Saturday, March 12, 2016

Transatlantic Educator's Dialogue (TED) Series-Week Five

From January to May, the European Union Center invites educators from throughout the world to come together in an online setting and discuss important topics in modern educational practice and politics. As part of this discussion, students from the University of Illinois are invited to follow the discussion and write short posts about related topics on a country of interest. Lindsay Ozburn, a student in the EU Center’s Masters of Arts in European Union Studies program, will be contributing to this series through a multi-week study of Bulgarian politics and government. Her research will provide a thoughtful and helpful case study that will give TED participants a chance to see how their discussion topics are expressed in real life.

Week Five Prompt: Please write about your country's immigration policy, esp. now during the current refugee crisis. How many refugees have they let in, and how many more do they plan to admit? What sort of migrants (if any)? Is it their decision, or is your country being compelled by the European Union? Is there support for this additional immigration in the country you are studying? Has there been a far right party backlash?

Bulgaria and the refugee crisis

Up until the recent immigration crisis, Bulgaria applied the EU’s visa policy to its national law since January of 2007. Bulgaria, however, is not part of the Schengen Zone – the EU’s transnational free travel zone that is now, due to the refugee crisis, at risk. Since Bulgaria does not participate in the Schengen Zone, only national visas are issued, and these do not necessarily allow travel into the EU. According to the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, foreign visitors entering Bulgaria must be in possession of regular foreign travel documents, as well as a visa if planning any length of stay (Visa C or D) or for airport transit (Visa A). Visas must be submitted at least 3 months ahead of time. According to the site, persons applying for long stay visas under asylum or in relation to refugee status are not required to provide extensive document when applying for the visa.

Having signed and ratified the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and cooperating with EU law implementation, Bulgaria produced a national law called the ‘Law on Asylum and Refugees’ (LAR) to cope with forced migration. Under the LAR, there are four types of protection for immigrants seeking asylum: asylum, refugee statues, humanitarian status, and temporary protection. For the purposes of the current refugee crisis: asylum is granted to those persecuted for reasons of their convictions or expression of rights and freedoms; refugee status is granted to those who have a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, social circles, or political opinion and does not have protection in their home country; humanitarian status is granted due to forced migration under threat of serious harm; and temporary protection is granted “in the event of mass influx of foreign nationals who are forced to leave the country of origin as a result of an armed conflict, civil war, foreign aggression, large-scale violations of human rights, or violence in the territory” (Migrant Citizenship Education, Bulgaria).

With all of this information, how does Bulgaria actually handle the Syrian refuges? According to many reports, Syrian refugees avoid settling in Bulgaria because there is little to no monetary of physical aid available to them; nor are the welcomed or wanted in the country (Ayres, 2015). But, Bulgaria has accepted their refugee quota imposed by the EU, processing 10,600 asylum requests by August of 2015. Riddled with corruption, a weak economy, and anti-refugee sentiment at the moment, the country is not a viable place to start a new life. If there is funding support from the EU, it is not being disseminated to the refugees, who are being housed in former Communist party buildings and given meager living stipends. Additionally, while these refugees have the option and right to attend school, immigrant integration programs are few and far between.

To stem some of the illegal migration, Bulgaria erected a barbed-wire fence along the Turkish border and increased patrols. As of January 2016, the UNHCR has been extremely concerned over the safety of refugees attempting to cross the Bulgarian borders due to several reported deaths. They also remained concerned due to multiple reports of abuse and extortion against refugees seeking asylum in Bulgaria (UNHCR). Like many other conservative EU member states, it is possible Bulgaria does not welcome these refugees due to differences in religion. Unfortunately for those with anti-refugee sentiments, the crisis is not predicted to stop anytime soon. As one of the gatekeeper countries to the EU, Bulgaria is in very serious need of physical and monetary assistance to help both usher those refugees seeking passage to northern Europe and provide humane assistance to those wishing to settle in the country.


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