Who can apply for international protection in Bulgaria?
If you cannot go back to your country due to fear of persecution or other serious threats to your life or freedom, you may apply for international protection in Bulgaria. For more information on what is asylum, please see: https://asylum.bg/content/#asylum
If your application is accepted you will receive a written decision that either recognises you as a refugee, or gives you humanitarian status.
In the European Union (EU), only one EU country can review an application for international protection, usually the first country of entry. This is called the Dublin Regulation.
This means that if a person first enters the EU through Bulgaria:
Bulgaria is the EU country that should review its international protection application.
They will likely be sent back to Bulgaria if they travel to another EU country and apply for international protection there.
There are limited exceptions to this rule (such as holding a valid visa for another EU country or having family members there).
NOTE: In Bulgaria, the law defines different types of protection:
International protection – refugee status and humanitarian status (subsidiary protection under EU law), granted by the State Agency for Refugees
Asylum – a separate, national form of protection that may be granted by the President of the Republic of Bulgaria
How can you apply for international protection in Bulgaria?
Before state authorities: You can express your wish to apply for international protection before any state body in Bulgaria. They are obliged to send your application to the State Agency for Refugees which should examine it.
With the Border Police: If you are apprehended by the Border Police, or by the National Police, it is essential that you immediately state your wish to apply for international protection.
If you do not, you will be treated by the Bulgarian authorities as an irregular migrant and placed in an immigration detention center (SCTAF).
At an immigration detention center (SCTAF): There are two such centers – Busmantsi and Lyubimets. You can apply for international protection from there as well. You can receive free of charge legal assistance from the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, legal aid partner of UNHCR.
Note that you will first be placed under quarantine for 10 days under the COVID-19 preventive measures.
You can be detained at these centers either for 30 days for the purpose of initial identification or for up to 6 months for the purpose of the return. You have the right to appeal the detention decisions, as well as the return order. You can receive free of charge legal assistance from the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, a legal aid partner of UNHCR which visits the immigration detention centers every week.
If you apply for international protection according to the law, you should be released to an open center of the State Agency for Refugees after 6 working days (8 calendar days). Please note that this period starts running after you are released from quarantine.
With the State Agency for Refugees: You can also apply for international protection directly before the State Agency for Refugees.
From the moment you ask for international protection, you are considered an asylum seeker. You cannot be removed (deported) to your country of origin except under very limited circumstances related to national security.
For more information on how to apply for international protection, please visit: https://asylum.bg/content/#asylum
What happens after you apply for international protection?
Step 1: Registration
- You will be registered by the State Agency for Refugees and your fingerprints will be taken.
- You will be asked to declare personal data. It is very important to tell the truth about your age, circumstances, and needs.
- In the end, you will be issued a note indicating the date and time when you will receive your “registration card” document authorizing you to remain in Bulgaria until the end of your procedure for granting international protection.
- You will receive an invitation for an interview which you have to attend on the date and time specified.
You can find out more about the registration process here: https://asylum.bg/content/#registration
Step 2: Interview
The interview is the most important part of your asylum procedure and you need to give as many details as possible regarding the reasons you have for leaving your country of origin and fears upon return and provide any proof and documentation you have to back up your claim if any.
If you have already been granted refugee status by UNHCR in another country, you should inform the authorities about it during the interview.
Please also contact UNHCR and provide a copy of your refugee certificate or case number. You can find more information about the asylum procedure here: https://asylum.bg/content/#procedure
Step 3: Decision
You should receive a written decision within six months of the registration of your application (14 working days if your application is assessed under accelerated procedure). You have the right to appeal the decision. You can find more information about the appeal here: (https://asylum.bg/content/#enappeal)
Please note that, in Bulgaria, UNHCR has no formal role in the asylum procedure and UNHCR does, in general, not intervene in individual cases, nor provide individual legal representation or counselling. However, we do work with an NGO partner – the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee – which offers free legal assistance and counselling.