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Safar is a 31-year old man. He first arrive in Bulgaria in 2013 and applies as a refugee under the international protection code.. Two years later he receives a refusal of his application. . He loses hope that he’d be able to find a new life in Bulgaria and leaves the country illegally for AustriaHaving spent seven months therehe is again returned to Bulgaria under the Dublin Regulation[1].  Shortly after landing at Sofia Airport, he gets detained and is taken to Busmantsi SCTAF[2].


– When we landed at the airport two men came and took me to the police station facility there. They interrogated me in English—a language that I don’t speak very well—about how I had left the country and who had helped me. About three hours later they drove me to Busmantsi.

Did the person who interview you in English,  ask you whether you had anywhere to go , whether you were a person seeking protection? Did he attempt to find out whether detention was the only option  or if less restrictive measures would be more appropriate?

He didn’t ask me any such questions and I didn’t feel he was trying to find an alternative solution.

When you were leaving Austria for  Bulgaria, did you know that you were going to be detained in Bulgaria?

– No.

– What was the purpose of your detention in Busmantsi?

– I am honestly telling you that I have no idea why they are keeping me there. From what I’ve heard, some of the people there have been returned to Bulgaria from other countries under [the] Dublin [Regulation]—some are sent to an open camp and others are placed in detention. I was one of the unlucky ones who got detained.


After his repatriation  from Austria, Safar was detained in Busmantsi SCTAF from the 4th ofNovember 2015 until the 25th of March 2016 – exactly four months and twenty days. This is, however, his second detention on immigratory grounds in Bulgaria — he was first detained at the SCTAF in 2013. Altogether he has spent a total of 6 months in detention. He was released after his HEAR project attorney filed an application with the Court on 7 March 2016 on account of Safar having spent more than six months in detention[3].

After he was detained for a second time and is sent to the temporary immigrant detention centre in 2015, Safar did not receive any documents relating to his restricted status.

‘No one gave me anything. They didn’t even offer an explanation.‘


Safar was also not advised of the possibilities to appeal his detention nor informed how long he would be kept there for. He is unable to file an appeal.

When I arrived in Busmantsi they told me that I had to go back to Iran. I said that I couldn’t do that because of all the problems I would face there. They response to that was to angrily tell me that in that case I would have to spend at least 2 years in Busmantsi.

– What language did they speak to you in?

– Bulgarian.

– What did you expect  of Busmantsi?

– My expectation was that they would answer my questions—that they would at least hear me out—but there was no one willing to listen.

–  How come? Please explain.

– Before I met you, we were completely abandoned, nobody paid us any  attention.                                               


At the Busmantsi Immigrant Detention Centre, Safar files a second application for international protection. They fail in registering it, however, and because of that on the 22nd of December 2015, with the assistance of his lawyer under the HEAR Project, Safar files a motion against the Chairperson of the State Refugee Agency (SRA) for failure on their part to actively engage with his case On the 19th of February 2016, Safar is registered with the SRA and on the 22nd of February he is issued an asylum seeker registration card. Despite this, he  is still not allowed to leave Busmantsi. By a judgment delivered on the 2nd of March 2016 the Court[4] sentences the Chairperson of SAR to comply with his obligation under Article 29(4) of the Asylum and Refugees Act and to make arrangements for Mr. Safar’s accommodation at one of the SAR refugee centres for the whole duration of asylum proceedings.


During his detention at the Busmantsi Immigrant Detention Centre, Safar witnesses police brutality against some of the foreign nationals held there. He recalls that 36 people from different nationalities (Iranians, Iraqis, Algerians, Palestinians and Syrians) are forced to share the same sleeping grounds and explains that this led to cultural clashes on a daily basis.

‘If a fight broke out, the police would come in and beat everyone up badly. We were always careful to  ensure that there were no fights.‘

On one occasion, having made his way to the canteen, an Afghani living in Safar’s room commented loudly on having to show his badge. Several police officers approached him. All he could do was raise his hands in self-defence. They gave him such a terrible beating he couldn’t stand on his feet for four days.

