1. What does it mean to be a stateless person?
According to Article 1(1) of the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, a stateless person is “a person who is not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law”. This means that the person is not a citizen of any country. A definition of a stateless person is also found in Article 2 (2) of the Law on Foreign Nationals in the Republic of Bulgaria.
When we examine the operation of “the legislation” of a country of which a person could be a citizen, we mean not only the laws but also government rulings, ordinances, orders, court practice, as well as the common practice of state authorities.
Since 2017 stateless persons in Bulgaria have the opportunity to apply for the status of a stateless person in accordance with the special procedure envisaged in the Foreigners in the Republic of Bulgaria Act.
2. Access to the procedure
In order to start a statelessness determination procedure, you need to submit a written application form in person. To download the application form, follow this link. You need to fill in your personal data, as well as personal data of your spouse, children, parents and siblings. You need to enclose the proof you can provide.
2.1. Where to submit the application for statelessness determination
You need to submit the application in person at the Migration Directorate or at the Migration Department of the Regional Directorate of the Ministry of the Interior by your permanent address or where you reside. The address of the Migration Directorate is Sofia, 48 Kniaginya Maria Luiza Blvd.
In case you are detained and have no opportunity to go to these authorities, submit your application through the state authority to which you have access, for example through the Director of the Special Home for Temporary Accommodation of Foreigners (SHTAF). Every authority is obliged to forward your application to the competent authority – the Director of the Migration Directorate. Always insist on receiving a registration number of the application you submit.
Submission and consideration of your application is free of charge, and you do not need to pay a state fee.
2.2. What do I do if I do not have legal stay in Bulgaria?
If you are staying illegally in Bulgaria on the date of application submission, there is a risk of being detained upon submission of an application. It is advisable that you contact a lawyer in advance. We advise you to provide authorities with documents proving that you need not be detained at a Special Home for Temporary Accommodation of Foreigners SHTAF (Busmantsi or Lyubimets). This means to provide proof that it is possible to impose on you separately or in combination some of these less strict than detention measures: reporting weekly at the police station, paying bail, temporary submission of your passport/travel document. Discuss this with your lawyer and take with you the prepared documents for alternatives to detention.
Show these documents to the police inspector from the Department for Countering Illegal Migration, who will most probably be called when you are submitting your application at a desk. The police inspector may give you a subpoena to report to him again on a specified date at a specified hour.
2.3. What documents you will be invited to sign when submitting your application for statelessness determination
The officer receiving your application will ask you to sign a “Report” that you are informed about your rights and obligations during the statelessness determination procedure. Make sure you obtain a copy of this document and keep it. It proves that you have submitted an application and designates the date of submission.
Secondly, you will receive a written Invitation for interview. The date, time and place of the interview will be specified in the invitation. Your attendance is obligatory.
If you have a passport or another travel document, a Migration Directorate officer may ask you to hand it over for safekeeping. In this case you sign a Report for Voluntary Handover of the document. Make sure you obtain a copy and keep it. It proves that you have left your document with the Migration Directorate.
2.4. Particularities of applications from persons under 18 years old
a) Applications from children under 14 are submitted by their parents or guardians. If one of the parents is deceased or deprived of parental rights, the application is submitted only by the other parent.
b) A person who has turned 14 but is under 18 years old submits the application in the presence of his parents or guardians who express their consent by signing the application. The consent might be expressed only by one of the parents if the other one is deceased or deprived of parental rights.
c) Applications from unaccompanied persons under 18 years may be submitted through a representative of an NGO defending the rights of vulnerable groups or another person designated as a representative in accordance with the law.
3. А statelessness determination procedure
3.1. How long does the procedure take?
According to the rules, the procedure takes up to 6 months from the date of application submission. The duration might be extended with up to 2 months. If the procedure has been extended, you have to be notified by the Migration Directorate at the address you wrote on your application.
3.2. The interview
The interview is your right and an opportunity to justify your application for statelessness determination. It is your obligation too. If you do not attend the interview, your procedure will be terminated. If there are valid reasons for failure to attend the interview, present your proof immediately.
During the interview you will be asked questions about:
a) Your identity: name and surname, former name and surname, former citizenship, sex, place and date of birth, your mother’s maiden name; information about your parents;
b) Your ID and travel document: type and number of document, expiry date, place and date of issue, issuing authority;
c) Marital status and place of marriage;
d) Educational level and profession;
e) Where you lived in the country of habitual residence;
f) Your address in Bulgaria.
Your answers to those and other questions (the above list is not an exhaustive one) will be written down in the Interview Report. The report is read and is signed by you and the officers who conducted the interview.
If the Migration Directorate deems necessary, you might be invited to additional interviews, and you have to be notified in writing about their dates, hours and places.
