Brussels and Sofia, 11 February 2019 – The European Network on Independent Living, the Centre for Independent Living Sofia and the Validity Foundation are calling on the Bulgarian Government to immediately suspend a programme which will channel European Structural and Investment (ESI) Funds into the building of a large number of residential care facilities for people with disabilities and older people. Despite Bulgaria’s commitment to moving towards community-based alternatives to institutional care, the recently approved investment will see large institutions replaced with smaller buildings, without addressing the deeply ingrained discrimination, social exclusion and segregation of these groups.

In March 2018, the Ministry for Regional Development and Public Works launched the Call for Proposals BG16RFOP001-5.002 (“Support for deinstitutionalisation of services for adults and people with disabilities”), co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), through the Operational Programme “Regions in Growth”. The funding, which amounts to nearly 18 million Euros, will be used for the building, renovation, furnishing and equipment of 6 day-care centres and 68 care homes for older people and people with disabilities, including people with mental health problems, intellectual disabilities and people with dementia. The funds will go to 29 municipalities, with each set to build up to 9 new facilities. In one such municipality, Dryanovo, a large institution for 100 women with disabilities will be replaced will 7 new care homes, all of which will be located within this small town of less than 8,000 inhabitants.

The three NGOs are asking the Ministry to immediately suspend the call, on the basis that the approved projects contravene Bulgaria’s obligations under binding European and international human rights standards. Bulgaria is a party to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which sets out in Article 19 the right to live independently and to be included in the community. Having the capacity to implement the CRPD is among the ex ante conditionalitiesof ESI Funds, with an additional requirement for ERDF to be used for “community services which support the right of all persons to live in the community, with an equality of choices”.

That Bulgaria has a history of moving people with disabilities from large to small institutions (also referred to as “trans-institutionalisation”) was pointed out recently by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In their recommendations to the Government, published in October 2018, the Committee called on the authorities to allocate resources for individualised support services, such as personal assistance, and to ensure that EU Funds are used to “promote the inclusion of persons with disabilities in society”. The Committee specifically asked Bulgaria to stop moving people from large institutions into small group homes.

“The approved ERDF investment into residential care facilities will reinforce the system of segregation of people with disabilities and take funding away from social housing and other infrastructure that facilitates community inclusion.” said Kapka Panayotova, the Director of CIL Sofia.

ENIL, CIL Sofia and the Validity Foundation are therefore calling on the Managing Authority and the European Commission to immediately suspend the call BG16RFOP001-5.002 and to redirect the funds into projects that comply with Bulgaria’s legal obligations under international and EU law on the rights of persons with disabilities, in particular their right to live independently and to be included in the community.

To read the letter, please click here.