• Post category:Bulgaria
  • Reading time:11 mins read

By Letizia de Palo, part of No Name Kitchen team in Bulgaria. Photos by Letizia di Palo and people on the move that shared their experience with No Name Kitchen

Bulgaria’s migration context. Bulgaria is the first European country for most of the people who tackle the Balkan route fleeing Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Somalia, Morocco. It is one of the most dangerous and it remains a transit country in which people don’t wish to stay. 

“I have been taken the fingerprints here, but I don’t want to stay. Instead of being stuck here, I would have preferred remaining in my country.” (S., 23 years old, Syrian) 

People on the move arrive in Bulgaria, crossing from Turkey and mainly continue their journey to Serbia, in hopes of finally settling in other European countries as Germany, France, Italy or Spain. Staying in Bulgaria is not really an option, since it is almost imposible for people to find protection in this country.

As a consequence of the externalization of European borders, and the ongoing construction of border fences, the route is becoming more and more dangerous for people making this journey. 

The Turkish – Bulgarian border sadly is the first most fatal border along the Balkan route, as concerningly expressed by the recent Lighthouse Report and Bulgaria Border monitoring, resulting in dozens of deaths in the past two years alone. 

People on the move crossing through Bulgaria must face a long journey through harsh nature and violent weather conditions, battling illnesses, and sheer exhaustion all while avoiding Border Police, which “systematically expels refugees and migrants to Turkey, without an individual examination of the risk of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment”.

According to the testimonies from NNK and Human Rights Watch reports, taken from people on the move, police beats, robs, strips, and uses dogs against people on the move, arbitrarily detains and systematically tortures them to then bring people back to Turkey, without any interview or formal asylum procedure. 

So far, from our understating, possible sceneries are the followings: when people are caught travelling irregularly, at the border with Turkey they are most likely to be sent back, while at the border with Serbia or Romania they are systematically detained for undetermined periods in detention centers in the country, by the official purpose of the status determination procedure. 

Detentions and agreements with the EU

According to Bulgarian law, by the end of 2018, people could be detained up to 30 days for the so-called “short-term detention” to complete security checks, profiling, and identification resulting in a decision on a prolonged detention or a referral to an open reception center. 

By the summer of 2022, “in attempt to give proof to Eu institutions of the readiness of Bulgaria to join the Schengen zone, the caretaker cabinet’s MOI management instructed on direct application of long-term detention orders – with initial period of 6 months – without any prior consideration of personal circumstances or submitted asylum claim”.  

The European Court of Human Rights has already issued a judgement, which found Bulgarian institutions in violation of Article 5.1 of ECHR, concerning liberty of person and security. Yet, European institutions actively support Bulgaria’s (as its own) border regime.

Bulgaria’s response to migrations is still focused on detention and repression. 

Our experience so far

Bulgaria’s migration management prospects in the following action: sending people firstly to detention centers (closed reception centers), to Transit Centers in which procedural actions in Asylum and Migration Law matters are examinated, and, if the request is considered admissible, to Asylum Seekers camps. 

According to international standards, detainment should not be punitive. Yet, detention camps in Lyubimets and Busmantsi (Sofia) are basically prisons, for people that did not commit any crime.

“We were arrested while going from Sofia to Serbia and taken to the closed camp. They took my mobile phone and did not allow me to talk to my family” – Says S., 23 years old, Kurdish man from Syria, who left his country two months ago with his nephew, M., of 13 years old.

Conditions inside detention facilities do not neither meet basic necessities requirements, and remain inadequate, especially regarding hygiene, nutrition, and health care, as already reported by Global Detention Project.  

“I mean, the food was bad. The water was of an ambiguous color and did not smell good. But we were forced to drink it.” – he continues – “There was no heater inside the camp.” 

“Water had chlorine and other chemicals. Yet, we did not have choice than to drink it.” – N., 20 years old, Syrian. 

“M. was ill. I told them to bring the doctor, his condition was bad. They said no. I told them that he could not sleep because of the pain.” – S. 

After the “shortest period of time” necessary for police to establish and verify the non-citizen’s identity, people are then sent either to Transit Centers or to Asylum Seekers Camps. 

Reportedly, SAR shelters fail to provide the most basic services, including adequate hygiene products for personal and communal spaces. 

In the area of asylum, Bulgaria already started, within the implementation of the Pilot Project of the European Commission, accelerated asylum procedures. The consequence is that certain applicants, mostly coming from Turkey and Afghanistan, were treated discriminatorily and their cases treated as unfounded, resulting in unacceptance and decision of immediate return into their countries.  

As far as we know, this procedure is ongoing in the Transit Center of Pastrogor. 

Meanwhile, in the camp in Harmanli, Asylum Seekers Camp, mostly filled with people from Syria who have been sent straight from detention centers, there is a widespread feeling that they are trapped by the incredible challenge of being granted asylum and the fear of being deported once arrived in other European countries under Dublin Regulation

“Do you regret leaving?”

“If I arrive to Germany, no, if I stay here, yes.” S., 23 years old, Syria 

We immediately started receiving some messages about what is going on inside. 

Conditions inside of the Camp are concerning on multiple levels. 

“I am of Syrian nationality, and I live in the refugee camp of Harmanli. We suffer from the bitter cold and the food is never enough. There are minors in the camp who are suffering from hunger. Their life is threatened. The minors are starving. The bathrooms do not use hot water. There is no central heating. We need you.” Y., 25 years old, Syrian. 

Many people complain about the food: they receive meals twice per day and it’s not enough. Very small portions.

“It’s very cold here. There is nothing available here.” F., 30 years old, Syrian. 


This is the context in which NNK is starting the new project in Bulgaria. 

Day after day, we assess and we do our best to meet people’s needs and necessities, trying to fill a huge institutional gap, shaping our support accordingly to needs and dynamics we get to know here. 

Still, our main goal is not only to bring humanitarian relief. 

We, as always, denounce and speak out loud for people that do not currently have the means to do so, bringing our solidarity, respect and humanity, in a hostile and not welcoming context. 

“When you are here, we are no longer sad.” – H., 22 years old, Syrian.