Despite European funding and new measures taken by the authorities in Sofia, Bulgaria lags behind in protecting the rights of people with disabilities, who continue to experience high levels of poverty and social marginalization
Almost six years have passed since Bulgarian disabled people’s associations took to the streets of Sofia, aiming to modernize the aid system. The successful idea of ââholding an 85-day camp in front of the National Parliament in 2019 nearly brought down the Bulgarian government, securing the resignation of ultranationalist leader and then Deputy Prime Minister Valery Simeonov.
The protest also undermined the strength of the ruling political coalition, as the extreme nationalist parties of the United Patriots coalition (ÐÐ±ÐµÐ´Ð¸Ð½ÐµÐ½Ð¸ ÐÐ°ÑÑÐ¸Ð¾ÑÐ¸ in Bulgarian) openly expressed their contempt for the protest. Ultimately, two proposals came out: the first Bulgarian general disability law and a new order focused on social assistance and services for the disabled population. Shortly after, the Bulgarian government closed the last of the twenty-four internment centers inherited from the socialist era system.
Despite the announcement of the measures, in 2019 Eurostat reported that 50.7% of the disabled population over 16 in Bulgaria was at risk of extreme poverty and social exclusion. The percentage places the country at the bottom of the EU, preceded by Latvia (42.1%) and Estonia (40%). The overall average among the 27 Member States was 28.4%. In addition, in the same year, the same institution identified Bulgaria as the second EU member with the highest percentage of disabled population without public social and assistance services and disability pension. Only Greece, with 75.6% of its inhabitants falling into this category, exceeded Bulgaria’s 65.7%.
Several international and national organizations have highlighted numerous violations of the rights of persons with disabilities perpetrated by the Bulgarian government in recent years. For example, Disability Rights International Report published in 2019 included recommendations to the Bulgarian Presidency. The press release strongly insists on the need to stop the construction of so-called group homes, kinds of socio-educational premises financed by European funds, serving as internment centers for disabled people in the country. According to the organization, these centers help to stigmatize people with disabilities and promote prejudices about their inability to be independent.
âPlacement in group homes is dehumanizing, socially isolating and does not contribute to the development of skills that contribute to greater inclusion in society,â reports the document, which also highlights the need for people with disabilities to spend most of their life. their time with their loved ones to stimulate them. . Already in 2015, the national NGO Lumos shed light on this critical situation, noting that only 28% of young people inside these centers have a certain autonomy.
Aware of the lack of means affecting many families in Bulgaria, the Disability Rights International report includes the proposal to use European funds to consolidate the current Bulgarian social protection system. At the same time, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities declared that âno State party can build new institutions, nor renovate old ones, beyond the most urgent measures necessary to protect the human being. physical safety of residents â.
The recent announcement of the Strategy for the rights of persons with disabilities 2021 – 2030 by Helena Dalli, Equality Commissioner, in March 2021, is the main instrument on which the European Union relies to guarantee the same rights to European citizens with disabilities in each Member State. The new approach defines actions around these main principles: rights of the EU – every disabled person on the continent must have the rights of other European citizens and be an active political actor; independent living and autonomy – people with disabilities can choose their way of life with self-determination; non-discrimination and equal opportunities – establish standards to protect people against all types of discrimination and violence based on their disability.
On October 6, Maltese MP (Member of the European Parliament) Alex Agius Saliba, member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, presented a petition to protect people with disabilities at the European Parliament , recognizing the progress made over the past decade on the continent. However, Agius Saliba specifically warns against the current state of the rights of people with disabilities in Bulgaria. Bulgaria âhad not yet designated an independent monitoring mechanism to promote, protect and monitor the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) “, says the document.
The CRPD is the legally binding international instrument adopted on December 13, 2006 to reaffirm that all people with all types of disabilities should enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms. This is the first human rights convention signed by the EU. For the measures of the CRPD to be implemented, the Convention requires a framework monitoring mechanism to promote, protect and enforce the rights set out in the CRPD. Alongside the national monitoring frameworks, the EU has designed such a mechanism for matters falling within the competence of the EU. Additionally, Dalli recently celebrated the success of the upcoming Draft EU disability card already implemented in a group of eight European Member States. The measure intends to “ensure equal access to services across borders for people with disabilities, mainly in the fields of culture, leisure, sport and transport”, as specified on the official website. The new European strategy can be considered as one of the most innovative initiatives implemented by the EU in this field so far; however, it is undeniable that there is still a long way to go to fully accomplish this mission.
Even if the 27 European states have already ratified the new European plan, during the presentation last October by the Dalli Commission, some criticism was raised against the from the Bulgarian government present measures to achieve all planned objectives. As a result, Bulgaria has fallen behind when it comes to the rights of people with disabilities. How to deal with this situation must concern all European citizens. As long as the rights of these communities are violated, no one will ever be able to declare Europe a land of democracy and justice.
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