The Syrians of Bulgaria: A Numbers Game
(continued from Divided, Depleted and Dispirited - The Syrians of Bulgaria)
The number of Syrians in Bulgaria is unknown, even to state institutions, which provided BIRN with often contradictory figures following a series of Freedom of Information requests.
The Civil Register, which keeps records of foreign residents with permanent or five-year permits, said just 334 Syrian nationals were based in the country in mid-March 2016.
The Interior Ministry, however, said that in 2015 there were 1,937 Syrians with five-year or permanent residence permits, and a further 227 with three-month permits.
This too may understate the real number of Syrians, as the ministry also revealed that a further 4,014 Syrians were handed one-year residence permits between 1999 and 2015, and that it had not kept records of renewals.
None of these figures includes Syrians who became Bulgarian citizens through naturalization, although according to Bulgaria’s Justice Ministry this accounts for just 204 people between 2001 and 2016.
The Syrian embassy estimates there were around 3,000 Syrians in Bulgaria before the crisis began, a figure which many members of the community believe is certainly not an underestimate.
But one academic study from 2008, by the Sofia-based NGO the International Center for Minority Studies and Intercultural Relations, put the figure much higher.
Based on data from the 2001 census which recorded 5,000 people as "Arabs" and a survey of the Arab community, it believes that there could be up to 17,000 Syrians in Bulgaria including legal and illegal workers. This would make Syrians the third largest ethnic minority, behind Turks and Roma.
Syrian community leaders and officials spoke to by BIRN said the only other sizable Syrian community in Eastern Europe is in Romania, where the census in 2002 recorded just 1,180 Syrians
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