110,389 live without ID cards in Bulgaria, deprived of basic human rights

By the beginning of 2023, the total number of Bulgarian citizens without ID cards is already 207,263, i.e. compared to July 2022 it has increased by 19,380 people. Of these, the number of people with a current address in Bulgaria is already 110,389, i.e. compared to July 2022 it has increased by 1,156 people. The BHC obtained this information via FOI request under the Access to Public Information Act.

In early December 2022, in an open letter to the caretaker Minister of the Interior, Ivan Demerdzhiev, and to the Supreme Administrative Prosecutor's Office (available in Bulgarian here), the BHC pointed out the unlawful administrative practice in the Ministry of Interior to refuse to issue ID cards to people whose addresses are considered "invalid." In support of these claims, the letter cites several court decisions that establish the existence of such a practice.

In the meantime, after the court ruled on December 8, 2022 that it is not legal for the Interior Ministry to leave people with addresses deleted by the mayor without ID cards, another panel of the Sofia City Administrative court on December 21 delivered another court decision that once again establishes that the problem is generated by an illegal administrative practice in the Interior Ministry. In its ruling, the court stressed that the removal of the building where the person's last declared permanent address was located and the subsequent official procedure, in which the address was deleted from the National Classifier of Current and Permanent Addresses, is not grounds for assuming that the person has no permanent address and therefore cannot be issued an identity card. This is because, under the law, to delete an address registration is to restore the person's previous permanent and/or current address.

On 23 January 2023, in response to the open letter to him, Minister Demerdzhiev briefly informed BHC that a working meeting with the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works was yet to be held to address the issue.

The Prosecutor's Office responded with a five-page resolution explaining the legislative framework on the basis of which that institution exercises its powers of oversight for legality. Then it dismisses the case. However, the resolution also states that, according to a letter received from the Minister of the Interior, "it is in fact acknowledged that [the problem raised] exists in general, and it is alleged that it stems from an imperfect legislative framework in the Civil Registration Act."

"We are facing an arrogant violation of the law by the Ministry of Interior, that is tasked under the law with protecting the rights and freedoms of citizens," said Diana Dragieva, attorney-at-law from the legal defence programme of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee. "It seems that the Ministry of Interior intends to ignore the case law on the issues raised and this is evident from the way they shift the responsibility for the problem they have created to the Ministry of Regional Development and the Civil Registration Act, while the court finds that the problem is due to incorrect interpretation and application of the law by the Ministry of Interior," she adds.

"We have been reporting the problem to the Ministry of Interior for years," Dragieva said. "Since 2021 we have been collecting information about its scale, and we are very concerned about the rate at which it is growing. In addition to a number of successful court cases that have conclusively established the unlawful nature of the MI's practices, we opposed these violations in the public consultation on amendments to the Bulgarian Identity Documents Act, giving specific proposals for amendments to end this misinterpretation of the law. Our proposals were rejected by ministry's experts even before they were voted by the government," said Dragieva.