Social orientation in Bulgaria
Bulgarian law provides more clear provisions with regard to the provision of information and orientation of asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection than of the general non-national population.
According to the Law on Asylum and Refugees the State Agency for Refugees (SAR) has to provide information to asylum seekers within 15 days from filing their application on the terms and procedures and their rights and obligations as well as on the organisations providing legal and social assistance. As for the beneficiaries of international protection, SAR has to inform them about the rights and obligations they have respective to the status granted.
The National Strategy on Migration, Asylum and Integration (2015 – 2020) foresees the provision of orientation courses for beneficiaries of international protection to acquaint them with the country’s social and political system and its cultural traditions, as well as provision of legal consultations as an instrument to prevent discrimination and xenophobia. Apart from these legal provisions, the asylum seekers or beneficiaries of international protection, or other legally residing third-country nationals, are not obliged in any way to attend social orientation courses, as, since 2014, there is no state run integration programme. Social orientation has been meant to be part of the integration agreements beneficiaries sign with municipalities, but the respective regulation is largely non-functioning.
Information on asylum procedure and asylum seekers’ rights and obligations is provided by SAR and NGOs such as the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, the Bulgarian Red Cross and the Council of Refugee Women, most commonly through brochures and leaflets, as well as orally by SAR’s social workers, individually or through group information sessions. Information relating to the social and health rights of asylum seekers and the access to respective services is provided by UNHCR Bulgaria through a series of brochures. In addition to that, sporadic information sessions for adults are being organised in the refugee reception centers to respond to individual information needs, as well as focus groups on the needs of asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection regularly conducted by UNHCR.
Since 2014 NGOs provide language training courses in Bulgarian, English and in some cases in German. There is no standard or regular course on social and cultural orientation. Orientation is provided in the form of various cultural and orientation activities implemented under the auspices of SAR and in cooperation with various NGOs.