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The image has been used under licence from Shutterstock.com


The cases of Muhammad Hussain, Bilal Ali and Yassar[1]


They are three unaccompanied children. All Pakistani citizens. Muhammad Hussain is 12 years old and Yassar is 13 and Bilal is 16.. Muhammad Hussain’s mother had been injured in a conflict between the Shi’ites and the Sunnis there. Bilal Ali’s mother had passed away, he did not know his father and his sister had been taking care of him. Yassar has two sisters and no brothers. His mother is in poor health after two consecutive heart attacks. His parents had sent him away to find a job in Europe in order to make money for his sisters’ dowries.


The three children were detained on the 3rd of September 2015 They had no documents because of their ages. Muhammad Hussain and Bilal Ali were in detention for 3 months and 5 days. Yassar for 4 months and 8 days.


Prior to being taken to Busmantsi Detention Centre[2], they had been held for 24 hours at the Fifth Police Department in Sofia in order to try to establish their identity. Yassar has a copy of the detention order (for 24 hours and then up to 6 months) which he signed without an interpreter being present. According to it, his age is not 13 but 18 years old

How come they put down your birthday as the 1st of January 1997, I ask.

There was no interpreter. This is how the Afghani guy registered us.

Muhammad Hussain was born in 2003 but in the detention order he was also born on the 1st of January 1997, i.e. according to police records he is not 12 but 18-years old. In addition, according to the order, he is the 16 – year old minor Bilal Ali’s guardian:

‘There was no interpreter present when they detained us. We were Pakistanis and Afghanis. There was an Afghani man who wrote down all our ages. He was moved to an open camp 2 months ago. He didn’t ask us anything because we do not understand each other’s languages. We don’t speak Pashtu. He only asked me my name and then also wrote down an age. When I tried telling them I was 12, the officer said I didn’t seem 12 to him. There are other 12 and 13-year old children at the Busmantsi Detention Centre who have been registered as adults, i.e. as 18-year old’

The immigration detention orders were issued by the Head of the Metropolitan Migration Directorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Each order contains a reference to a memo drawn up by the Head of the Control of the Stay of Foreign Nationals Unit of the Migration Directorate.

The children have not appealed the detention orders — which were served without an interpreter present on a document containing the blanket statement: ‘I was advised of the content of the order in a language that I understand’.

‘We never met with a lawyer. A guy from the open camp came about a fortnight ago and said that he would try to arrange a transfer for us. I think he was from the UN — he did say that he had come from the open camp’.


At the detention centre they were put in a room with adult Afghanis — approximately 45 people altogether according to Muhammad Hussain’s recollection. .

‘All of the other people in the room are Afghanis. We don’t speak Pashtu and don’t get along with them very well. I filed a request to be transferred to the room with the other Pakistanis: I did that 2 days ago and 15 days ago. Mr. Mehmud helped us write it in English, but nothing has been done’.


On the 17th of November 2015 (for Muhammad and Bilal) and the 1st of December 2015 (for Yassar), the the HEAR Project children’s attorney files a request   with the Migration Directorate, for the children’s release on account of the prohibition of detention of unaccompanied minors and for experts to be appointed for determination of the children’s age. Attached to the request is a statement concerning their family and financial situation, signed by both each of the children and an Urdu interpreter. The Migration Directorate does not respond to the request. During a meeting with their attorney on the 26th of November 2015, Muhammad Hussein and Bilal Ali recount the following:

‘Two or three days ago, a guy came and asked us how old we were and then said ‘finish’. We don’t know who he was or where he came from’.

On 22 December 2015, Yassar’s HEAR Project attorney files a Court motion against the silent refusal of the Head of the Migration Directorate to release the child. Case-file documentary evidence reveals that the Migration Directorate had prepared but had  not sent a reply to the attorney  (the letter had been  dated the 15th of December 2015 and had a reference number), according to which the annexed statement from the foreign national was not executed in the presence of an official from the Busmantsi Detention Centre; it did not bear an incoming reference number of the Migration Directorate; and it was not notarised — a requirement to verify the identity of the document’s signatory’.

