All Countries Bulgaria

2021 RLLR 86

Citation: 2021 RLLR 86
Tribunal: Refugee Protection Division
Date of Decision: March 18, 2021
Panel: Devin Macdonald
Counsel for the Claimant(s): Kirk J Cooper
Country: Bulgaria
RPD Number: TC0-00404
Associated RPD Number(s): N/A
ATIP Number: A-2022-01778
ATIP Pages: N/A


[1]       MEMBER: This is the decision for claim for XXXX XXXX XXXX a national of Bulgaria who is claiming Refugee Protection pursuant to sections 96 and 97(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

[2]       The panel finds that claimant is a Convention refugee as she has a well-founded fear of persecution on a Convention ground in Bulgaria. The claimant’s allegations are detailed in her narrative attached to her Basis of Claim form.

[3]       The claimant alleges that she fears attack, discrimination and gender-based violence from criminal organizations, Bulgarian society and racist groups as well as police in Bulgaria. The claimant alleges that she experienced widespread discrimination in Bulgaria throughout her life due to her Roma ethnicity. She alleges she experienced mistreatment in school, housing, employment and public spaces.

[4]       She alleges that she was attacked in July 2018 by a group of skinheads. The police were called and the attackers fled. However, the police were rude and dismissive and did not investigate the attack. She alleges that she went to the hospital for treatment after the attack and the staff at the hospital were reluctant to touch her because of her Roma ethnicity.

[5]       She alleges that in 2019 her husband started a business of XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX and that she helped with the business. She alleges that in May 2019, men from a criminal organization began to extort the business.

[6]       In July 2019 the men returned accompanied by police and beat the claimant and other Roma workers while the police stood watch. She alleges that one of the men informed them that they would be returning in 2 weeks for more money and if the business could not pay then the claimant would be forced to work as a prostitute.

[7]       The claimant alleges that she went to the hospital for her injuries where she was made to wait and the hospital staff was hesitant to touch her. She alleges that she approached the prosecutor’s office and was told that her complaint would not go far and that the office could not guarantee her safety.

[8]       She alleges that she decided to flee Bulgaria with her family however due to a lack of funds their trip was delayed and the claimant and her husband temporarily located to Lom while their son went to stay with relatives in the city of Montana, Bulgaria. Fearing the risk of the claimant being forced into prostitution and due to insufficient funds, the claimant’s husband and her son travelled to Germany while the claimant left Bulgaria for Canada without them.

[9]       The panel finds that the claimant has established her identity as a national of Bulgaria based on a certified copy of her passport contained in Exhibit 1. The panel finds that the claimant’s alleged fear stem from her Roma ethnicity and has a Nexus with the Convention ground race.

[10]     The claimant testified she is Roma because her parents are Roma and she comes from a Roma family. She said she is identifiable as Roma from her accent, her appearance and from the fact that she spends her time in public with other recognisably Roma people.

[11]     She testified that she belongs to the sub-group Kalderashi (ph) which she testified holds 3 days weddings and distinguish them from other Roma groups. She provided a letter from the Roma community centre attesting to her Roma identity. The officer states that he interviewed the claimant on December 1st 2020 and states that she has a Roma appearance, she speaks Bulgarian with a Roma accent and that she is knowledgeable about customs and traditions and celebrations of the Roma people. He also states that he has met her Roma relatives in Canada.

[12]     The panel finds that the claimant has established her Roma identity on a balance of probabilities. The claimant testified to an experiencing widespread discrimination for her entire life in Bulgaria. She testified that she grew up in a Roma ghetto that lacked paved roads, garbage collection and running water, indoor plumbing and electricity.

[13]     She testified she left school after grade 6 due to the treatment she faced from Bulgarian students and teachers and she states that Bulgarian students beat the Roma students and teachers assigned guilt to the Roma students including herself. She testified about trying to find farm work from Bulgarians as it is a field that she was capable but she was chased away by Bulgarians due to her ethnicity.

[14]     The claimant testified she experienced 2 physical attacks due to her Roma identity. She testified in detail about both events and she testified the first attack was carried out by skinheads whom she identified as such due to the insignia on their clothes and she testified that she beat her and other Roma individuals who were present with batons and chains.

[15]     She testified that the second attacks was carried out by a criminal organization extorting her husband’s business and she testified that the agents of persecution made derogatory remarks stating that Romas would not be able to operate businesses without paying them.

[16]     She testified that the police were present for the attacks and merely supervised and that the attack was accompanied by threats to force her into prostitution. She testified that both events, after both events she required medical attention and the hospital she was made to wait until Bulgarians who arrived after her were treated before she was treated and she testimony that the staff of the hospital did not want to touch her.

[17]     The claimant provided ambulatory records for her and her husband. The first 2 are dated XXXX XXXX 2018 and state that the claimant and her husband were beaten causing various injuries such XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX.

