On 19 June, the State Agency for Refugees at the Council of Ministers, the Bulgarian Red Cross and the UNHCR organized a stakeholder meeting on Refugee Resettlement in Sofia. At the meeting the Bulgarian government announced it will resettle a group of 20 refugees in 2014 and the meeting was intended as the start of the planning process for the Bulgarian resettlement effort including the integration of the resettled refugees. The agenda specifically focused on the development of the Bulgarian integration plan that will not only cover resettlement but integration of recognized asylum seekers as well.
The meeting was attended by close to 50 representatives of ministries, NGOs and other organisations involved in refugee issues and integration. There were also journalists from the Bulgarian television, press agencies and other media who held interviews with the resettlement experts attending from the United States, Norway and the United Kingdom. During the meeting Mr Larry Bartlett, the Director of the Office of Refugee Admissions in the US State Department gave an overview of the resettlement process in the US and outlined some of the challenges that the program faces. Ms Barbro Bakken, Director General of the Department of Integration and Diversity, of the Norwegian Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion focused on the central role of municipalities in the Norwegian resettlement system and how resettled refugees are serviced by mainstream services. Ms Sheila Bamford, the Executive Director of the Horton Housing Association, that implements UK resettlement in Bradford, underlined the importance of political ownership and leadership at the local level. Furthermore, the need to identify the right partners and effective planning are crucial to make resettlement successful. The need for municipalities to have ownership and steer the integration of refugees, while being enabled to do so by sufficient funding was a recurrent theme in the discussions over the day.
Ms Anna Andreeva of the State Agency for Refugees acknowledged that preparation and involvement of the municipality and other organizations will be key to the success of the resettlement of the 20 refugees. As part of the planning process she also plans to promote the development of a network of volunteers. In the afternoon workshops were held to focus on four core elements of integration: housing, employment, health and education and language learning. The participants in the workshops came out with recommendations for the State Agency with regard to key challenges in the resettlement and integration processes that will feed into the integration plan, which is not only applicable to the resettled refugees but also to recognized asylum-seekers. During the entire day former refugees who now work as social mediators gave important input in the discussions and in the recommendations made.