Тhe story of Yusef
The experiences of 9-year-old Yusef* from Syria began in Bulgaria only a few months ago, but they are filled with a lot of intensity, pain and unexpected turns, and are also infinitely similar to many other stories of unaccompanied minors who seek international protection in our country .
At first everything starts well – Yusef arrives with his aunt from Turkey, where is located his mother and his two younger sisters. He and his aunt were accommodated in one of the reception centers of the State Agency for Refugees, where it turned out that the boy’s grandmother, Bahra*, was also accommodated with 7 of her children. The large family gathers and, quite naturally, Bahra admits to the institutions the kinship with the boy and starts taking care of him at the center.
This logical and human decision confronts the family with a number of difficulties in the following months, because the two families – Yasser’s and on the other hand his grandmother’s, actually have different and incompatible needs and intentions. For Bahra, Bulgaria is a stop on the way to the cherished final destination – Germany. There, relatives, a supportive community and hopes for a better life await them. In the long run, the same goes for Yusef, but before that he has another task. The boy must remain in Bulgaria to start a family reunification procedure and bring his mother and two sisters with him, a task fraught with enormous responsibility that many unaccompanied minor refugee children carry.
During the next 4-5 months, Yusef, Bahra and the other members of the family remained living together in one of the SAR accommodation centers and everything went smoothly until the moment when the family was not granted status. According to established procedures, the family must find an external address and leave the camp within 14 days. In this case, this applies both to Bahra and her children, and to Yusef, whom she recognized as a member of her family. But Bahra has no intention of staying long in Bulgaria, as this means a serious expense for accommodation and food, once they are no longer under the care of the state. And Yusef has no way to leave Bulgaria, because he has to wait for the finalization of the procedure and the arrival of his own family. In the end, this means that Youssef no longer has a place in the camp, he cannot live alone at an external address, due to lack of funds and an elderly person to take care of him, but he cannot leave the country either. Caught in this stalemate, the family quickly lost ground under their feet and succumbed to panic, which brought them to our office and engaged our entire team to resolve the case as quickly and adequately as possible.
Taking on the role of mediator and intermediary, our team served as a bridge between the main figures who would decide the child’s future – the lawyer who is Yusef’s legal representative, the Child Protection Department and his family. Working in the best interest of the child, the stakeholders were able to reach the decision that Youssef should remain in one of the secure areas of SAR, where he could calmly await the procedure and the arrival of his family. This relocation also brings stress to an unaccompanied minor who has to re-adapt to the new environment, find his place in it and, accordingly, be cut off from the community in which he has spent months.
Youssef, fortunately, is a smart, adaptable and independent child who was able to withstand the weight of these traumas and successfully meet the challenges of the new environment. Just two months later, the boy’s mother and two sisters also successfully reached Bulgaria, at which point SAR had the necessary resources to receive the family and accommodate them with Yusef while they waited for their admission process to go through as well.
“Regardless of how intelligent, literate or financially secure they are, families who arrive in a foreign country under the family reunification procedure inevitably find themselves in an endlessly stressful situation. – tells us Yura Dancheva, a social worker at the Vrazhdebna Reception accommodation center. – It is necessary to prepare a clearly written procedure that will regulate what happens to the families of unaccompanied minors who cannot take care of the adequate accommodation of their relatives. A good practice would be for the state to provide a grace period of 1-2 weeks for families to orient themselves and secure the necessary shelter. At the moment, such compromises are being made, but they are exactly that – compromises that cause concern both to the employees of the relevant institutions and to the children themselves, who are the real victims of such disturbances.
It is also important to connect and work with families prior to their arrival in the country so that they are informed and prepared for the challenges, opportunities and legal frameworks that will await them here. In this regard, the NGO sector can be a wonderful partner to the state because it has the resources to inform, clarify and repeat as much as is necessary to prepare the family concerned and to minimize crisis situations.”