Migrant Integration Governance in Bulgaria
Bulgaria is a country of emigration, meaning that more Bulgarians leave the country than foreigners arrive. Immigration is gradually increasing but remains relatively low in the EU context. In terms of asylum, Bulgaria established the National Bureau for Territorial Asylum and Refugees in 1992, which later became the State Agency for Refugees. However, due to its socio-economical profile, the country never became a major asylum destination.
On 1 January 2017, 64 074 non-EU foreigners were living in Bulgaria. They represented a little less than 1 % of the total population. Most have permits issued for work, studies and family reunification.
The 3 most represented third country origins were Russia (20 938), Syria (11 484) and Turkey (10.662). The number of Syrians in Bulgaria rose from 792 in 2013 to 11 484 in 2017 due to the European migration crisis.
3.056 foreigners acquired Bulgarian citizenship In 2017. No aggregated data on Bulgarian citizens with third country background are made available.
To integrate or foster the social inclusion of citizens with non-EU migrant background, Bulgaria currently has a National Strategy on Migration, Asylum and Integration for the period 2015-2020. The document describes integrated national migration management policies. It is underpinned by the understanding of migration as both a necessary resource for the national economy and a potential threat to social unity and national security. Its main integration goals are to:
- ensure the social inclusion of third-country nationals, including beneficiaries of international protection
- attract highly qualified Bulgarian emigrants and foreigners of Bulgarian origin for permanent settlement in the country
The document combines three similar strategies adopted between 2008-2014 and aligns them with Bulgaria and EU’s post- “refugee crisis” situation. These documents are:
- National Strategy for Migration and Integration 2008-2015
- National Strategy for Migration, Asylum and Integration 2011–2020
- National Strategy for the Integration of Persons who Received International Protection in the Republic of Bulgaria 2014-2020
However, no action plan has been adopted and no funding has been allocated for integration.
Between 2005 and 2013, the State Agency for Refugees implemented 3 National Programmes for Refugee Integration. The last National Programme covered the period 2011-2013 and the State Agency did not renew the programme despite the recent increase of refugee arrivals.
The National Strategy 2015-2020 envisages to develop a separate National Action Plan for the Integration of Refugees, but this hasn’t happened yet. Currently, there is no:
☒ civic education
☒ language classes
☒ vocational training
However, a Regulation on the terms and conditions of making, implementing and terminating the agreement for the integration of foreigners granted asylum or international protection was adopted in 2017. It is a non-mandatory instrument developed with the aim of promoting integration in Bulgaria. The document preserves the principle that integration support is based on a voluntary agreement between the municipality and the beneficiary of international protection. The document would allow persons granted international protection to use a ‘package’ of services, including housing, kindergarten or school enrollment of accompanying minors, Bulgarian language courses, health insurance, professional orientation and training programs, etc.
There is no official mainstreamed evaluation of migrant integration in Bulgaria. However, research accessing specific areas or target groups are available. Between 2016-2021, the EU-funded project National Integration Evaluation Mechanism (NIEM) project will be carried out in Bulgaria, among other countries. It will provide evidence on gaps in integration standards, identify promising practices and evaluate the effects of legislative and policy changes.
Since 2013, the NGO Multi Kulti Collective has been carrying out an independent monitoring. The 2013 report, commissioned by the Bulgarian Council on Refugees and Migrants, analysed the implementation of the National Programme for the Integration of Refugees and put forward recommendations based on the challenges and best practices identified. In 2014, it monitored a “year of zero integration”, as there was no Integration Programme that year, and outlined challenges faced by persons granted international protection.
MIPEX is another major evaluation tool. It pointed out that little had changed in Bulgaria between 2010 and 2015 and that integration is still not a priority for the Bulgarian government. EU-funded research project Assessing Integration Measures for Vulnerable Migrant Groups ASSESS also concluded in 2015 that little public support is provided to migrants, vulnerable persons included, to guide them through services and support they are entitled to.
☑ Foreigners Law
The Foreigners in the Republic of Bulgaria Act was adopted in December 1998. It covers procedures of entry, departure, stay and residence of foreigners. The latest amendments (February 2018) concern the non-application of the Act to servicemen and members of the civilian component of a structure of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) located in Bulgaria and their family members.
☑ Asylum Law
The Law on Asylum and Refugees was adopted in May 2002. It defines the conditions and procedures for granting international protection to foreigners, as well as their rights and obligations. The latest amendments (December 2016) concern the withdrawal of international protection for foreigners proven to be involved in terrorist activities.
☒ Integration Law
Bulgaria does not have a self-standing integration law.
☑ Nationality Law
The Bulgarian Citizenship Act was adopted in November 1998. The legislation establishes the basic rules, conditions and processes to acquire, lose and regain Bulgarian citizenship. The latest amendments (December 2016) regulates the loss of naturalisation for foreigners proven to be involved in terrorist activities
The Protection against Discrimination Act was adopted in September 2003. It regulates the protection against all forms of discrimination and promotes prevention.
Migration is a mainstreamed issue in Bulgaria, meaning that specific ministries are responsible for their own fields of responsibility. In addition, the National Council on Migration and Integration was established in February 2015 as a collective coordinator for the formulation, adoption and implementation of state policies and action plans on migration and integration. It is co-chaired by the Minister of Interior and the Minister of Labour and Social Affairs. Its membership further consists of representatives of other State organs.
Municipalities are also to participate in the organisation of the integration journey of persons granted asylum or international protection, according to the Regulation on the terms and conditions of making, implementing and terminating the agreement for the integration of foreigners granted asylum or international protection. However, their participation remains voluntary.
Bulgaria does not have a consultative body on issued related to the integration of migrants. Representatives of the UN Agency for Refugees and the International Organisation on Migration in Malta are however invited to participate in meeting of the National Council on Migration and Integration on ad hoc basis.
Non-profit organisations and local authorities can apply for financing through several funds. EU’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) is the most important one in terms of budget. Coordinated by the Ministry of Interior, the national allocation for Bulgaria under AMIF is 20 006 470 EUR. 13 % of this amount is allocated to asylum and 13 % to integration. National integration priorities for the fund are focused on information campaigns, education and training, and provision of advice and assistance. Bulgarian AMIF programme.
In addition, private funds are made available for service providers and other stakeholders to carry out projects aiming for a better integration of the migrant population.
☑ Providing integration services
- Bulgarian Red Cross: activities for all third country nationals, including beneficiaries of international protection
- Caritas: activities to facilitate the social and economic integration of beneficiaries of international protection
- Council of Refugee Women in Bulgaria: Counselling and social support for beneficiaries of international protection
- International Organization for Migration: activities to facilitate the social and economic integration of all third country nationals.
- Multi Kulti Collective: Community development activities, economic integration support for all third country nationals
- Center Nadya: Psychological counselling and therapy for beneficiaries of international protection
- CVS Bulgaria: Educational support for asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection
- FAR – Foundation for Access to Rights: legal support for all for third country nationals
☒ Implementing Integration Programme
- Bulgarian Council on Refugees and Migrants: advocacy activities on municipal level to promote the integration of beneficiaries of international protection
- Multi Kulti Collective: advocacy and campaigning at both national and local level
- FAR – Foundation for Access to Rights: advocacy and media campaigns to raise institutional and public awareness, legal support for access to rights for third country nationals and beneficiaries of international protection