Emanuela Zampa


  • Post category:Bulgaria
  • Reading time:5 mins read

By Sara Minolfi and Eda Mirushi. Photos by Emanuela Zampa. NNK Team in Bulgaria

Borders are not just the abstract lines that separate states politically. They are not just made by check points, controls and illegal pushbacks as we report and denounce. They can take other, less visible shapes that affect the daily life of people on the move.

During our stay on the field, we meet people at different stages of their asylum procedure, and listening to these stories, we realize how the borders take multiple forms.

People on the move we meet in Harmanli tell us how they are forced to claim asylum in Bulgaria despite wanting to reach other European countries.

Then, during the asylum procedure, the border takes new shapes. Asylum seekers are encamped in reception centres. In the border area where we are operating, there are three camps: one in Harmanli, the village where we are based, and the others in Banya and Pastrogor. These places are isolated and far away from big cities: so, once again, people are bordered, clearly separated from the local community. In Harmanli camp, the illegal curfew at 6 PM limits the life outside. The barbed wire stands threateningly above the walls surrounding the camp, as if to indicate that there is someone dangerous inside. As if to make those inside feel like they are in prison. As if migrating was a crime.

Both within the walls of the camp and outside, people continue to face various borders

For example, financial service providers refuse to open bank accounts to asylum seekers, due to the lack of identity documents. This happens in accordance with law, since the registration card is not considered enough. Furthermore, a friend that received the passport recently told us that even when they get “protection” and obtain passports and IDs, banks continue to deny them the opportunity to open bank accounts.

In addition, people tell us that many children do not go to school. Legally, access to education for asylum-seeking children is provided explicitly in national legislation without an age limit. The provision not only guarantees full access to free of charge education in regular schools, but also to vocational training under the rules and conditions applicable to Bulgarian children. In spite of this, from the stories shared by the people we meet every day, there are obstacles and situations that don’t allow this right to be granted.

Since most of the asylum procedures last 4-6 months, many families decide not to put their kids in the public school. Especially in Harmanli where most people don’t plan to settle, the access to education reflects the transit nature of their stay.

Moreover, there is no Bulgarian language course, no social and cultural activities promoting integration and cohesion with the local population. This language barrier makes it hard, if not impossible, to have interactions with locals.

Beside the efforts of some local organizations that try to build some moments and opportunities of exchange, it looks like very little is being done in Harmanli to encourage people to settle down in Bulgaria and build the peaceful life they aspire to have. 

People on the move encounter new borders also if they receive some forms of “protection”, something that actually happens to the majority of the people we meet, who come almost all from Syria and Kurdistan. After getting documents, some of them report being stressed and confused, because it seems that they are not given clear information about what they are allowed to do with the papers they receive.

So, the future remains uncertain and the quest for stability persists.