Monir, tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? How long have you been in Bulgaria?
Monir: I have been in Bulgaria since 2012, nearly 9 years. I left Gaza then and never came back. I wouldn’t be able to go back. My family is still there - my mother, my father, my brothers and sisters. They're married there.Why did you come to Bulgaria?
Monir: The country is very beautiful! People are good. Life in Bulgaria is similar to that of the Palestinians. Bulgarians and Palestinians are alike.
In what ways do you think we're alike?
Monir: The resemblance is that in both Bulgaria and Gaza people are educated and very good. There's no racism. When I talk to Bulgarians, I am very happy to tell them that I am from Gaza.
What was your life like in the Gaza Strip? Why did you leave your country?
Monir: Before Hamas won the elections in Gaza, it was good. At least there was electricity and water. After Hamas came to power in 2007, and the blockade came on the part of Israel things changed to bad - the limited access to basic things such as electricity and water, and medicines began, there was no work. Everyone wanted to go out and save themselves. The internal struggle between Fatah and Hamas further aggravated the situation. As much as I love my country, I had to leave if I wanted to live a normal life. I don't support Hamas and that's why I was persecuted in Gaza.
Is it possible to go back to Gaza at all now?
Monir: I miss my country, but I can't go back there. You can't have a normal life in Gaza. There's no job, no hope, no future. There is no airport, no port from where to enter. A Palestinian like me can try to enter only through Egypt, but even there the border is rarely open and it is very difficult. Besides, I also have problems with Hamas, because, as I already said, I don't sympathize with them and I can't get back there safely. I'm still going to get caught at the border, and then I don't know what's going to happen to me.
Do you know what the United Nations Agency for the Assistance of Palestinian Refugees in the Middle East is, or, in short, UNRWA? Have you benefited from UNRWA's help?
Monir: I have a registration with UNRWA. My family have been Palestinian refugees since 1948. Thеir village was depopulated during the Arab-Israeli war in 1948. Since our birth, we Palestinian refugees are being registered with UNRWA. I was born thanks to UNRWA. With help from the Agency, my mother had access to a maternity ward, and then they gave her milk to feed me. I went to UNRWA school myself.
If you go back to Gaza, can UNRWA help you again?
Monir: They can't help me against Hamas. As for other types of help such as food and medicine, the Agency is still trying to help people there, but it is already very difficult. It was fine 16 years ago, but if now someone returns to Gaza it is difficult to get help from UNRWA. My family is still there and receiving food – flour and oil, from UNRWA once every 4 or 6 months and sometimes emergency medical care, but so much. I try to send them money when I can, so they can buy food. Ever since I got here, I haven't stopped working so I can send them funds to survive. Even in the beginning, for 2 years, I did not go out for a single day on leave.
You know, Palestinians in Gaza are very nice people, but it's a nation destroyed by wars and all that has been happening there. The last war made things much worse, and I hear people are looking for food on the streets. After the bombing in May 2021, they did not leave a single tall building in Gaza, and in one such building live, for example, at least 80 families. Now in May, one of the bombs fell near my family's house. Part of our house collapsed and now it's somehow patched up with plastic. My parents say it's too late for them to go somewhere else, and if they're going to die, they're going to die together, there, in our house. They're glad I'm not in Gaza now, that if something happens to them, God forbid, at least there's someone to wear and keep the family name.
What difficulties have you been through in Bulgaria?
Monir: My only difficulty is that I cannot legalize my stay in Bulgaria, and I have been here since 2012. At home, I have a whole wardrobe of documents from the procedures I've been through in an attempt to settle my status. I applied for international protection five times. My fifth production is still underway. This time, my reason for applying was that I was recognized as a refugee by UNRWA, but I could not benefit from the assistance of the Agency. As I have already explained, I cannot return safely to Gaza at all to benefit from UNRWA assistance, and also UNRWA is currently struggling financially to provide assistance to the growing number of Palestinians in need in Gaza. The State Agency for Refugees (SAB) refused again. I appealed this refusal through my FAR lawyer in court. I'm still waiting, and I am looking forward to see what happens and finally solve my problem.
I also applied for stateless status. We Palestinians do not yet have our own state and are stateless. However, the Migration Directorate, which is examining my application for stateless person, refused me because I was not stateless, but a citizen of Palestine.
What is your life like in Bulgaria? Do you want to stay here?
Monir: Ever since I got here, I've been looking to work. The most important thing for me is the job. When I work, I have self-esteem, and I can help my family by sending them money. Whenever I'm out of a job, there's someone to give me a hand and give me a job. I haven’t received anything bad from the Bulgarian people. I love Bulgaria very much and especially Sofia. I fell in love with this city, and you know, when you're in love, you want to stay and you can't just leave. My sister had a baby girl and at my insistence they named her Sophia!
What's your dream?
Monir: I'm a chef and, more precisely, a chef of Arabic cuisine and pastries. I'm very good. When I was in Gaza, my mother taught me how to cook. That's what women do there. I had a great desire to learn, and when you want, anything is possible. Here in Bulgaria, I have now become a specialist in making duners. If I have an ID and all the legal documents, I will open my own business, work for myself and cook what I want. I make many amazing Arabic pastries such as, hallaue bjiben, Arabic tulumbi, baklava! I would love to make it for you, too!
Thank you, Monir!
At FAR, we will continue to support Monir so that he can legalize his status and obtain refugee status under Article 1D of the 1951 Refugee Convention. The assistance he once received from the UNITED NATIONS Agency for Assistance and Work for Palestinian Refugees in the Middle East (UNRWA) has been suspended in his case and he is entitled to automatically benefit from the protection of the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees.
This article was prepared by the Foundation for Access to Rights-FAR on a project funded by the European Network for Stateless Persons. The aim of this project is to examine the situation of Palestinian refugees from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank located in Bulgaria and the application of Article 1D of the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees to them. As part of the project, FAR will present 5 different stories of Palestinian refugees.
For more information, see our report on the subject: https://farbg.eu/bg/publications/palestinian_refugees_article_1D
 A pseudonym chosen by the interviewee