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 the Government has included a new ‘stateless’ category in the 2021 census.
Bulgaria introduced a statelessness determination procedure (SDP) in 2017 with some positive elements, including appeal rights and some limited procedural rights.
However, 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 apply for a residence permit and access some minimal rights (although 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. 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.
Valeria Ilareva, Foundation for Access to Rights (FAR)