Interpretation: According to Article 14 of the Administrative Procedure Code of the Republic of Bulgaria, in the administrative procedure, persons who do not speak Bulgarian may use their native or other languages. In these cases an interpreter is appointed. The expenses for the interpreter shall be borne by the person who does not speak the Bulgarian language if the administrative proceedings have begun at his request, unless a law or an international treaty provides otherwise. According to the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior, interpreters are provided during the procedure for granting status of stateless person under the Law on the Ministry of Interior (see Article 106a of the Law on the Ministry of Interior).
3.3. Support from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
In Bulgarian law it is clearly stated that the UNHCR, through their representative in Bulgaria, have the right to information as well as access to each stage of the statelessness determination procedure. A UNHCR representative has the right to attend your interviews.
3.4. A statement from the State Agency for National Security (SANS)
After the interview, the migration authorities will forward your file to the State Agency for National Security. Within 30 work days SANS provide a written answer to the question whether they object or not your receiving the status you applied for.
3.5. A decision to cease the procedure
This case arises when you also submit an application for international protection with the State Agency for Refugees.
It is possible for stateless people to be refugees as well and to submit applications for both types of status. In this case, if the statelessness determination procedure requires an inquiry with the applicant’s country of origin, the statelessness determination procedure is ceased because refugees are usually afraid that representatives of their country of origin may find out their whereabouts and actions. In this case a priority is given to the asylum procedure. It gives applicants more rights – both as asylum seekers and later as refugee status holders or holders of another type of international protection.
If the asylum procedure reaches a final rejection or discontinuation, the statelessness determination procedure can be resumed after you submit a written application at the Migration Directorate.
Both termination and resumption of procedure are enacted with a Decision of the director of the Migration Directorate, about which you have to be notified in writing.
The statelessness determination procedure is not ceased if it is possible to determine statelessness without inquiries with authorities in the country of origin or in your habitual residence.
3.6. A decision to discontinue the procedure
The law provides for several distinct situations in which the director of the Migration Directorate discontinues the statelessness determination procedure: when an applicant dies or withdraws his application in writing; when an official document proves that the applicant provided false information or documents; when the applicant fails to provide within the specified time additional information or documents required by the administrative authorities and does not provide valid reasons for this failure.
In this connection, pay attention to the fact that the director of the Migration Directorate may send to the correspondence address you provided in the application a letter requiring from you to provide certain documents within a specified time. Such documents could be, for example, a birth certificate and/or a document certifying that you have no citizenship and/or something else. Within the specified time you have to submit an answer at the Migration Directorate and attach to it the required documents or provide explanation as to why you are unable to provide them. You can read more about the proof of statelessness in the next section.
If the director of the Migration Directorate makes a decision to discontinue your statelessness determination procedure, you have to be notified in writing. You have the right to appeal this decision within 14 days of receiving the notification about it. To do this you may need legal aid from a lawyer.
3.7. A decision to grant or refuse a status of a stateless person.
After clarification of all facts related to your application, the director of the Migration Directorate or an authorized officer issues a decision with which you are granted or denied a status of a stateless person.
The reasons why you may receive a refusal
First, a refusal to grant a statelessness status is issued to persons who fall within the scope of the so called “exclusion clauses” of the UN Convention relating to the status of stateless persons:
i) persons who are currently receiving assistance from organs or agencies of the United Nations other than the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Such assistance could be provided, for example, by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). A complicated assessment is necessary to find out if the statelessness determination procedure applicant voluntarily left the territory where he could have received protection or assistance from UNRWA or he is unable to receive UNRWA protection now because of certain objective obstacles.
ii) persons who are recognized by the competent authorities of the country in which they have taken residence as having the rights and obligations which are attached to the possession of the nationality of that country;
iii) persons with respect to whom there are serious reasons for considering that:
a) They have committed a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity;
b) They have committed a serious non-political crime outside the country of their residence prior to their admission to that country;
c) They have been guilty of acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.
Second, a refusal to grant a statelessness status is received by persons who have citizenship but failed to declare it aiming to receive a stateless person status.
Third, according to the current version of Article 21e, Paragraph 2 of the Foreigners in the Republic of Bulgaria Act, a refusal decision may be issued when the authorities find out that the applicant entered Bulgaria illegally, he is staying illegally, or he has been residing legally for less than 5 years. If you receive a refusal decision on the grounds of these reasons, make sure your lawyer has consulted the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and directly refers to it in your court defense. This international convention takes precedence over contradictory texts in Bulgarian law.
You have to be notified in writing about the issued decision. You have the right to appeal a refusal decision within 14 days of receiving the notification. You will need legal aid from a lawyer in this regard.
