Bulgaria wrongly strips mother of residence rights, detains her and baby

Screenshot of the baby in the Sofia airport arrest cell.

A video report by EURACTIV Bulgaria journalist Valia Ahchieva, revealing the callousness, incompetence and unaccountability of the country’s bureaucracy, shocked the Bulgarian public upon its release on Tuesday (12 January). EURACTIV is now publishing the report with English subtitles.

Katya Amie, a Palestinian woman who has lived in Bulgaria with refugee status for 20 years, and her 12-month-old baby were not allowed to re-enter the country after they returned from the Netherlands by plane.

It then transpired that while Amie and her daughter were away, they were stripped of their Bulgarian citizenship and their documents were rendered invalid because the authorities wrongly assumed, without any proof, that Amie was a Lebanese citizen.

They therefore annulled her identity documents and stripped the baby of her Bulgarian citizenship.

Amie, a refugee from Palestine, has been living in Bulgaria as a stateless person. She arrived in the country as a 10-year-old with her parents, also stateless Palestinians. Her daughter was born in Sofia and is a Bulgarian citizen.

Upon return from the Netherlands, the mother and child were locked up in a small room with barred windows at the Sofia airport and were kept there with no bathroom, or hot water, and a single toilet for the entire floor.

The authorities explained that according to the ministry of interior database, the mother’s refugee status was abolished by the State Agency for Refugees, and the baby was deprived of her Bulgarian citizenship in September 2020.

This happened when they were abroad, as Amie had gone to Belgium in spring to visit relatives and the pandemic forced her and the baby stay there much longer than planned. She was unaware of the proceedings.

Amie owns an apartment in Sofia but was not allowed to go home. The authorities said her imprisonment is standard procedure in cases like hers until the status of a foreigner is clarified.

Documents reveal that 10 days before the baby was born in Sofia, the State Agency for Refugees initiated proceedings to revoke the mother’ refugee status, but it never informed Amie about that.

On 10 February 2020, the State Agency for Refugees decided that the child was a Bulgarian citizen. Nevertheless, after the mother and the baby left Bulgaria, the refugee agency suddenly decided that Amie was a Lebanese citizen and her status was changed. She was not informed of the proceedings and had no possibility to appeal in court.

The ministry of justice says it acted on the basis of information provided by the ministry of interior, which said it had been informed by the Belgian authorities that Katya Amie often travels to Lebanon with a Lebanese passport. No further details were provided.

Later research revealed that the Belgian tip was a hoax. The Bulgarian authorities were unable to prove that such contact ever took place.

Amie has denied holding a Lebanese passport or Lebanese citizenship. Meanwhile, Lebanon has also informed Bulgaria that she is not a Lebanese citizen.

After the publication of the video and its airing on channel TV+ on Tuesday, national Ombudsman Diana Kovacheva said the case had become a priority for her, explaining that, whatever the details of the case, it is unacceptable to treat a baby like that.

She also pointed out that no one could be deprived of their liberty without a sound legal basis and with no right to appeal.

In what appears to be an even more absurd move, on 7 January, the mother and daughter were sent from Bulgaria to Eindhoven, the Netherlands, without documents.

Katya’s father, who lives in Belgium, waited for them at the Eindhoven airport, with a Belgian lawyer. The Dutch authorities agreed to let them in and Katya and her daughter are now in Belgium.

“I think it will be much better for us there (in Belgium), at least for the baby,” she told EURACTIV Bulgaria by phone.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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