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Updated on 10.01.2023

If you are in Bulgaria as a foreign national, there are two kinds of detention you should know about — you could end up in either, even if you haven't committed a crime.

Immigration detention

You could be placed in immigration detention if the authorities decide to remove you from Bulgaria, for example, if you entered Bulgaria illegally or no longer have permission to stay in Bulgaria.

There are 2 immigration detention centers in Bulgaria:

After you receive the detention order, a police officer will escort you to the detention centre. Authorities will take your fingerprints and go through your belongings.

You will get 4 documents:

  • A copy of your detention order

  • A copy of the admission document

  • A list of the personal belongings, money and valuables that you hand over to detention officers for safekeeping

  • A copy if your return order in which the country where they will return you must be indicated

It's important to keep all 4.

How long you can stay in immigration detention

The longest you can stay in immigration detention is 18 months total. After your first 6 months, authorities can issue two more orders that requires you to stay up to 12 more months. You can appeal every new order before the administrative court within 14 days.

If you are in "short-term detention", the longest you can stay is 30 days. Short-term detention is for people who have entered Bulgaria illegally. Authorities use it to hold you while they establish your identity and try to determine the next steps in your case.

This up to 30-day detention will also be extended with the time period in which you were placed in isolation, hospital treatment or quarantine. This means that your short-term detention may last more than 30 days in these cases.

What can you do if you are detained?

First thing's first: Find a lawyer.

Legal Services

You can apply for international protection

Then, you can change your administrative status from "irregular migrant" to "asylum-seeker." If you apply for asylum from a detention center, you should be automatically released.

In practice, this can happen slowly. To speed things up, you and your lawyer can submit an Article 250 of the Administrative Procedure Code claim to the court.

Appealing your detention order

You can also appeal your detention order within 14 days of being detained before the administrative court. You have the right to attend the court hearing but your presence is not mandatory.

You will get a decision after around 7 days as of the day the appeal was registered in the court.  If the decision of the administrative court is negative, you can appeal it before the Supreme Administrative Court within 14 days. The higher court's opinion is final.

Filing an appeal against the detention order does not suspend its execution. This means that while the court proceedings are ongoing, you will not be released.

Your rights in immigration detention

You have the right:

  • To get medical help, including psychological assistance

  • To go outside every day. There is a schedule

  • To meet with a lawyer and representatives of the embassy of your country of origin

  • To send and receive mail, within certain requirements

  • To use a phone that does not have a camera

  • To receive visits from family and friends

Your visitors can visit you every Tuesday and Thursday from 14:00 to 16:00. Meetings take place after a prior request made by you or your visitor.

Can children be placed in immigration detention?

If you are under 18 and in Bulgaria without your parents, under Bulgarian law you cannot be placed in immigration detention. Contact a lawyer immediately if you are detained.

However, children can join a parent in detention, but for no more than 3 months.

Asylum detention

If you are an asylum-seeker, the authorities can place you in a closed reception center that the State Agency for Refugees (SAR) manages. The only existing asylum detention center is within Busmantsi detention center.

The reason for your detention can be that the authorities want:

  • To determine or verify your identity or nationality

  • To establish the facts and circumstances upon which you applied for international protection when this cannot be achieved in any other way and there is a risk of absconding;

  • To protect national security or public order

  • To determine which European Union member state is responsible for examining your application, when there is a serious risk of absconding.

Since September 2017, asylum-seekers in Bulgaria are restricted to 4 zones. If you leave the designated area twice without permission, you run a risk of being moved to asylum detention for the rest of your procedure.

How long you can stay in asylum detention

You can be detained for your entire asylum procedure. The maximum duration of an asylum procedure is 21 months, under Bulgarian law.

What you can do about it

First thing's first: Find a lawyer.

Legal Services

Then, you and your lawyer can appeal your detention order within 14 days from the day you receive it. The court's decision on your appeal is final.

You can also submit an application asking the State Agency for Refugees to review your detention. SAR should issue a decision within 7 days. You have 14 days to appeal SAR's decision. The court's decision on your appeal is final.

Your rights in asylum detention

In asylum detention, you have all your asylum-seekers rights, but your freedom is restricted.

Other than that, you have the right:

Can children be placed in asylum detention?

Asylum-seekers under 18 in Bulgaria may be detained in asylum detention as a measure of last resort. According to the law, this detention should be for the shortest time possible, but the law doesn't set a maximum amount of time.

During your stay in a detention center, you have the right to education and should have an opportunity to take part in recreational and other activities appropriate for your age. However, in practice, you don't always get that opportunity.