Bulgarian Refugee Center Head:We Save Asylum Seekers from Homelessness
An interview with Colonel Pepi Dzhurenov, the person is in charge of the refugee center in Sofia's district of Voenna Rampa, a unit of Bulgaria's State Agency for Refugees.
- Tell us more about the refugee center in Voenna Rampa, what nationalities have been accommodated here?
This is a center for temporary accommodation of people seeking international asylum protection. The center mostly accommodates Syrians and Syrian-born Kurds. Currently, the refugee center is experiencing great difficulties; these are probably the most difficult days of our existence, due to a major overhaul. The building was meant to be a school, not a dormitory, which creates substantial difficulties for the everyday life of the people.
- What are your most urgent needs?
The most pressing needs is for sanitary facilities. We have freed up half of the building, the three-storey building, and all of the people have been crammed into the four-storey building, as a result of which 200 people are using one shower.
- How many people have been accommodated here?
The refugee center provided shelter for 850 people at its peak moment, now they are 620.
- How many showers do you have?
- On a total of 4 floors, there are 12 showers. Toilets have been converted into bathrooms, with showers installed. We delivered 16 chemical toilets thanks to the assistance of the State Agency for Refugees, as well as a wagon-bathroom with six showers, which made life much easier for the people living here.
- How about food, are refugees preparing their meals or do you have them delivered?
The food supply is organized by the State Agency for Refugees. The meals are prepared at the refugee center in Sofia's district of Vrazhdebna, with the assistance of the Defense Ministry. Warm meals are delivered twice a day. A project for setting up a kitchen has been drafted and it is to be launched anytime soon. It will be a common kitchen facility and there will be staff to cook the meals here.
- Can you outline the status-granting procedures?
The asylum granting procedure is carried out at the unit of the State Agency for Refugees in Sofia's Ovcha Kupel district, this is where the interviewees and the registration officers are. Before being brought here, refugees go through that unit first. For the past two months, interviewees have been coming here to grant humanitarian or refugee status. According to legal provisions, refugees are to leave the center 14 days after they have been granted humanitarian or refugee status. However, they have nowhere to go to. They have no money, no work; they have no knowledge of Bulgarian. This is why it has been an unofficial practice to not make them leave. If we make them leave, they will become homeless people, taking into account that there are families with four, five and even six children among them. Until several days ago, there were 317 children here. 90% of the people living here have already been granted a protection status and are getting Bulgarian documents.
- This means that when they get Bulgarian documents, they end up homeless on the street?
Yes, they end up on the street.
- How many types of statuses are granted to the refugees?
There are two types of statuses, humanitarian status and refugee status. In the case of the humanitarian status, they are issued Bulgarian documents which are valid for three years and are to be replaced after the expiry date. In the case of the refugee status, the validity period is five years. Another difference is that with the refugee status they can leave Bulgaria and go to a western European country without visas. With a humanitarian status, however, they must have a visa in order to leave the country. When they go to Germany, for instance, regardless of the status they have been granted, on the third month of their stay they have to present a tenancy agreement and an employment contract to prove that they have a place to live and they have the means to pay for that. Unless they present these documents, they are flown back to Bulgaria at the expense of the Bulgarian budget.
- Is this not discriminatory treatment against Bulgaria, are not EU countries supposed to share the responsibility for refugees?
This is not good for us, but when refugees come from Turkey, which is not an EU country, we cannot do anything. Even now, when refugees are granted refugee status, Romanians send them back to Bulgaria. This was the reason for the protests during the visit of Cecilia Malstrom, European Commissioner for Home Affairs. Technically speaking, Europe is not accepting these people and they remain in Bulgaria forever.
- Are we capable of securing the socialization and integration of these people, of finding them jobs, so that they can provide for themselves?
An integration program is being prepared, which will use both EU funding and Bulgarian money, and it will provide an opportunity for their adaptation and adjustment to the Bulgarian way of life. The problem is that they have no work experience and no professional qualifications. 70% of them are illiterate. They say that they were born on January 1, they do not even know their date of birth. They speak Kurdish, but they cannot write. When we ask them about their previous jobs, most of them say they were gardeners or unskilled workers. It is rarely the case that someone of them worked as an auto mechanic, for instance. There are only several people with university degrees and there are very few people who speak English.
- How shall we manage to adjust these people to the Bulgarian environment?
Given the current unemployment rate, I do not see how. The children have not gone to school for 2 or 3 years. Using our own resources, we organized classes in Bulgarian and English which are open to adults too.
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