3.8. Withdrawal of a statelessness status.
A statelessness status may be withdrawn if written evidence proves that the information on which the status decision was grounded is false. You have the right to appeal the withdrawal decision within 14 days of receiving written notification about it.
- 4. Proof of statelessness
To prove your statelessness you have to provide authorities with all the evidence you have or can obtain through reasonable effort.
During the statelessness determination procedure, the burden of proof is shared between the applicant and the authorities competent to make a decision. This means that you and the authorities have to cooperate to determine statelessness. On your part, you are under the obligation to provide in good faith all the facts related to your situation and all the evidence you have or can obtain. On their part, the Migration Directorate have to act ex officio to obtain evidence allowing clarification of facts and issuance of an objective decision. For example, migration authorities can provide the Ministry of External Affairs with a copy of your application, so that the Ministry of External Affairs attempt to obtain certain information within 45 days. Besides, the Migration Directorate may demand in writing information about your citizenship from the Bulgarian Ministry of Justice, which is provided within 15 days. Bulgarian authorities also send requests for information to embassies of countries of origin or previous habitual residence of statelessness determination applicants.
What evidence are you supposed to provide?
Bulgarian regulations require you to enclose with your statelessness determination application your birth certificate, official documents certifying your place of birth, previous residence, the citizenship of your family members and your parents, a document proving you are staying legally in Bulgaria. Besides, it will be useful to provide copies of any other documents with information proving your identity (for example, a travel document) or proving other facts stated in your application.
Foreign documents you provide have to be accompanied by official translation to Bulgarian. Depending on their country of issuance, they may need to be legalized or have apostilles. Discuss this with the translation and legalization agency.
You have to know that it is not necessary to prove that you do not have citizenship of all countries in the world. Assessment is made only about the countries, with which you have some connection based on your birth on their territory, origin, marriage or habitual residence. Besides, you cannot be required to provide a 100% proof of lack of citizenship but only what is reasonably possible in view of your situation. The decision making authority is obliged to take into consideration your explanations about the lack of some types of evidence.
- 5. What are my rights upon being granted status of a stateless person
The Republic of Bulgaria made reservations on Article 27 (“Identity papers”) and Article 28 (“Travel Documents”) of the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons. Bulgaria pointed out that a “Stateless person travel document” will be issued to holders of permanent or long-term residence on the territory of the country. These reservations refer only to the identity document (not to granting the statelessness status). In the reservation on Article 27 of the Convention, the Republic of Bulgaria states that “after statelessness determination and in accordance with national legislation the person is granted the right of abode and issued a “Residence permit”, which is not an identity document.” Therefore, there is a successive upgrade of rights, which differentiates among the grant of statelessness status, the right of abode and the issuance of an identity document.
The stateless person’s travel document is issued for a period of no less than three months and no longer than two years. The application for issuance of such a document is submitted in person at the Migration Directorate or at the Migration Department of the Regional Directorate of the Ministry of the Interior by your permanent address. For issuance of a travel document to a stateless person, a fee of BGN 50 is collected (Article 48a (1) of
Tariff No.4 for fees collected in the system of the Ministry of the Interior under the State Fees Act).
This Bulgarian identity document may be issued also to a person holding a statelessness status, issued by another country when he has been issued a permanent or long-term residence permit in Bulgaria. In this case the application should be accompanied by evidence about the insurmountable reasons why the country which initially issued the document cannot renew it.
- 6. Legal aid
The statelessness determination procedure often involves complex legal issues. In order to prepare the application correctly and collect the necessary evidence it is advisable to seek legal aid. You have the right to choose a lawyer and pay for his services or to take advantage of a programme for free legal aid.
The state funded aid is administered by the National Legal Aid Bureau. Stateless persons who cannot afford paying for legal aid have the right to free legal aid from an attorney registered with the National Legal Aid Bureau, when they have been refused a statelessness status, their status has been withdrawn or their statelessness determination procedure has been discontinued.
Besides, in Bulgaria there are organizations which provide free legal aid to stateless persons. Here are their contact details:
Foundation for Access to Rights – FAR
- Address: Sofia,
130 Prof. Tzvetan Lazarov Blvd.
- Phone number: 02 879 32 80
- E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Website: http://www.farbg.eu
Bulgarian Helsinki Committee
- Address: Sofia,
1 Uzundzhovska Str.
- Phone number: 02 981 3318, 02 980 2049
- E-mail: email@example.com
- Website: http://www.bghelsinki.org
Center for Legal aid – Voice in Bulgaria
- Address: Sofia,
5B Triaditza Str., Office 226
- Phone number: 02 981077
- E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Website: http://www.centerforlegalaid.com
If you would like to contact us about legal aid, please fill in this self-referral form.
- 4. Proof of statelessness