Bulgaria has been seen primarily as a transit country for refugees and migrants, but more are now remaining in the country as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Between April and June 2021, 2,278 migrants arrived in Bulgaria – more than five times the number who arrived in the same period in 2020 (429). There was also an increase in the number of people applying for international protection. Children accounted for 906 (836 boys and 70 girls) of the 2,277 asylum-seekers in Bulgaria as of end of June 2021. Of all the children who applied for protection during that period 82 per cent (742) were unaccompanied and separated children (UASC): 738 boys and 4 girls.
Already vulnerable refugee and migrant women and children in Bulgaria are facing additional challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic: greater isolation, stress and uncertainty; movement restrictions; difficulties in meeting basic needs; limited access to services (including health and psychosocial support); and economic hardship. The loss of income and shelter has exacerbated risks for women and girls, including gender-based violence (GBV). UNICEF partners in Bulgaria have seen growing demand for support, with more reports of GBV cases, as well as cases that are more severe and complex.
UNICEF’s programme in Bulgaria has been addressing some of the most critical gaps in the provision of GBV and protection services, integrating support for refugee and migrant children into the national child protection and welfare system. The strategy to meet the emergency protection needs of GBV survivors and at-risk individuals is combined with capacity strengthening for professionals and services and the long-term vision to ensure sustainability.