A new report published today by the European Network on Statelessness (ENS) and Foundation for Access to Rights (FAR) on the treatment of stateless people in Bulgaria, reveals that despite the recent introduction of a legal route to identify stateless people in 2017, there are considerable deficiencies that put individuals at risk of human rights violations and which require immediate attention.
While Bulgaria is one of only a few European countries with a procedure that allows them to identify stateless individuals, crucially, the law currently does not guarantee recognised stateless people protection status, legal residence or other rights such as to work, family reunion or a travel document – leaving individuals condemned to live on the margins of society and denied the opportunity to contribute as citizens.
The ENS Statelessness Index shows that gaps in Bulgarian law, such as the absence of procedural rights and the lack of a requirement to identify a country of removal prior to detaining someone means that people without a nationality can face long periods in detention without a realistic prospect of leaving the country.
Valeria Ilareva, Head Lawyer at the Foundation for Access to Rights – a member of the European Network on Statelessness, said:
“In practice, currently only people who already have permanent or long-term residence in Bulgaria gain any rights from being recognised as a stateless person in the country. They are entitled to a travel document. Witnessing the detention of people who have applied under the new statelessness determination procedure has damaged much-needed trust in the authorities. “
One such person is Dr Al-Anezi, a client represented by FAR, who came to Bulgaria over a decade ago to study medicine. As a stateless man born in Kuwait, he was initially given permission to stay in Bulgaria while he graduated in Medicine. But with no prospect of being able to return to Kuwait, he decided to apply for stateless status under the new procedure. After three months without any information he went to check on the progress of his case, and to his surprise, was given notification of a rejection dated two weeks earlier, and, a detention order. With no country willing to accept him he has was locked in detention for six weeks and only released on Friday.
Chris Nash, Director of the European Network on Statelessness said:
“Dr Al-Anezi’s case lays bare the serious shortcomings of a legal procedure supposedly set up to help stateless people but which in fact directly resulted in his detention. He was abruptly taken from his vital work as a postgraduate student in cardiac surgery and left locked in limbo in an immigration detention centre simply for lacking a nationality. While his release is welcome, his story illustrates the risk of harm and waste of human potential caused by a flawed system that needs urgent improvement.”
For media enquiries please call FAR Head Lawyer Valeria Ilareva on +359 888 401 489 or email firstname.lastname@example.org (in Bulgarian or English) or ENS Head of Communications Jan Brulc on +44 7522 525673 or email email@example.com (in English).
- Foundation for Access to Rights (FAR) is an NGO aiming to establish a solid ground for access to rights in practice in Bulgaria. FAR’s mission is to increase the institutional and public awareness, sensitivity and commitment to the need to address systemic problems in access to basic human rights in Bulgaria. It further aims to contribute to the development of a favourable legislative environment in line with European and International standards for the protection of human rights and the establishment of best practices on access to rights. Among other activities, FAR predominantly provides free legal assistance to refugees, immigrants and stateless persons. It carries out trainings about the rights of vulnerable groups of persons.
- The European Network on Statelessness (ENS) is a civil society alliance of organisations and individual experts committed to tackling statelessness in Europe. ENS has over 140 members in 40 countries and is dedicated to ending statelessness and ensuring that the estimated 600,000 people living in Europe without a nationality are protected under international law.
- Statelessness is a legal anomaly that affects over half a million people in Europe. A stateless person is someone who has no nationality. Despite the scale of the problem, countries across Europe all have very different approaches to dealing with statelessness which means that there is currently no consistent, clear or comprehensive approach to identifying those without nationality or preventing new cases of statelessness arising among children born on their territory.
- The European Network on Statelessness developed the Statelessness Index, an online tool that assesses different countries’ approaches to addressing statelessness. The Index enables instant comparison between countries and against international norms and good practices. It allows users to quickly understand which areas of law, policy and practice can be improved by states and which can be looked to as examples of good practice in addressing statelessness.