GENEVA, Switzerland, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees urged European Union states to temporarily suspend sending asylum-seekers to Bulgaria to avoid "inhuman treatment."
Babar Baloch, a UNHCR spokesman, said countries participating in the Dublin Regulation, which determines which EU state is responsible for reviewing applications by asylum-seekers, should halt transfers of those being sent to Bulgaria.
"The agency has concluded that asylum-seekers in Bulgaria face a genuine risk of inhuman or degrading treatment due to systemic deficiencies in reception conditions and asylum procedures," Baloch said during a news briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
"UNHCR's assessment shows that asylum-seekers in Bulgaria routinely lack access to basic services, such as food and healthcare; face lengthy delays in registration, which subsequently deprive them of their basic rights; and are at risk of arbitrary detention. In addition, there are serious challenges to access fair and effective asylum procedures alongside ongoing reports of push backs at the border," he said.
Baloch said that though there have been improvements of reception conditions in Bulgaria, there are significant gaps, particularly for people fleeing the conflict in Syria. More than 9,000 people sought asylum in Bulgaria in 2013, up from the annual average of 1,000 since the country's accession to the EU in 2007.