Mariyana Stoyanova: This year’s flow of refugees to Bulgaria is higher; centers work at full capacity11 August 2013 | 10:41 | FOCUS News Agency
FOCUS: Ms Stoyanova, what is the increase in the number of refugees in Bulgaria over the past months?
Mariyana Stoyanova: There are no vacancies in the centers practically. Around 1,800 refugees who submitted applications were registered by the end of July. In 2012 they were a total of 1,400 and now just in six months they are around 1,800. I think by the end of the year the figure will be more than 3,000 people, which would be a precedent, because only in 2001 or 2002 the number was as high.
Generally, Bulgaria is not an attractive destination. It is hard for everyone in the country and it is hard to secure a minimum living standard for shelter. The Bulgarian Red Cross helps the Refugees Agency to keep its engagements, because it has minimum resources and capacity at the homes.
FOCUS: How do you explain the higher inflow of refugees?
Mariyana Stoyanova: The reason for the increasing flow of refugees is the crisis in Syria. Most of the refugees are Syrians and since they are destitute in Turkey as well, they do not want to live in camps for more than a few months. We think a quarter of all these people will stay. They look for options and head to Germany, Sweden, Denmark. Several families have departed for Germany.
Generally speaking, not many people stay in Bulgaria.
FOCUS: Do you receive signals from refugees, who get shelter at the parks and gardens in the capital city Sofia?
Mariyana Stoyanova: No. There are two signals this summer. One of the signals was for the mosque. We went there to check the case in person, together with our colleagues with the UN Refugee Agency. It turned out that the signal is for people from Algeria under a procedure to leave the social home, i.e. they have filed an application, signed a declaration that they may earn their living on their own. We carried out the check during the day; we have not gone there in the night. However, we have been aware for years that there are such people in front of the Refugee Agency itself, who inhabit abandoned buildings. The number of the people is different; some of them have the status of refugees. We have heard of such people, some of whom come directly to us after they have hit the bottom. We do our best to help them as much as we can on the short run. Speaking on the long run, we cannot help anybody. Anyway, we have to check such information because we cannot generalise that someone is a refugee, one can simply be an emigrant until the documents are checked.
Some time ago we had heard that there are people sleeping behind the mosque, mostly Algerians. There are such people everywhere in Sofia, but so far we have heard only for the mosque – sleeping there, taking a bath at the public fountains, and it was mostly about Algerians, who have left the refugee’s home in Busmantsi. They give fake addresses to be released from the home but no one can tell whether they have really lived there. Usually, they live on the given address until they have money and when all the money is spent they start living on the streets.
FOCUS: What is the procedure in such cases?
Mariyana Stoyanova: The refugee service is working on projects and goes to visit the addresses known to provide shelter to refugees. We are a team of three people, who go from place to place, see what people there are and try to get into contact with them.
For instance, in the case with the Algerians sleeping behind the mosque – we tried to explain them that it will be better for them to return to Algeria, because they are not refugees but economic emigrants. They started to use language at us, to swear, they did not want to talk with us but only shouted at us saying they want food and money.
We have never come upon whole families – mostly men. We can provide certain food package or render one-time aid, according to the situation.
FOCUS: What does the Refugee and Migrant Service at the Bulgarian Red Cross do when the refugees do not want to talk with the officials?
Mariyana Stoyanova: We do nothing. Our agencies work on voluntary principle; we tell them what the Bulgarian Red Cross may do, if they do not want to talk to us. In such cases, we can do nothing.
FOCUS: Do you address the Ministry of Interior Affairs for cooperation in such cases?
Mariyana Stoyanova: No, we don’t. We do it only in case of certain precedent for fight, but so far we have not witnessed such thing. When these people are simply sitting on a bench at the park, or under a bush, we do not have any grounds to address the ministry.
We do not have the right to ask for people’s documents. They may have ID documents but still refuse to show them. It is a delicate situation. We talk with them only when they come to us, yet they have come voluntarily. In such case the refugees show their documents and we discuss several variants.
