Bulgaria: UN concerned at calls for expulsions following tensions at overcrowded reception centre

Near the Bulgarian border with Turkey, a former military barracks in Harmanli has been converted into a vast complex for housing refugees. Photo: UNHCR/Gordon Welters

29 November 2016 – The United Nations refugee agency today voiced concerns over calls for expulsion, on national security grounds, of asylum-seekers after a protest at Bulgaria’s largest and most overcrowded reception centre.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) urged the Bulgarian Government to improve living conditions at the Harmanli reception centre and establish a constructive dialogue with asylum-seekers staying there.

The agency said that it is prepared to work with refugees and local authorities on diffusing tensions and improving living conditions in the centre.

“While UNHCR does not in principle object to the return of people who have not been granted international protection, such returns should only take place if all procedural guarantees are fully respected, including access to a fair and efficient asylum procedure and to effective judicial review,” stated William Spindler, UNHCR spokesperson at today’s press briefing in Geneva.

The agency also reports unsatisfying conditions at other reception centres and detention facilities in Bulgaria, including Elhovo detention facility, near the border with Turkey, which is occupied at 130 per cent of its capacity.

According to Mr. Spindler, concerns over reception conditions remain unaddressed, causing tensions and has even leading to acts of vandalism. Overcrowded centres also raise concerns over sanitary conditions, and challenges on provision of medical care and medicine.


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