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Ukrainian refugees in this country have accommodation but no hot food

| updated on 12/1/22 10:55 AM
Protest in Sunny Beach
Photo: BGNES

Exactly one month ago, the caretaker government made the decision to transfer all Ukrainian refugees to state-run holiday facilities. After protests by Ukrainian mothers with children in Bansko, Sunny Beach and Golden Sands, the accommodation of the Ukrainians at private hotels was extended until 24 February 2023 – when the one year of temporary protection for the people fleeing the war in Ukraine, provided by the EU, expires. Many of the Ukrainians, who want the financing for these hotels to continue, say they have found employment locally and their children attend schools in the area, whereas their transfer to remote localities far from any urban areas will make integration – for the children as well as for the adults seeking employment – next to impossible. By mid-November, some of the Ukrainians were left without food. Some even had to go several days without any food at all, before the Bulgarian Red Cross intervened:

“What we have been seeing in the past days is that it is not at all clear who is being sent where, and what they are being provided. Just accommodation, but no heating and no food?” Ilyia Raev, chairman of the Bulgarian Red Cross in Varna says in an interview with the BNR. “These are things that have to be clear. There was one woman who said she hadn’t eaten for four days – that is absolutely inadmissible. That is why the regional governor asked for our help. We reacted right away and were able to provide food for them for one month, and give the authorities time to get organized. At some of the facilities where the refugees have been put up there is no heating, and they are cold.”

According to the caretaker government, almost 523 million Leva was spent on the upkeep of the refugees by the end of October, 200 million of which from the state budget and the rest – under European programmes and funding. The money covered both accommodation and food, and amounted to 40 Leva a day for the period until the end of August, and 15 Leva a day as of 1 September. This is the reason why around 20% of the hotel operators on the Southern portion of Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast quit the programme for the accommodation of refugees at the beginning of December. The reason: with the rising electricity and heating prices this sum cannot cover their daily accommodation and food costs. So, for purely economic reasons, the Ukrainians put up at these hotels will have to leave them at the beginning of December. That is why representatives of the tourist industry are issuing a declaration, with three key demands, addressed to the Council of Ministers, the National Operational Headquarters and the Ministry of Tourism:

“The first and most important thing is to give hotel operators the right to fill in their unoccupied rooms,” said Elena Antonova, regional director of the Bulgarian Tourism Association for the BNR. “The people put up at the hotels which will close should be accommodated at other hotels working with the programme.”

Elena Antonova pointed out further that there are two problems that have to be tackled – food and the payments during the next stage of the programme. Moreover, the money for the food for the refugees has not been paid out to many of the hoteliers through all of these months, instead they have received partial payment. That is why representatives of the Bulgarian Tourism Association are demanding an urgent meeting with the ministers of the interior and of tourism, so they can put their questions to them.

Radio Bulgaria got in touch with a representative of the National Operational Headquarters who stated that at the moment, the Ukrainian refugees are being given vouchers amounting to 100 Leva per person. The vouchers can be spent on food, clothes and essential goods. It is not clear, however, whether vouchers will be provided next month as well.

Interviews by Daniela Kostadinova, BNR-Burgas and Daniela Stoinova, BNR-Varna

Compiled and edited by Darina Grigorova

Photos: BGNES

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