Update from June 2022:
For the first time Bulgaria included stateless people in its census carried out in September-October 2021 (results will be published by the end of 2022). There is still no reliable figure for the total stateless population in Bulgaria. The Ministry of Interior confirmed that in Jan-March 2021, 5 people were granted statelessness status in Bulgaria, 14 were granted in 2020, and 26 in 2019. In Jan-Dec 2021, 60 people recorded as ‘stateless’ sought asylum in Bulgaria.
Amendments to the SDP were introduced in 2021. In March, additional grounds for refusal of recognition as a stateless person came into force with the effect that statelessness status is now refused to people who have been issued a removal order for irregular stay. In July, the Implementing Rules to the Law on Foreign Nationals were amended to clarify that if an SDP applicant cannot provide a birth certificate or proof of legal residence in Bulgaria, they can indicate the reasons for this. As of 2021, the SDP is now suspended automatically when the applicant has also applied for international protection or has been granted international protection, regardless of whether statelessness could be determined without having to consult the authorities of the country of origin. A further change in 2021 requires that a removal order must now indicate a country of removal. However, the law also gives the authorities the option to change the country of removal where there are ‘valid reasons’ for this, depriving people of procedural safeguards to challenge a change to the country of removal in court.
A case was heard by the Court of Justice of the European Union in early 2021 of a child born abroad to a Bulgarian mother and a British mother. The Bulgarian authorities refused to issue a Bulgarian birth certificate that recognised the parenthood of both mothers, even though this left the child at risk of statelessness. The Court ruled in favour of the child and ordered the Bulgarian authorities to register the child.
New resources on Bulgaria now available include:
- 2021 Statelessness Index Survey
- Blog: Protecting the right to a nationality for children of same-sex couples in the EU – A key issue before the CJEU in V.M.A. v Stolichna Obsthina (C-490/20) (Feb 2021)
- Brochure: Procedure for granting status to a person without citizenship (AE, BG, EN, RU)
- Briefing: Children at risk of statelessness: Registration of birth and acquisition of citizenship (2021) (BG)
- Briefing: Stateless persons – burden of proof (2021) (BG)
- Briefing: Access to healthcare for refugees and stateless persons during a pandemic (2021) (BG)
- Country briefing on access to protection for stateless refugees from Ukraine in Bulgaria (June 2022)
Bulgaria introduced a statelessness determination procedure (SDP) in 2017 with some positive elements, including appeal rights and some limited procedural rights. But there is a high standard of proof in statelessness cases and the burden of proof lies with the applicant. Access to free legal aid and the right to an interview are limited in practice due to language and other barriers. There is no lawful stay requirement to access the procedure, but there is no automatic legal admission nor support entitlement for applicants, so there is a risk of detention while their claims are considered. Since 2021, a person issued with a removal order for irregular stay will automatically be refused statelessness status. The determination of statelessness does not guarantee protection status, but there is the possibility for a recognised stateless person to acquire a residence permit and some minimal rights; however, this excludes the right to access the labour market and to have health insurance.
Stateless people are at risk of arbitrary detention, due to gaps in the legal framework and lack of a referral mechanism from detention to the SDP. Procedural safeguards, including legal aid and remedies as well as provision of information to detainees, are set in law, but rarely implemented in practice and have been particularly impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Positively, there are safeguards in nationality law to prevent statelessness including in the case of children born in Bulgaria who would otherwise be stateless and foundlings. However, there is a potential risk of statelessness during the adoption process for a foreign child adopted by Bulgarian nationals. Risks have also been identified for children born to Bulgarians abroad where births have not been registered or birth certificates are not recognised by the Bulgarian authorities, particularly in the case of Roma and same-sex parents. Deprivation of nationality is clearly prohibited by law where it would result in statelessness, but there are no remedies if the law is applied incorrectly.
Information below by theme was last updated in March 2021.
Valeria Ilareva, Foundation for Access to Rights (FAR)