The UN human rights chief criticized Bulgaria's policy of jailing migrants for illegally entering and attempting to leave the country, saying he had serious concerns whether the policy was in line with international law.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, who visited Bulgaria for the second time in eight months, noted some positive developments but was highly critical Thursday of several disturbing policies and practices in the country.
He said that anyone entering Bulgaria "in an irregular manner" was automatically detained.
"Even worse, they may also be prosecuted and jailed - for a year or even more - if they try to leave the country," Zeid said.
"The act of leaving the country is criminalized in spite of the right of everyone, under international law, to leave a country, including their own."
The UN official said that this policy leaves migrants who are unable to qualify for refugee status but have legitimate reasons for not wanting to return to their countries with "hardly any avenues open."
Zeid condemned the rising anti-migrant and xenophobic sentiments, including statements by public figures supporting armed vigilante groups that hunt down migrants along the Bulgaria-Turkey border.
"The Bulgarian government is not doing enough to challenge these alarming trends - indeed in the view of some, it is actually encouraging intolerance," he said.
"Leadership is needed to create an environment conducive to respect for human rights, as well as to end violations and abuses when they occur."