Any foreigner can lodge an application for international protection in Bulgarian in conformity with the law. This right is not conditional on whether the foreigner entered the country legally or illegally or on whether the foreigner has a valid passport or another identity document on himself/herself. However, the possession of an identity document – even though its term of validity may have expired – can help speed up the procedure and the decision on granting a status and protection.
The application for protection in Bulgaria may be filed by any adult who has turned 18 years of age – male or female, married or unmarried. It is possible for the head of the family to file an application for all the family members – wife and children, even if the children are adults; however, if they wish so, the adult wife or child may file their own application and have a separate procedure. A separate application may also be filed by underage children who have turned 14, regardless of whether they are accompanied by one or both parents.
An application may also be filed by a child, even though it has not turned 14, where the child is alone and is not accompanied by its parents or other family members or relatives. Such children are called “unaccompanied children”, and the law lays down special rules and procedures with respect to them. For more information on this issue, see “Unaccompanied children”.
While the application for protection can be lodged before any state authority in Bulgaria, it is only the State Agency for Refugees that can officially register a foreigner as an applicant for international protection, issue a temporary document for the applicant, accommodate him/her at a refugee centre, and provide him/her with food, medical care, and education in the course of the procedure in which the application is examined and a decision is taken on whether to grant protection to the applicant. Therefore, if an application for protection has been filed before a state authority other than the State Agency for Refugees, this state authority is obliged to immediately send the application to the Agency for Refugees– by fax, e-mail, official mail, courier or by other means – with all the accompanying documents that the applicant for international protection possesses and has on himself/herself.
In addition to the State Agency for Refugees, applications for protection are most often lodged at the border before the officers of Border Police or before the officers of the immigration police, Migration Directorate, at the centres for the detention and deportation of illegal immigrants. This is due to the fact that most foreigners seeking protection do not enter Bulgaria via the official entry points, they enter without a visa or with irregular documents; therefore, they are detained by the border or immigration police.
If, however, the foreigner has not been detained by the police or if he/she has crossed the border legally and is legally staying in the country, he/she can directly file an application at one of refugee centres (camps) with the State Agency for Refugees. The application may be made in writing or may be orally stated before the staff of the Agency. The Agency for Refugees has the obligation to ensure an interpreter and the official registration of the foreigner as an applicant for international protection in Bulgaria.