November 22, 2013

BRUSSELS/NEW YORK, NOVEMBER 21, 2013—Hundreds of refugees are living in appalling conditions in Bulgarian reception centers where there is a disastrous lack of medical care, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today, following assessments it carried out in the Bulgarian capital Sofia and Haskovo Province.

Nearly 10,000 migrants have arrived in Bulgaria since January. Most are Syrian refugees who made a difficult journey around border controls along the Bulgaria-Turkey frontier. MSF calls on Bulgarian and European authorities to rapidly improve conditions for asylum seekers.

"Despite some measures taken by the Bulgarian authorities, the reception conditions remain unacceptable," said Ioanna Kotsioni, head of mission for MSF in Bulgaria. "These people live in overcrowded centers, sometimes with just one toilet for 50 people. Even more worrying is the concern for families who do not receive enough food to eat."

On arrival in Bulgaria, hundreds of migrants find their only option is to sleep outside in unheated tents, while others crowd together in school classrooms because reception centers do not have adequate capacity.

According to European standards, Bulgaria has the responsibility to ensure access to medical and psychological care for asylum seekers, including specialized care for particularly vulnerable groups, such as people with disabilities and survivors of torture or sexual violence. However, medical care is not systematically provided for asylum seekers.

"There are many people with chronic diseases who need regular medical follow-up," said Colette Gadenne, MSF coordinator. "The reception conditions will only deepen the psychological suffering of victims of a terrible war."

MSF medical teams are working in two reception centers in Sofia and will soon open a health post in a reception center in the town of Harmanli. Teams will provide primary health care and psychological support.

In the coming days MSF will distribute relief kits, including blankets, clothing, and hygiene items, in the reception centers. This aid, however, will not address the crucial issue of reception center conditions in Bulgaria.

"Winter is coming and the situation could become much worse," Gadenne said. "Bulgaria and the European Union must urgently take steps to ensure adequate and humane reception conditions for people in distress who continue to flee war."

MSF also provides medical care in Greece and Italy to migrants who have fled to Europe by sea.

“Access to Europe today has become virtually impossible for refugees, including for Syrians fleeing the horrors of war," Kotsioni said. "Walls are being built in Greece, and soon in Bulgaria, forcing the most desperate to seek ever more dangerous routes, including through islands in the Aegean Sea.”