[18]     The second 2 reports are dated XXXX XXXX 2019 and they indicate that the claimant was beaten and her husband was beaten and it states that their injuries and symptoms include XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX The panel accepts the documents and gives them full weight in establishing that the claimant and her husband were attacked in July 2018 and July 2019.

[19]     The claimant testified that she attempted to access state protection after each attack and after the 1st attack the police suggested that Roma individuals including the claimant who were attacked did something to provoke the attack.

[20]     After the attack she did not want to approach the police- oh after the second attack she did not want to approach the police because members of the police were present for the attack so she approached the prosecutor’s office on a relative advice and she was told that filing a complaint would make things worse for her.

[21]     So, the claimant provided her parents and her siblings positive RPD decision and her mother’s Basis of Claim form and narrative. The narrative details similar but separate instances of discrimination, physical attacks, extortion, threats of sexual trafficking, perpetuated by ethnic Bulgarians.

[22]     The panel finds that the claimant’s parents and siblings are similarly situated to the claimant and gives weight to the narrative for the purpose of corroborating the treatment that Roma individuals in similar circumstances of the claimant face in Bulgaria and I find that the discriminatory acts including acts of violence and threats of forced prostitution amount to persecution as they threaten the claimant’s life.

[23]     The claimant alleges that she decided to flee Bulgaria in XXXX 2019 and she did not leave Bulgaria until XXXX 2019. The claimant provided or she explained that she wanted to leave immediately but lacked the funds and needed to apply for a passport. So, she and her husband relocated to the city of Lom and sent their son to the city of Montana with relatives. She describes staying in hiding in Lom and leaving only their home only when necessary in order to avoid detection from the criminal organization that attacked her in July 2019 for failing to pay the extortion fees.

[24]     The panel accepts the explanation for the delay because the claimant could not have reasonably left the country without a passport or without the funds to do so. The panel finds that in the circumstances the claimant’s delay in leaving Bulgaria was not extended and does not indicate a lack of subjective fear.

[25]     The claimant entered Canada and XXXX 2019. Her claim was not referred until January 2020. The claimant explained that she did not make a claim at the airport because she was not aware that she could make a claim at the airport. She testified that she later learned from her father that she could have made a claim at the airport.

[26]     She testified that she started to take steps to make a claim for asylum soon after arriving and she testified that she wanted to use the same lawyer her parents had used but after 2 months of the lawyer stating that he was too busy she found a different lawyer.

[27]     The panel accepts the explanation for the delay. It is reasonable that the claimant would want to use the same lawyer as her family members who had a successful claim. The panel finds that the claimant did delay her claim in an attempt to use the same lawyer as her family members however in these circumstances its not indicative of a lack of subjective fear.

[28]     So, in summary the panel accepts the allegations as they are stated in the claimant’s Basis of Claim narrative. The claimant’s testimony was consistent, transparent and spontaneous. There were no major discrepancies between the claimant’s testimony and her Basis of Claim.

[29]     As such the panel has no reason to doubt the veracity of her allegations. On a balance of probabilities, the claimant is a Roma individual who faced widespread discrimination including physical attack and threats of sex trafficking Bulgaria.

[30]     Based on her testimony I find that the claimant experienced systemic and persistent discrimination in multiple areas of her life, most notable the racist attacks, threats of sexual exploitation and a lack of access to state protection and the panel finds that these acts during the claimant’s life does amount to persecution.

[31]     The claimant was attacked by skinheads on one occasion and extorted and threatened and attacked by a criminal organization and extorted, threatened and attacked by a criminal organization. She – when she reported the incidents to authorities, she did not receive protection. She was prompted to flee the country when the criminal organization threatened her into sex work. As such the panel finds that the claimant has established her subjective fear of persecution upon returning to Bulgaria.

[32]     The national documentation package of r Bulgaria contains the 2019 United States Department of State Report at 2.1 which reports crimes involving violence or threats or violence against Romani individuals is a significant Human Rights issue in Bulgaria.

[33]     The same source states that government actions to prosecute and punish officials who committed Human Rights abuses were insufficient and that impunity remained a problem. The same report states that the Bulgarian House Committees finding that physical abuse of detainee by police was widespread and disproportionately affected Romani suspects.

[34]     The report states that societal intolerance and violence against the Roma persisted in Bulgaria with political and government actors sometimes condoning and prompting the mistreatment of Romani individuals. The media described the Roma using discriminatory, denigrating and abusive language. Nationalist parties routinely resorted to strong anti- Roma slogans and rhetoric with many documented incidences of hate speech and that can be found at page 2 of item 2.1.

