The legal and policy framework in Bulgaria has some positive aspects and some significant gaps. Bulgaria is state party to most relevant international and regional instruments, including three of the four core statelessness conventions. However, its definition of a stateless person does not align with international standards. De-facto exclusion provisions in law are not in line with the 1954 Convention as they require lawful residence. There is limited data on the stateless population in the country.
Bulgaria has recently introduced a statelessness determination procedure (SDP) 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 barriers and other setbacks. Although there is no lawful stay requirement to access the procedure, the law envisages the possibility to refuse stateless status to a person residing unlawfully on the territory. There is no automatic legal admission or support entitlement for applicants, who may be detained while their claims are considered. Critically, the determination of statelessness does not guarantee protection status, legal residence or other rights such as to work, family reunion or a travel document.
Stateless people are at risk of arbitrary detention, due to gaps such as the lack of a requirement to identify a country of removal prior to detaining someone, 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. 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, although there is a potential risk of statelessness during the adoption process for a foreign child adopted by Bulgarian nationals. Positively, withdrawal of citizenship is clearly prohibited by law where it would result in statelessness.
Valeria Ilareva, Foundation for Access to Rights (FAR)