Detention in Bulgaria

The content has been developed with the Foundation for Access to Rights, a legal aid organization in Sofia. All recommendations are from FAR.

If you are in Bulgaria as a foreign national, there are two kinds of detention you should know about —— you could end up in either, even if you haven't committed a crime.

1. Immigration detention

You could be placed in immigration detention if the authorities decide to remove you from Bulgaria, for example if you entered Bulgaria illegally or no longer have permission to stay in Bulgaria.

There are 2 immigration detention centers in Bulgaria:

  • Busmantsi (near Sofia)
  • Lyubimets (in Southern Bulgaria)

After you receive the detention order, a police officer will escort you to the detention center. Authorities will take your fingerprints and go through your belongings.

You will get 3 documents:

  • A copy of your detention order
  • A copy of the admission document
  • A list of the personal belongings, money and valuables that you hand over to detention officers for safekeeping

It's important to keep all 3.

How long you can stay in immigration detention

The longest you can stay in immigration detention is 18 months total. After your first 6 months, authorities can issue an order that requires you to stay another 12 months. You have 14 days to appeal that order in court.

If you are in "short-term detention", the longest you can stay in 30 days. Short-term detention is for people who have entered Bulgaria illegally. Authorities use it to hold you while they establish your identity and try to determine the next steps in your case.

What you can do about it

First thing's first: Find a lawyer.

Legal Services

Then, you can change your administrative status from "irregular migrant" to "asylum-seeker." If you apply for asylum from a detention center, you should be automatically released.

In practice, this can happen slowly. To speed things up, you and your lawyer can submit an Article 250 claim to the court.

You can also appeal your detention order within 14 days of being detained. You will attend a court hearing and get a decision about a month later. You can appeal that decision to the Supreme Administrative Court within 14 days. The higher court's opinion is final.

Your rights in immigration detention

You have a right:

  • To get medical help, including psychological assistance
  • To go outside every day
  • To meet with a lawyer and representatives of the embassy of your country of origin
  • To send and receive mail, within certain requirements
  • To receive visits from relatives and friends

Your visitors should make an advance appointment at the following contact numbers:
Busmantsi centre (In Bulgarian: Специален дом за временно настаняване на чужденци - София): +35929825707
Lyubimets centre (In Bulgarian: Специален дом за временно настаняване на чужденци - Любимец): +35937517140

Can children be placed in immigration detention?

If you are under 18 and in Bulgaria without your parents, under Bulgarian law you cannot be placed in immigration detention. Contact a lawyer immediately if you are detained.

However, children can join a parent in detention, but for no more than 3 months.

2. Asylum detention

If you are an asylum-seeker, the authorities can place you in a closed reception center that the State Agency for Refugees (SAR) manages. The only existing asylum detention center is within Busmantsi detention center.

The reason for your detention can be that the authorities want:

  • To determine or verify your identity or nationality
  • To protect national security or public order
  • To determine which European Union member state is responsible for examining your application

Since September 2017, asylum-seekers in Bulgaria are restricted to 4 zones. If you leave the designated area twice without permission, you run a risk of being moved to asylum detention for the rest of your procedure.

How long you can stay in asylum detention

You can be detained for your entire asylum procedure. The maximum duration of an asylum procedure is 21 months, under Bulgarian law.

What you can do about it

First thing's first: Find a lawyer.

Legal Services

Then, you and your lawyer can appeal your detention order within 14 days from the day you receive it. The court's decision on your appeal is final.

You can also submit an application asking SAR to review your detention. SAR should issue a decision within 7 days. You have 14 days to appeal SAR's decision. The court's decision on your appeal is final.

Your rights in asylum detention

In asylum detention, you have all your asylum-seekers rights, but your freedom is restricted.

Other than that, you have the right:

Your visitors should make an advance appointment at the following contact number:
Busmantsi centre: +35929825707

Can children be placed in asylum detention?

Asylum-seekers under 18 in Bulgaria may be detained in asylum detention as a measure of last resort. According to the law, this detention should be for the shortest time possible, but the law doesn't set a maximum amount of time.

During your stay in a detention center, you have the right to education and should have an opportunity to take part in recreational and other activities appropriate for your age. However, in practice, you don't always get that opportunity.