Refugees and Migrants in Bulgaria Face Lamentable Conditions
Bulgaria, action created 6.1.2014, petition is active
Bulgarian refugee camps, housing thousands of refugees and migrants, many of whom are fleeing conflicts in Syria, are sorely inadequate. Many refugees do not have access to basic needs, such as food, health care, or hygiene. Some do not have beds to sleep in, or roofs over their heads, as winter sets in. Amnesty International is calling upon the Bulgarian government to remedy the situation.
Bulgarian officials are not taking appropriate measures to support the thousands of refugees entering the country. As of the end of 2012, over 10,200 refugees, many from Syria and more from Afghanistan, have crossed the Turkish-Bulgarian border. But the Bulgarian authorities have failed to provide these migrants with adequate living conditions. They face poor medical care, a lack of food, deplorable sanitary conditions, and no psychological assistance. This is despite the fact that Bulgaria received 5.6 million Euros in November 2012 to help them fulfill their obligations to respect the provisions of international refugee law and to comply with the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.
There are only three official receiving centers in Bulgaria (Banya, Ovcha Kupel, and Pastrogor), with a total capacity of 1200 people. In September 2013, Bulgarian officials opened another "crisis" response center, but it has not yet been converted into proper accommodation nor does it provide adequate living conditions. These refugees are housed in dilapidated school buildings and in houses built from shipping containers, which are overcrowded and short of suitable beds. People are sleeping on tattered beds or merely on thin mattresses on the floor. Additionally, these facilities, which house pregnant women, children, and those injured during the war, lack adequate heating as daily temperatures fall below freezing.
As a result of the incompetence of Bulgarian authorities, a group of volunteers called "Friends of Refugees" has undertaken the responsibility of providing a regular distribution of food to the crisis centers. Furthermore, the humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders announced the opening of a medical center in one of the refugee camps in November 2013.
Bulgaria has received criticism from the international community - including Amnesty International - for the continued poor conditions in the crisis centers for refugees, especially the one in Harmanli. Despite some efforts of Bulgarian leaders to improve conditions, the situation remains precarious and poses health concerns for many refugees. A primary problem continues to be sanitation; in January 2014, 929 people shared a mere six showers. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has launched emergency action in response to the poor food supply in Harmanli. Another important issue according to UNHCR is protracted delays in asylum application registration. Until such time as these applications are registered, the refugees are treated as illegal migrants, resulting in a denial of basic rights and threats of arbitrary detention.
Amnesty International put out a release in December 2013, giving a brief overview of the inadequate conditions for asylum seekers and expressing concern that the Bulgarian authorities are not handling these applications promptly or without unnecessary complications.
Immediate improvements in living conditions and the creation of a suitable environment for refugees living in crisis centers is necessary, and must be immediately provided by the Bulgarian government.