In Bulgaria the President is the head of state and does not have governance functions; the President’s role consists in embodying the unity of the nation and representing the state in its international relations.
The President has specific powers by virtue of the Bulgarian Constitution – for example, scheduling elections, signing international treaties, promulgating laws passed by Parliament, awarding orders and medals for merits to the state, granting Bulgarian citizenship, and other similar powers.
Granting asylum in Bulgaria also falls within the scope of the President’s powers. In Bulgaria asylum is the protection, which by virtue of the Constitution is granted to foreigners persecuted due to their convictions or activity in advocating internationally recognised rights and freedoms.
The law stipulates that foreigners who have been granted asylum by the President acquire the same rights as foreigners who have been granted refugee status by the Agency for Refugees. This means that a foreigner who has been granted asylum by the President is entitled to the same residence for an indefinite time period in Bulgaria as a foreigner who has received refugee status. There are no differences in terms of the other rights acquired, either.
The asylum granted by the President and the refugee status granted by the Agency for Refugees differ in terms of only two, however fundamental aspects:
- The right to receive asylum does not exist as such – irrespective of whether foreigners meet the reasons laid down in the Constitution and are persecuted due to their activity in advocating internationally recognized rights and freedoms. They might not receive asylum in Bulgaria, as granting asylum is entirely at the discretion and judgment of the President.
Unlike granting asylum, those foreigners who have lodged an application for international protection in Bulgaria have the right to receive refugee status, and the state, via the State Agency for Refugees, is obliged to grant them such a status if the applicants meet the conditions laid down in the Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees of 1951, which have been introduced in the Bulgarian law. Where an individual meets the conditions for refugee status, he/she has the right to receive it; the state does not have the right to refuse the status, as, if the state refuses granting the status, the court will overturn this refusal.
- The right to receive a response from the President does not exist as such – the reason is that the President is the head of state, and not part of the state administration. The Constitution stipulates that the President is not obliged to respond to applications lodged with him/her. It is only the state administration that is obliged to examine any application lodged with it and respond to it within the time limit provided for by law.
Therefore, the individuals who have lodged an application for asylum with the President do not have any rights unlike the individuals who have lodged an application for international protection with the Agency for Refugees. The lodging of an application for asylum with the President does not result in an administrative procedure, which is why the applicant does not receive the documents issued to foreigners who are in a procedure. Furthermore, the law does not provide for a deadline by which the President makes a decision on the application, which is why a response to an application for asylum may never be received. If the President refuses granting asylum, this refusal cannot be appealed before the court in order to request overturning of the refusal.
The above explains why asylum does not serve the purpose of protection against violations of foreigners’ rights or freedoms. Asylum is regulated in the legislation in order to be granted to outstanding personalities and advocates of human rights. It is advisable that the procedure before the Agency for Refugees is used to ensure that ordinary individuals are protected against persecution.