Violent pushbacks at the Bulgaria-Turkey border

Violent pushbacks at the Bulgaria-Turkey border
Photo by Markus SPISKE via Unsplash


Sidal Gökalp

Europe and Human Rights Researcher 

Global Human Rights Defence

Human Rights Watch recently published a report on the pushbacks of asylum seekers at the Bulgarian border to Turkey. Based on victim statements, Bulgarian authorities are in breach of the prohibition of torture and inhumane or degrading treatment as well as the prohibition of collective expulsion. Ill-treatment allegations include using police dogs to attack and intimidate, Bulgarian officers beating, robbing and stripping Afghan and other asylum seekers. The interviews held with the refugees revealed that they have been either taken into a detention facility for 24 to 72 hours before being taken to the border or directly taken to the border. The authorities did not afford any access to apply for asylum to the refugees.

Bulgaria was found to be in violation of Articles 3 (prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment) and 13 (right to remedy) of the European Convention on Human Rights when, in 2016, a Turkish journalist was pushed back without any assessment of risk or access to review. [1] Expulsion of refugees to their country of origin or a third country where they might face persecution is against the principle of non-refoulment. Bulgaria has a poor record regarding collective pushbacks: In 2021 almost 45000 refugees have been pushed back by the Bulgarian authorities.[2]

Human Rights Watch called on Bulgaria to “immediately halt all pushbacks from its territory, hold officials who abuse migrants accountable, ensure fair treatment, and provide access to asylum procedures for all who request it.” (Human Rights Watch, 2022). Bulgarian Constitution Article 27(2) obliges the Bulgarian government to grant asylum to refugees seeking international protection if they fulfil the criteria, as does  Article 18 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights on ‘right to asylum’. Bulgaria is also a State Party to the European Convention on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees. These international treaties set the rules which Bulgaria is in violation of by its pushbacks: prohibition of collective expulsion, prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment, right to due process and remedy and principle of non-refoulment. 

Human Rights Watch urged the European institutions and other member states to hold Bulgaria accountable for these abuses. Frontex should conduct a thorough investigation on the allegations and provide transparency. Following the internal crisis and investigations in Frontex, an independent expert mechanism should be established to monitor the Bulgaria-Turkey border to prevent further violations. 


[1] ECtHR, D v. Bulgaria, Application No. 29447/17, 20/07/2021.

[2] Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (2022, February). Country Report: Bulgaria, 2021 Update. Ed.: ECRI, Asylum Information Database.

Sources and further reading:

Human Rights Watch (2022, May 26). Bulgaria: Migrants Brutally Pushed Back at Turkish Border.

Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (2022, February). Country Report: Bulgaria, 2021 Update. Ed.: ECRI, Asylum Information Database.