[35]     Item 2.4 is a report from Freedom House and its states that Roma and other ethnicity minorities are particularly vulnerable to trafficking for sexual and labour exploitation. The report states that the government efforts to combat trafficking shelter victims and punish perpetrators have not matched the scale of the problem and item 7.1 states that despite significant efforts the government of Bulgaria does not meet the minimum standard for the elimination of trafficking.

[36]     There are few prosecutions for hate crimes according to the report. This is from item 2.1 at page 28. One such example of widespread impunity occurred in the city of Gabrovo where Roma houses where vandalised and set ablaze during protests against the Roma population. The protests forced most of the Romani residents to flee the city and hide for days in the woods. Authorities including the Deputy Prime Minister publicly supported the protest.

[37]     So, the panel finds that Roma individuals are targeted for mistreatment including discrimination, hate speech, physical attacks by non-Roma individuals in Bulgaria including the police and government actors. As such the panel finds that the claimant has a forward-facing risk of persecution and an objective basis for her claim. The panel finds that the claimant has a well-founded fear of persecution in Bulgaria.

[38]     States are presumed to be capable of protecting their own citizens. The panel notes Bulgaria is a member of the EU and is a functioning democracy with a judiciary and a police force. As such the presumption of adequate state protection is stronger and requires a higher burden on the claimant to present clear and convincing evidence to rebut the presumption.

[39]     In this case the panel finds that the claimant rebutted this presumption of state protection on a balance of probabilities with both the objective evidence of state protection for Roma people and her credible evidence that she reported the incidents to police and to the prosecutor’s office and they both responded by failing to investigate.

[40]     The panel does not require that the claimant approach any higher authorities or oversight authorities and doing so is guided by Csoka 2016 FC1220 at paragraph 25 where the court states that it is the police that have the mandate to provide protection.

[41]     Item 13.6 of the National Documentation Package states that when individuals from marginalised groups file a report with the police it is not unusual for authorities to treat them with disregard and to refuse to register the crime. There is evidence that some positive actions have been taken by the Bulgarian at to address violence targeting the Roma population.

[42]     However, the evidence does not establish that these steps have led to operational, effective state protection for the Roma population at this time or that they would have a positive impact for the claimant in her circumstances. Because the public climate in Bulgaria is incompatible with government commitments to combat discrimination against Roma.

[43]     NDP 13.1 discusses the different strategies that the government has undertaken and explains that they have not resulted in positive impacts for the Roma population. Thus, the panel finds that on a balance of probabilities there is clear and convincing evidence that Bulgarian state would be unable to provide the claimant with adequate state protection. I therefore find the state is unwilling or unable to protect the claimant.

[44]     I find there is no Internal Flight Alternative available to the claimant because of the country condition evidence which reveals that discrimination amounting to persecution of Roma by society, police and government actors is spread throughout the country.

[45]     There is no evidence before me that there is a safe haven anywhere in Bulgaria for Roma people and that societal discrimination and the evidence indicates that societal discrimination appears throughout the country. As such I find there is a serious possibility of persecution throughout Bulgaria and therefore a viable IFA does not exist.

[46]     Having considered the totality of the evidence the panel finds that the claimant is a Convention refugee pursuant to section 96 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and accept the claim.

[47]     That concludes the reasons.

[48]     CLAIMANT: I want to express my thanks to all of you.

[49]     MEMBER: Thank you for your testimony today. Thank you, Mr. Interpreter, for your work.

[50]     CLAIMANT: I do have a question.

[51]     MEMBER: Sure yeah?

[52]     CLAIMANT: I would like to know how would I be able to bring my husband and child because I haven’t seen them for 2 years so would it be any possible, any document that would facilitate their arrival.

[53]     MEMBER: So, I – that’s very. I’m very sorry that you’ve been away from your family for so long. I suspect that you and your lawyer will be having a conversation on that topic soon after this hearing. Okay I’ sorry I’m not really able to give you any answer because I’m not legal Counsel and I don’t want to do that but yeah you will be taking to your lawyer about that.

[54]     CLAIMANT: The decision is it going to be mailed because I’m planning to move to another place soon.

[55]     MEMBER: It will be mailed so please tell your Counsel your new address and he’ll be able to update the Refugee Board when you move so it will go to the correct address.

[56]     CLAIMANT: I could provide this right now if it’s possible.

[57]     MEMBER: Well, if you provided it right now then the it would be sent – the decision would be sent there and it might get sent there next week when you are still at your old address.

[58]     CLAIMANT: Okay by the end of month of March I’m moving.

[59]     MEMBER: Okay then so I think your lawyer will update for April 1st the new address because the decision might come to you before then and he’ll be receiving a copy as well just in case.

[60]     CLAIMANT: Okay.

[61]     MEMBER: Is there anything else?

[62]     CLAIMANT: No but I’m thanking you so much.

[63]     MEMBER: Okay so take care. Thank you Counsel for the well-prepared file. Thank you again Mr. Interpreter.