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10 March 2022

Bulgaria takes first steps to welcome those fleeing Ukraine

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In response to the recent Ukrainian crisis, the government of Bulgaria has taken its first steps to welcome Ukrainian refugees. On 10 March, it was announced that approximately 37 000 Ukrainians have entered Bulgaria, and about 30 000 have stayed, 2 weeks after the beginning of the war. Unlike in previous years where high numbers of Syrian and Afghan asylum seekers passed through Bulgaria on their way to Western Europe, this time it is expected that a higher number of asylum seekers will choose Bulgaria as a final destination. This is due to strong historical and cultural links between Ukraine and Bulgaria. Compared to the previous crisis of 2015, when approximately 20 500 people - at the most - applied for international protection throughout the whole year, current numbers are significantly higher.

On 9 March 2022, the government announced several measures:

  • A decision to provide temporary protection to displaced persons from Ukraine in line with Directive 2001/55/ЕО. It will be granted from 24 February 2022 for at least 1 year;
  • An amendment to the national action plan for temporary protection from 2011;
  • A newly established crisis headquarters;
  • A national portal that covers all questions related to protection, rights and integration measures for Ukrainian refugees. It is available in 4 languages: Ukrainian, Russian, English and Bulgarian.

It is worth highlighting that the response from civil society (NGOs and self-organised volunteers), local businesses and some local authorities has been strong and positive: hundreds of support initiatives have been quickly developed, offering humanitarian help, free housing, psychological support, job opportunities and much more. Employers are already speaking about the resulting positive effects on the economy.

Some human rights activists, however, raised the question of discrimination and double standards. As an example, Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said: “These are not the refugees we are used to. As the Austrian chancellor said, these are our relatives, family. These are Europeans, intelligent, educated people, some of them are programmers. We, like everyone else, are ready to welcome them. This is not the usual refugee wave of people with an unclear past. None of the European countries is worried about them”. Further, some obstacles faced for years by asylum seekers and refugees from other countries have now been removed for Ukrainians, and only for Ukrainians. For example, Ukrainians in Bulgaria will now be able to benefit from a facilitated procedure for opening a bank account, while all other refugees continue to face restrictive conditions which prevent them from accessing financial services.

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Bulgaria
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Posted by
Bistra Ivanova
Country Coordinator

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