– They beat him up then and there. Later, 4 or 5 of us picked him up and took him to the doctor. He was in and out of consciousness for more than an hour. He was about 60-years old. We then carried him back to the room and looked after him for several days until he felt a little better.

 – Did you complain to the warden about the beating?

– We couldn’t complain. There was no one to complain to.  

– Didn’t he complain to anyone?

– Who could he have complained to?! The police do not let anyone go to Unit 1. The police officers who beat him up had the key.


The second time Safar witnesses police brutality is on a day when the food at the canteen was not good and another Afghani decided to hide some bread under his shirt so he could eat it later in the room. One of the police officers saw him and told him to stop. The Afghani started running away.

‘Three policemen beat him up as if they had just caught a killer. In the corridor, in front of everyone else, using batons, fists, and kicks.’

Again, no one complained.

No one cares about you here. No one will listen.’ 



The greatest obstacle to Safar exercising his right to legal counsel is that he is not being heard in connection to the circumstances pertaining to his detention, and that he was not provided with any documents or papers following his return from Austria under the Dublin Regulation. He did not know whether or not or/when a detention order had been issued for him or whether he was being kept in detention under the initial order issued in 2013.

Safar is an asylum seeker but his access to the asylum and protection system proves extremely difficult the second time around. His second application for subsidiary protection had been registered only after he filed a lawsuit[5] against the SAR on account of their idleness regarding  his case and continued detention at the Busmantsi detention centre after he had been registered as an asylum seeker.

On the other hand, if the administrative body had considered Safar’s statement that he could not return to Iran on account of the existing risk of persecution, his release from detention should have been ordered based on there being no reasonable possibility for his return to his country of origin. The Iranian Embassy in Sofia has a well-known practice of refusing to issue travel documents to Iranians who are unwilling to travel back to their home country.

During his  detention in Busmantsi, Safar witnesses police brutality and a lack of an administrative mechanism for filing complaints and seeking protection.


Snippets from our conversations with Safar:

– In Bulgarian, the Busmantsi Centre is named “A Home for the Temporary Accommodation of Foreign Nationals”. How would you call it?

Busmantsi is a truly scary place. A place where they break you down mentally. You can’t even call it a prison, because in prison there are certain norms, which are just not there in Busmantsi. There are training courses in prison — computers, TV, you can cook, there is a maximum of 5 or 6 people in a room allowed. In Busmantsi, I saw plenty of people who were completely broke down in a month.

– What do you think the management can do so that the albeit detained people, do not experience a mental break down?

In 2013 there were was a weight lifting facility, table tennis, and a library. It was better then.

– What have you been doing these last 20 days since your release?

I’ve been taking a Bulgarian language course and looking for a job.

– How did you feel when you were released?

On the one hand, I felt great because I was free. On the other hand, I was worried, because I had no idea what might happen in the outside world. A refugee’s life is difficult. Even when you’re free, it’s hardly a bed of roses. There are other troubles that appear. You have expenses and no money coming in to pay for them. You’re not allowed to work…  

[1] Regulation (EU) No 604/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 June 2013 establishing the criteria and mechanisms for determining the Member State responsible for processing an application for international protection lodged in one of the Member States by a third-country national or a stateless person.

[2] Special Centre for the Temporary Accommodation of Foreign Nationals.

[3] The lawsuit was filed pursuant to Article 46a(4) of the Foreign Nationals in Bulgaria Act according to which after the six-month period of detention at a special detention centre has elapsed, the Court, on an ex officio basis or acting on a motion from the interested foreign national, must rule on the extension, substitution or termination of detention on immigration grounds.

[4] Sofia Administrative Court, Case No 191/2016. The Head of the SAR has appealed the judgment before the Supreme Administrative Court, which scheduled a hearing on the appeal on 5 June 2017. Case No 4897/2016.

[5] Pursuant to Article 257 of the Administrative Procedure Code.