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 core statelessness conventions. However, its definition of a stateless person is narrower than the 1954 Convention definition. There is limited data on the stateless population in the country, but measures have been introduced to include stateless people in the forthcoming 2021 census.
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. The determination of statelessness does not guarantee protection status, but since 2019, there is the possibility for a recognised stateless person to acquire a residence permit and some minimal rights.
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 nationality is clearly prohibited by law where it would result in statelessness, but there are no remedies if the law is applied incorrectly, as refusal and withdrawal of Bulgarian nationality cannot be appealed.
Valeria Ilareva, Foundation for Access to Rights (FAR)