On 12 January 2016, by Ruling in Case No 149/2016, Panel 18 of the Sofia Administrative Court held that the powers delegated by the minor to the attorney were invalid and moved to appoint a special guardian, by requesting the Sofia Bar Association to appointment a National Legal Aid registered such. During a hearing on the 27th of January 2016, the Court appoints Yassar a legal council who has never met nor spoken with the child before not knew where Yassar was located at the time of the hearing. The Court also dismisses the request set out in the petition to carry out a medical inspection for determining the age of the child by putting forth the following arguments: ‘the person has failed to produce an identity document, has entered Bulgaria illegally; and declared that he was of age at the time of his detention’.


The image has been used under licence from CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. Author: UN Mission in Mali


During one of the visits I notice Bilal Ali has a wound on his leg. I ask him what had happened. He explains that a policeman had kicked him in the leg him because Bilal Ali (16 years-old) had insisted that Muhammad Hussain (12 years old) be taken to a doctor because for a third day in a row he been with a sore throat, fever and a strong headache. The has been placed on the fourth floor of the unit and had been told that ‘everything was closed and there was no one we could give the request to’. He explains that he wanted to at least be allowed to go down to the third floor and ask Mr. Mehmud from Pakistan to help him write the request. The policeman tells him to go back to his room and kicks him in the shin. ‘I have no idea what that policemen have in their boots, but their kicks hurt like hell’.

The doctor briefly examined Muhammad Hussain in the corridor and, upon my insistence during one of my visits. The doctor said that he could only administer antibiotics if Muhammad’s condition worsened. He agreed with the guard being present at that moment for me to give the child homeopathic pastilles for his sore throat which I had happened to be carrying in the purse.


With the help of their HEAR project attorney, , on the 17th of November 2015, Muhammad Hussain and Bilal Ali file a direct appeal for asylum seekers registration at the Registry of the State Agency for Refugees (SAR). On the 25th of November 2015, Yassar files a lawsuit against the failure of the Head of the SAR to actively engage with the case[3]. On the 8th of December 2015, during an attorney visit he states that that week he had had an interview “with a laptop” and that he expects to be released. On the 11th  of January he is registered with SAR and released from the detention centre at Busmantsi.



Firstly, the cases of the three young Pakistanis are a telling example of the practise of exaggerating the documented age of unaccompanied minors in order to justify their detention, even for a time that exceed the statutory three-month period stipulated by law. According to Bulgarian legislation, the detention of unaccompanied minors is prohibited. The law allows for detention of accompanied minors for no more than three months only as a last resort.

Even after the official complaint filed against the Head of the Migration Directorate concerning the detention of unaccompanied minors, no legal measures are undertaken to determine that these are indeed children and to protect them according to Child Protection law Moreover, the responsory letter by the Migration Directorate shows no willingness to act in good faith but solidifies the circumvention of proper procedures.

Secondly, and even more disconcerting is the Sofia Administrative Court’s motion for the child’s attorney to be removed from the case; the same one who had assisted in him gaining access to justice. For that motion, the Court bases their decision on Article 29(4) of the Civil Procedure Code, which stipulates the following: ‘The court shall appoint a special counsel where there is conflict of interests between the client and his/her attorney’. In this instance, it remains unclear what the conflict between the parties is. This raises the question of whether the judgment passed in the case is in the best interest of the child. The attorney authorised by the child had built a rapport of trust with their client during multiple weekly visits to the Detention Centre accompanied by an Urdu interpreter On the other hand, however, the Court appointed counsel has never made an effort to establish direct contact with the child.  By severing that connection with the child (by virtue of removing the lawyer who was in direct contact with him ) the Court effectively fails to hear the child’s point of view out. . It further dismisses the request for the appointment of an expert witness to establish the child’s age, relying solely on the data given in the detention order, failing to review the complaint in which the child contests its truthfulness. .


Snippets from our conversations with the children:

The most serious problems discussed by the children during out meetings with them:


 ‘We have not spoken to our families and are feeling extremely worried. On the 3rd of this month, it’ll be full three months since they brought us here’.


 ‘We are the only Pakistanis located on the 4th floor — all others are from Afghanistan. All other Pakistanis are on the third floor’.


‘We don’t want to go back to Pakistan, and not having clarity is excruciating’.


[1] The names have been chosen by the interviewees.

[2] Special Centre for the temporary Accommodation of Foreign Nationals (the legal name of the Bulgarian Immigrant Detention Centre in Busmantsi).

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