Court: it's not legal for the Interior Ministry to leave people with administrative addresses removed by the mayor without ID cards

In a decision on 8 December, the Sofia City Administrative Court (SCAC) annulled as unlawful yet another refusal by the Bulgarian Identity Documents Department (BIDD) of the Sofia Directorate of Internal Affairs to issue ID cards to two women registered and living at an address that Sofia Mayor Yordanka Fandakova had deleted from the address register. The complainants were represented by the Legal Programme of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC).

The reason for the deletion of the address is that the houses in which the women live are illegal dwellings. They are part of a segregated Roma neighbourhood in the capital's Orlandovtsi district, but they are the only homes of the women and their families—without them, they would be homeless. Since 2017, the complainants have been trying to register for municipal housing in order to vacate the illegal buildings, but were only put on a waiting list this year after a long court battle against the district municipality's refusal to register them.

"One of the key problems faced by the women from Orlandovtsi is how institutions try to punish them for the illegal status of their homes and to evict them through sanctions that are not provided for in the law—by denying them access to basic administrative services," said their lawyer from BHC, Diana Dragieva. Today, Dragieva also sent an open letter to the Minister of the Interior calling for the illegal practices to stop.

"According to data received under the Access to Public Information Act, there are more than 180 000 Bulgarians living without ID cards as of July this year. This number has been steadily growing over the last two years," said Dragieva. "When the municipality refuses to issue you a permanent address certificate because your home is illegally constructed or because the mayor has deleted the address for this reason, you cannot get an ID card. This is because there is a notation option in the Interior Ministry's software, which the law does not provide for. We don't know what it is, and we are pursuing another case about it, but what we know is that the recording lets the officials know that there is something wrong with the address, so that they should refer people to the municipality for a certificate, where they are denied one," she explains.

Thus, in cooperation with the municipal authorities, the Ministry of the Interior successfully sabotaged the ability of thousands of those affected to obtain ID cards. Without an identity card, these people can not exercise many of their rights—their access to receiving a pension, hospital admission, signing an employment contract, taking sick leave, obtaining prescription medicines, opening a bank account, having a child recognized, exercising the freedom of movement of citizens of the European Union, which these people undoubtedly are, and many others.

"Moreover, Roma, especially young men, are subject to ethnic profiling when identity documents are checked on the street," adds Dragieva. "When you don't have a valid ID on you, police officers should take you to the district station to establish your identity. We know of cases of people being subjected to such harassment," she said.

In its judgment of 8 December, the SCAC overturned yet another refusal by the BIDD department to issue ID cards to the women from Orlandovtsi. According to the court's decision, "the deletion of the address by order of the mayor of [the Metropolitan Municipality] from the [National Classification of Current and Permanent Addresses] does not completely delete the person's address and does not leave him without any permanent address, as this is legally and vitally impermissible."

The Court stresses that the administrative deletion of the address does not change the factual situation—these women continue to live in the same place, and leaving them without an identity document puts them in an "extremely vulnerable situation". "Such a person", the court stated, "cannot in practice carry out any legally valid acts".

"This not only restricts the rights of the person in various spheres of public and private life, but also puts him in a position of being unable to perform a number of his duties, for the realization of which the identity document is a necessity. Furthermore, the existence of persons without identity documents places the entire state and local administration, as well as law enforcement in a difficult position, since the person concerned cannot be identified and cannot be contacted in an official manner in relation to any administrative matters," the court reasoned, further ordering the BIDD Department of the Ministry of Interior to issue the identity documents requested by the applicants.

The Sofia Directorate of Interior was ordered to pay BGN 520 for legal expenses, as the decision of the SCAC is subject to appeal before the Supreme Administrative Court.

"The court's decision is a cause for great joy and hope for these women who have been subjected to real institutional harassment since 2017," said attorney Dragieva. "Instead of adequate social measures for them to vacate the illegal buildings, for these buildings to be demolished, and for the families in them to establish their lives in a normal way, they receive deepening rejection and social exclusion. If the BIDD appeals this decision to the Supreme Administrative Court, it will condemn these families to another long wait in this maelstrom. This is what our letter to the Minister of Interior is about," she stressed.

Even if persons left for a long time without ID cards receive monetary compensation from the state and the municipality for the damages they have suffered, without the intervention of the political leadership of the Ministry of Interior these illegal administrative practices will continue to take their toll.