I am a refugee. What are my rights?
A lot of horrible problems happen all over the world. Some of them can affect the sovereignity of whole states with respect to their territory, government and permanent population. The often caused suffering of many innocent people usually leads to unexpected and unwanted migrations of whole masses to the neighboring countries and even further. The reasons can be different – political crisis, war, oppression by the ruling government etc. It is not necessary the entire country to be torn apart in order its people (certain groups or individuals) to be affected and feel the full horror of the national crisis – even the killing of “politically incorrect” friend or relative can lead to this effect. When this happens, an expected and probable consequence is the well-founded fear of persecution. Imaging that I am placed in situation where I’m forced to leave my homeland and enter into territory of another county, few options exist for my survival.
According to the Refugee convention if I really am under threat of such persecution in my home country, I have the fundamental internationally protected right to be considered as a refugee. The motives for my well-founded fear may also vary – I might be prosecuted because of my race, religion, nationality, membership of a specific social group or political opinion or conviction.
When I reach the Bulgarian border (one way or another) it is most likely the border authorities to stop me.
It’s recommendable not to try to trespass the border using illegal methods (e.g. agree to involve myself in human traffic activity), because this will be treated as a criminal offence by the border police, which has the right to detain me. Then an indictment will be filed against me by the district prosecutor, I’ll be sued by the district judge and most probably convicted.
- If this isn’t the case and I have legally entered Bulgarian territory, I should go directly to State Agency for Refugees, where after a request and positive assessment by the Agency’s units the proceeding for granting a refugee status may be initiated.
- If I have chosen more inappropriate and not-legal way to enter Bulgaria and I have been detained by the border authorities (including when I have been stopped for not having/having false identity documents) for me the following options exist:
Bulgaria is a party to the Convention and also has adopted national legislation on this matter, therefore my internationally guaranteed rights, can be fully enforced. Despite how I’ve been caught crossing the border, I can declare that I seek asylum/refugee status, which in Bulgaria is a constitutional right. The oral statement is perfectly sufficient (it shouldn’t necessarily be in writing) in order the authorities (police officers, prosecutor, judge) to renounce any further conclusions or actions of their own. It’s recommendable the statement to be made as soon as possible. I have to be released and receive any cooperation needed.
- After I’ve been detained the police authorities are obliged not only to register me but to disclose my rights and obligations in a language I can understand. On the other hand I am obliged to fulfill official’s orders and not interfere with them in the performance of their duties.
- After claiming my well-founded fear of prosecution, I’ll probably be send to the Centre of registration and reception, where I have the right to medical examination.
My next step of vital importance should be to file a request to State Agency for Refugees (I can also contact the following NGOs – UNHCR, Legal Clinic for Refugees and Immigrants). Its Chairman has the authority to grant refugee status if, after individual examination, Agency’s units estimate that I answer to Convention’s criteria. The proceedings are accelerated (within 3 days) and are mandatory for each candidate except for unaccompanied minors. If I receive a refusal, I can appeal the decision in the Sofia City Court or the respective district court. If the appeal is rejected, I shall be expulsed.
In certain cases I might be involved in general proceedings, which include interviews with State Agency’s officials and last 3 months (e.g. I’ve entered legally, found a place to stay and already live in the country for some time). I can appeal the decision in the Supreme Administrative Court, which is the highest instance.
During any kind of proceedings I can refuse to be photographed because of my well-founded fear.
If the assessment is positive, I will be considered as a fully recognized refugee. I have the same rights and obligations as a Bulgarian national with the exception of:
- the right to participate in general and municipal elections, in national and regional referenda, as well as to participate in the establishment of political parties and be a member of such parties
- to hold positions for which Bulgarian nationality is required by law;
- to be a member of the armed forces;
- other restrictions explicitly laid down by law.
Also, as a recognised refugee I have the right to request family reunification on the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria, which can be permitted only by the Chairman of the Agency .
To me belongs the right to an identity card (also I can apply for Bulgarian citizenship) and to a foreign travel certificate, as well as the opportunity to receive financial assistance for housing accommodation for up to 6 months from the entry into force of the decision granting the status.
I have the constitutional right to perform labor and I can find help in the Centre for integration of the Refugees and the labor offices.
I shouldn’t forget the period of 14 days in which I have to sign myself in the registers of the municipality, in which area I am about to live in.
As for the other existing options – granting an asylum, humanitarian status and temporary protection – you can read about soon in “I need asylum, humanitarian status or temporary protection. What should I do?”
(*) This article aims to outline some of your main rights while it has no claims on being a legal advisor. If you have any difficulties with the execution of these main rights or your case is more complicated, we advise you to consult a legal expert (*)
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§ 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees
§ Law on Asylum and Refugees
§ Criminal Code
§ Law on Bulgarian Identity documents
§ Law for the Foreigners in the Republic of Bulgaria