By Clive Leviev – Sawyer of The Sofia Globe
Bulgaria has made progress in improving living conditions for refugees and more effort is needed to improve the situation of the most vulnerable groups and speed procedures for granting refugee status.
This was the message from European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström during a visit to Bulgaria to take part in discussions on the future of a common European asylum system and to inspect conditions in refugee camps in Bulgaria.
On March 24, the first day of her two-day visit, Malmström met President Rossen Plevneliev and held talks with Plamen Oresharski, occupant of the prime minister’s chair in the Bulgarian Socialist Party cabinet, and interior minister and deputy prime minister Tsvetlin Yovchev.
The European Commission (EC) could assist Bulgaria with expertise and money in drafting an integration strategy and a plan for refugee inclusion, it emerged after Malmström’s talks with Oresharski.
Malmström said that the EC was aware that Bulgaria was faced with an unprecedented situation as it had not been prepared to deal with the influx of migrants, of the large pressure on the country’s asylum system, noting progress that has been made in order to better living conditions for refugees. Malmström urged more efforts to improve the situation with the most vulnerable groups and speed procedures.
Oresharski acknowledged that Bulgaria had not been sufficiently prepared to deal with the influx of refugees.
In 2013, there was a significant increase in the number of refugees arriving in Bulgaria from the Middle East and North Africa, especially because of the Syria crisis.
Figures released by Eurostat on March 24 showed that 63 per cent of asylum seekers in Bulgaria in 2013 were from Syria.
Speaking in Sofia at a news conference on the new common European asylum system, Malmström said, “We try to aid Bulgaria through funding and through dispatching colleagues. We have to provide asylum to those who have the right to it. It is difficult to reach a European border in a legal way, for this reason many people undertake a dangerous journey,” she said.
”The tragedy in Lampedusa reminded us of this in a brutal way. We started thinking about the future. Last week the Commission published its new press release about this system. One of our ideas is going through a joint procedure in applications of asylum-seekers. Several EU member states will work together. The new agency is to aid the EU member states in the audit concerning decisions made in applications. We have to show solidarity with the neighbouring EU member states. I call on the rest of EU member states to think of mechanisms, to provide support to the refugees and their settling down,” Malmström said.
“It is important there are mechanisms for action in extraordinary situations when people apply for asylum, especially people from Syria,” she said, according to a report by local news agency Focus.
”The new directive improves access to the judicial system. It should be guaranteed every claim is fairly considered. [It] involves good co-operation between the judges from the entire EU. They should be well-prepared for this. Before reaching the agreement we were checked last summer through the hard crisis in Syria. Bulgaria was affected as well as Greece, Malta.
“It is important there are mechanisms for action in extraordinary situations when people apply for asylum, especially people from Syria. So far we have allocated about 20 million euro, also because of the Lampedusa tragedy. This way we will improve the situation in Bulgaria. You have been faced over the past months with a situation in which you have had to receive a lot of foreign nationals,” Malmström said.
In her words, they are introducing new legislation and the right to asylum is among the most important things.
She said that a training programme was envisaged so that employees in the EU member states could be taught to apply the new standards.
Malmström said that there would be no hesitation by the EC about applying an infringement procedure if legislation was not applied properly.
Meeting Malmström, President Plevneliev said that Bulgaria would continue working in close co-operation with the EC to successfully resolve the issue of asylum seekers in the country.
“We appreciate the timely and adequate support from the European Commission. We don’t hide the difficulties we face with and rely on the solidarity of our European partners,” Plevneliev said.
“Bulgaria had to receive a large number of refugees within a very short term. What is important is that Bulgarian institutions achieved progress in the work with asylum seekers,” Malmström said.