We sometimes address certain communities to ask for help – to provide money for temporary lodgings or secure shelter in a family with this community.
We have helped many people through the different communities.
When people are aggressive, especially people from Algeria, who do not want to communicate with us, probably they prefer to address other organisations. We have almost no cases of people from Algeria to come to us for cooperation.
FOCUS: What is the procedure followed by the service in the acceptance of refugees? Where do you shelter these people – is it in Pastrogor?
Mariyana Stoyanova: The centre in Pastrogor is a transit centre with the State Refugees Agency, we cannot shelter people there, and neither can we take people out of there. The two homes in Lyubimets are with the Ministry of Interior Affairs and there are rules for the acceptance of people there. There are other homes in Banya.
The Bulgarian Red Cross visits these homes but we do not have the right to accommodate people there.
FOCUS: Recently there was a problem with refugees at the integration centre in Pastrogor? What is the situation there now?
Mariyana Stoyanova: The teams of the Bulgarian Red Cross-Haskovo monitor the centre twice a month. We file all our information to the UN Refugee Agency, because the monitoring is a joint project with the UN Refugee Agency. It is a big project. It monitors the conditions for acceptance of the applications for protection.
I should say that the homes are filled at their full capacity this year. They are working at full blast since the flow to Bulgaria increased this year.
Around 200 refugees from Africa live in the centre in the southern village of Pastrogor. They are in one room. You can imagine 200 people in the former canteen. Our colleagues with the Agency for Refugees are doing their best to accommodate all people who arrive.
FOCUS: Is Bulgaria ready to handle such a flow of refugees?
Mariyana Stoyanova: I cannot tell since I have not seen the reports but it is a fact that the homes are full. The state agency is constantly opening new floors and providing more room. I learned that the centre in Elhovo has a big group of 30 people and it does not know where to put them. The state makes efforts to take care of them, to feed them. It does not leave the refugees to survive on their own but it is not an easy task with regard to the economic crisis. Some of the people have no money.
FOCUS: What are the conditions for provision of accommodation of refugees at the refugee homes?
Mariyana Stoyanova: Each family is accommodated in a separate room, no matter how many kids there are. The men, on the other hand, are sheltered per six persons in one room on two-level beds. Every room has a bathroom. This is the situation in Sofia.
In Pastrogor, on the other hand, there is emergency situation. The capacity there is 300 people, while at the moment there are around 400. The conditions in Pastrogor are very good.
FOCUS: Is there are perspective for personal development of the refugees, who remain in Bulgaria?
Mariyana Stoyanova: Yes, there is. There is a national development programme. They take a six-month course in Bulgarian language. During that time they are supported by the state. The refugee service helps them to register at the employment burea.
The Syrian and Arabian communities in Bulgaria are very strong and these refugees manage to find a job in the field of trade and others.
Those, who do well, succeed because they are highly motivated. Their kids go to school. Big part of the refugees has relatives abroad, in the Western countries, and they prefer to go there. The family bonds are very strong in these communities. 80% of them stay in Bulgaria for a couple of years and then leave.
FOCUS: What is the attitude and approach of the Bulgarians towards the refugees?
Mariyana Stoyanova: So far no one has come to the Refugee and Migrant Service at the Bulgarian Red Cross to complain about manifestations of xenophobia. It is possible to hear certain remarks, such as “what are these black people doing here”, but there are no racist acts or something of this kind, we have not registered such cases.
As a whole, our society is very tolerant and we accept them, especially the people from Syria, Iraq and etc.
I cannot say we are as tolerant about the refugees from Africa, it is more common to hear insults at these people. They complain; usually we advise them not to go out alone and avoid certain places in Sofia. It is not very easy for the Africans and generally they prefer to leave the country, as they realise they are not very welcome.
It is because people are afraid of them. The average Bulgarian citizen is not very well-disposed towards the African society.
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