Every person driven away from their homeland by the conditions of war seeks a safe place to take roots and build their home and their life anew, although the nostalgic longing for home never leaves them. Before the cherished dream of peace and future, however, there are still many challenges.
One of the hardest problems asylum seekers face is the language barrier. The unfamiliar and completely different language is a fundamental and essential obstacle to the rapid integration of refugees. Bulgarian is extremely difficult for people from the Middle East and a number of African countries, due to the large differences in vocabulary and grammar. This leads to its difficult and prolonged studyig, and in the meantime puts people in the tough situation of not being able to start work and even to get themselves around in the culture of the host country. Therefore, Bulgarian language courses for refugees and asylum seekers are extremely important so that they can begin to adapt to their new environment.
Lack of appropriate education, qualifications and previous work experience, or low literacy, add to the already difficult case. War going on for years in a country prevents people’s access to education. In some countries, an entire generation has been deprived of the opportunity to learn and develop because of decades of conflict, leaving young people with great potential without a chance to even learn to read and write. Enrolling all adolescents in schools, regardless of age and level of previous education, very quickly helps them absorb the missed knowledge and rediscover their thirst for development.
One of the first things though, they come face to face with is insufficient social support. Refugees and asylum seekers often face restrictions on access to basic services such as health care, education and housing. The lack of support and specialized programs can complicate the process of integration and adaptation of refugees into Bulgarian society. That is why it is imperative that they have access to services that facilitate and support them. Often, however, these shortages are also a function of social prejudice and discrimination, or a lack of interpreters in government offices to facilitate easier communication. This can limit their access to education, healthcare, jobs and housing, as well as create problems for them in the integration process.
The economic challenges that Bulgaria faces are not only directed at refugees and asylum seekers, but being one of the most vulnerable groups of people in the country, this is yet another major difficulty that they have to deal with. Our country has limited economic opportunities, and often as a result there is insufficient demand for labor, with strictly defined qualifications and knowledge, and often for low wages. Under such conditions, a person can hardly achieve independence without needing additional financial support.
Insufficient funds also lead to additional housing problems due to the inability of people to cover their monthly rent. But a big problem in finding housing is the lack of address registration, which helps to issue personal identification documents after obtaining a refugee status, while such are needed to sign a rental contract. Thus, all refugees find themselves in a “Paragraph 22” situation, which they solve only by helping each other – settled in to newcomers.
For people with temporary protection coming from Ukraine, the language barrier is much easier to overcome, due to the closeness of the two languages – both grammatically and vocabulary-wise. Since the conflict in their country has not yet prevented access to education, Ukrainian citizens are educated, have professional qualifications, speak foreign languages and already have professional experience in various positions. This makes it much easier to find a job, and due to the proximity between the Ukrainian and Bulgarian cultures, social continuity and empathy are much more serious towards them. Even social support for them is much more easily accessible. One of the challenges before them remains the constant hope that at any moment the war will end and they will be able to return to their homeland. Thus, a large part of the children continue to attend the schools in the online learning mode, and a very small part are enrolled in Bulgarian ones, which reduces the circle of contacts with the Bulgarian community and hinders the integration of children and adults. Another problem with them is the age of a vast part of the Ukrainian refugees, since a large number are retirees who, because of their minimal income, have to look for work in the already limited labor market in Bulgaria.
These factors represent serious challenges for the successful integration of refugees in Bulgaria. However, a number of organizations and initiatives are working to overcome these problems and help their integration into society. Excellent communication between diverse NGOs covering different services and crucial cases from different fields, as well as their good communication with state institutions, is an extremely important element to facilitate the processes. We as an organization are extremely grateful to all colleagues from both mentioned sides for their cooperation so that we can provide the much needed support in a timely manner.