Stateless persons in Bulgaria still face arbitrary detention


The shocking treatment of one of our clients – Dr Sager Al-Anezi – highlights the importance of new analysis published this week as part of the #StatelessnessINDEX by Foundation for Access to Rights (FAR) and the European Network on Statelessness (ENS) on the treatment of stateless people in Bulgaria. This highlights that despite the recent introduction of a legal route to identify stateless people in 2017, there are considerable deficiencies that put individuals at risk of human rights violations – such as arbitrary detention – and which require immediate attention.

The story of Dr Sager Al-Anezi

Dr Sager Al-Anezi is a stateless bidoon. His story was this week covered in a news report by Thomson Reuters. Born in Kuwait he was left without nationality and no chance to go to University, but he was able to obtain a passport from a third country, with Kuwait’s approval, which allowed him to study abroad and led him to Bulgaria. He was initially given permission to stay in Bulgaria while he graduated in medicine and pursued training to become a heart surgeon. But when he tried to renew that passport the third country refused and he decided to apply for formal recognition as a stateless person in Bulgaria.

After three months without any information he went to check on the progress of his case, and to his surprise, was given notification of a rejection dated two weeks earlier, and, a detention order. With no country willing to accept him he was locked in detention for six weeks and only released on Friday following the media scrutiny his case received. Both FAR and ENS worked to bring the case to the attention of Thomson Reuters journalist Emma Batha, who decided to expose Sager’s story in conjunction with the publication of the StatelessnessINDEX profile on Bulgaria. Both together illustrate the serious shortcomings of a legal procedure supposedly set up to help stateless people, that is in need of urgent reform.

Sager is now out of detention, but remains without any legal status and his future remains uncertain while FAR continues to pursue a number of legal avenues to regularise his stay in Bulgaria.  While the release in his case was a welcome development, it reveals a number of systemic deficiencies in the protection of stateless persons in Bulgaria. In the first place, unlike asylum seekers, applicants for statelessness status do not qualify for any reception conditions and temporary residence rights in Bulgaria. Secondly, detention is almost automatically imposed to stateless persons regardless of the fact that their removal order does not state the destination country of return and thus there are no reasonable prospects of removal. No alternatives to detention are examined, even when there is no reasonable risk of absconding. Thirdly, Dr. Sager was also served a decision for discontinuation of his statelessness determination procedure, because according to the Bulgarian authorities he did not present an explicit document stating that he is stateless. Burden and standard of proof are serious issues in the statelessness determination procedure in Bulgaria. Fourthly, the case of Dr. Sager falls within the exclusion clauses regarding irregularly staying migrants in Bulgaria, because he could not renew his passport from the third country after it expired and thus lost his lawful residence. In Sager’s words

“I’ve been treated worse than a criminal, but I don’t know what my crime is. How can you lock people up simply for having no citizenship?”

More than 130 stateless people have been detained in Bulgaria in the last decade, but the real number is probably higher as stateless people are often wrongly ascribed a nationality (see the ENS and FAR #LockedinLimbo report for more information on the issue of stateless people in detention in Bulgaria).

This is a shorter version of a blog first posted on the European Network on Statelessness. You can read the full version here.

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