special needs determined by a foreigner’s health or family status, etc.).
- Establishment of a possible partnership in the implementation of the agreement and drawing up a list of NGOs providing services to consumers within the scope of the Ordinance, NGOs with experience in providing services to refugees, nationwide represented employers’ organizations and the National Craft Chamber, other business structures and civil society. It is also advisable to consider the possibilities and forms of support from international organizations working in this field.
- Analysis of the municipal priorities outlined in the municipal development plan with an emphasis on the possibilities for their solution by means of integrating beneficiaries of international protection on the territory of a municipality.
- Organisation of an information campaign among the population by the municipality management on the opportunities and benefits for the local community of integrating beneficiaries of international protection. Representatives of institutions and organizations with experience in dealing with refugees can also participate in this campaign as partners.
- Organisation of a public discussion.
The expert report, the results of the information campaign and the public discussion can be submitted for consideration by the municipal council to adopt a decision approving the steps and actions taken to integrate beneficiaries of international protection and members of their families. The mayor of the municipality makes the final decision and applies to the State Agency for Refugees.
Actions of the mayor of the municipality, the beneficiary of asylum or international protection and the State Agency for Refugees prior to the conclusion of an agreement on integration
- Submission of an application by the mayor of the municipality to the State Agency for Refugees
The mayor of the receiving municipality shall make the final decision and file an application with the State Agency for Refugees on the number of beneficiaries of asylum or international protection with whom to enter into an integration agreement. The application includes information about the municipality and the envisaged integration measures.
- Submission of an application by the beneficiary of asylum or international protection to the State Agency for Refugees
The State Agency for Refugees prepares an integration profile of a foreigner during the asylum or international protection procedure and informs them about the possibility of concluding an integration agreement. A foreigner who wishes to conclude an integration agreement may file an application with the State Agency for Refugees during the asylum or international protection procedure or within 14 days after receiving the decision on asylum or international protection.
- On the basis of the applications submitted by the mayors of municipalities and the foreigners, the State Agency for Refugees carries out the following activities:
- establishes and maintains a register of the municipalities that have declared interest in integration and the number of people with whom agreements may be concluded;
- provides monthly information to the National Association of Municipalities in the Republic of Bulgaria;
- organises and conducts information campaigns to present municipalities to beneficiaries of asylum or international protection;
- provides the mayors of the municipalities included in the register with data about individuals who wish to conclude an integration agreement containing information such as age, gender, marital status, country of origin, level of education, professional experience and qualification, skills, family members for whom integration measures should also be targeted as well as the presence of accompanying people with specific needs or vulnerabilities plus any other important information.
- The host municipality draws up an individual integration plan for a foreigner on the basis of the information provided by the State Agency for Refugees regarding the foreigners who have expressed their willingness to conclude an integration agreement. The individual integration plan is an integral part of the integration agreement and includes a system of integration measures detailing the specific activities with regard to the foreigner concerned as well as the deadlines for their implementation.
The individual integration plan is prepared with the active participation of the foreigner. It is advisable that (after identifying the foreigners that the municipality would like to receive on the basis of their integration profiles and prior to signing the agreement) the municipality should conduct an interview to specify the specific content of the integration measures in the plan.
If a foreigner is accompanied by dependent family members, one common integration agreement is concluded drawing up separate integration plans for each adult of the family.
- The municipality sends to the State Agency for Refugees the prepared individual integration plan together with the agreement on integration. The State Agency for Refugees assists in the transportation of a foreigner and his/her family members to the receiving municipality.
- The mayor of the municipality shall provide the State Agency for National Security with information on the number of concluded integration agreements as well as all available data on the foreigners with whom the agreements have been concluded.