Bulgaria: we don't leave refugee children alone
Although Bulgaria is largely considered a transit country for refugees moving to the European Union, the tougher border control of Hungary and Serbia since 2016 resulted in many people on the move becoming stranded in its reception facilities. Tdh provides psychosocial and protection support for children and unaccompanied minors in three centres in Sofia.
In 2016, the proportion of children, especially unaccompanied and separated children, among the asylum seeker population reached unprecedented numbers: more than a third were children and 14% unaccompanied minors. As the ability of the authorities to deal with the current situation of children seeking asylum in the country remains somewhat limited, it became crucial to provide a long-term response with a sustainable solution for them.
While the state is responsible for accommodation, food and procedures, we look after vulnerable children and youth. Together with our implementing partner, the Bulgarian Red Cross (BRC), we are concentrating on the three reception centers with the largest population of children: the ones in the capital Sofia. As the environment is particularly depressing for refugee children, there was an urgent need for a safe space to be organised – where children can just be children for a while. “Our goal is to provide a space where children can verbalize their emotions – how they feel, what they fear and what they hope for. Story-telling group sessions and expressive art methods are some of the main tools that help with trauma coping for children,” explains Vesna Nencheva, our psychologist in one of the centres.
Our spaces for children in the reception centres
With a child friendly space for young children in each centre and IT rooms for youth on the move, we established a place for them to play and learn. Each space is equipped with materials to organize activities including sports, creative work, music and reading. In the IT computer rooms, an expert organises training sessions to help youth develop their computer and employability skills. The room also offers access to internet to contact their families and friends.
A case management system for children for the first time in Bulgaria
We established a case management system for children on the move. The team is registering cases, strengthening referral mechanisms and providing direct support for children. “There has been no comprehensive protection response for unaccompanied or separated children in Bulgaria so far. We try to tackle this gap through Case Management,” says Lyudmila Simeonova, Case Management Team Leader. Hayaan*, a 17 year old unaccompanied boy from Somalia, is one of the children who benefited from this service. He is waiting for his family reunification in the UK. With the long legal procedure, the boy was remaining idle the whole day. A caseworker helped him find the most suitable opportunities during his waiting period. He has been enrolled in vocational training and currently attends a high school specialized course in bakery as he had dreamed.
In August 2017, the State Agency for Refugees in Bulgaria welcomed our case management and showed interest in adopting the same approach, and to expand it to other NGOs in the long term. This involvement is very important for the sustainability of this project.
Photo credit: © Tdh/Ivo Daskalov
*The name of the child were changed to protect his privacy.
Watch our film about the first part of the project for unaccompanied or separated refugee children in Bulgaria in collaboration with the IRC (International Rescue Committee):