Bulgaria's Foreign Ministry Proposes Consular Assistance Bill
Bulgaria's Foreign Ministry has drafted a concept paper on a bill on consular services and consular assistance in a bid to respond better to the needs of Bulgarian citizens.
In a Wednesday interview for the BGNES news agency, Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov explained that consular services had long been left on the back burner and the bill was expected to remedy the situation.
He made clear that the legal changes had been drafted in response to the events from the past few years when the state had had to offer assistance to large groups of Bulgarian citizens, as had been the case with the evacuation of Bulgarians from Libya, Syria, and other countries affected by the Arab Spring, as well as in difficult situations such as the kidnapping of Bulgarian sailors by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden or of humanitarian workers in Darfur.
Mladenov also pointed out that the workload of consular offices had increase as a result of a 40% growth in files of Bulgarians abroad in the period 2010 – 2012.
Bulgaria's Foreign Minister said he wanted to study public opinion on the concept paper before it was tabled in Parliament and voted into law.
He informed that the concept paper provided for three major changes.
Mladenov first dwelt on the proposal to create an assistance fund for Bulgarian citizens abroad.
He suggested that the fund could become operational in the next financial year, 2014, if the law was passed in 2013.
Bulgaria's Foreign Minister emphasized the need to establish rules determining in which cases the money from the assistance fund could be used.
He specified that the bill provided a mechanism which would prevent abuse fraud schemes.
Mladenov went on to speak about the proposal for introducing a mandatory insurance for Bulgarians travelling abroad.
He hinted that the insurance would be highly recommendable for people seeking access to the assistance fund.
Bulgaria's Foreign Minister also commented on the proposal for the creation of a voluntary register of Bulgarians travelling abroad.
Mladenov explained that the legislation would set out the obligations of the state and the responsibilities of citizens in cases of arrest, serious illness, or death.
He added that the law would define the response of the state in cases of human trafficking, and emergency situations like terror attacks, wars, kidnapping, and natural disasters.
"In cases of arrest, for instance, Bulgarians will be entitled to consular protection and the bill will set out its scope, specifying what the consular office can offer. The Bulgarian state will also be able to recommend law offices but not hire lawyers," Mladenov said.
Mladenov informed that a summary of the concept paper would be published on the website of the Foreign Ministry and the bill would be open to public consultations on the website of the government from January 25 on.
He suggested that the bill could be adopted by the end of the Parliament's term in office as the protection of Bulgarian citizens abroad was not an issue that was likely to stir heated political debates among political forces.
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