IWB for refugees: Romania

Summary of the national legislation on refugees

In the national legislation, the legal regime of foreigners seeking international protection in Romania, the legal regime of foreigners beneficiaries of international protection in Romania, the procedure of granting, ceasing and cancellation of international protection in Romania, the procedure for establishing the Member State responsible for examining an asylum application and granting conditions, the exclusion and termination of temporary protection are regulated by Law no. 122/2006 and the Methodological Norms for its implementation, constituting the primary legislation in this area.

From the analysis of these normative acts results that the forms of protection granted to foreigners by the Romanian state consist in international protection and temporary protection.

International protection is represented by the refugee status or thestatus conferred by the subsidiary protection and it it granted indefinitely.

The refugee status is recognized, upon request, to a foreign citizen who, after a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinions or allegianceto a particular social group, is outside his country of origin and is unable or, because of this fear, is unwilling to request protection of the country and to also to a stateless person who, being outside the country of his former habitual residence because of the reasons mentioned above, is unable or, because of this fear, is unwilling to return to that country.

One must distinguish between the terms asylum seeker and refugee,because these concepts are often confused. Thus, the asylum seeker is the person claiming to qualify for being a refugee and wantsto obtain a form of international protection. Therefore, in order to gain refugee status, the person will initially have the status of asylum seeker. Not every asylum seeker will be eventually recognized as a refugee. Throughout the period of settlement of the application, that person is called an asylum seeker.

Subsidiary protection is granted to the foreign citizen or stateless person who does not qualify for refugee status and on which there are reasonable grounds to believe that, if returned to his country of origin or the country of his former habitual residence, will be exposed to a serious risk that can not or, because of that risk, does not want the protection of that country.

Serious risk means: convictionto the death penalty or execution of such punishment; torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; a serious individual threat to life or integrity, as a result togeneralized violence in situations of international or internal armed conflict, if the applicant is part of the civilian population.

On the other hand, temporary protection is the exceptional procedure to provide, in the event of a mass influx or an imminently massive influx of displaced persons from third countries who can not return to their country of origin, immediate and temporary protection to such people, especially if there is a risk that the asylum system can not process this influx without adverse effects for its efficient functioning, in the interests of the concerned persons and other persons in need of protection.

Now, given the presentation of the forms of protection granted and to define the basics regarding this area, we will analyze below the asylum procedure provided by the Romanian legislation, starting from the filing date until the settlement, including the rights and obligations the asylum seeker has and subsequently the beneficiary of a form of protection, the appeals which he may execute against the adopted solutions on the asylum application, as well as the cessation and cancellation methods for international protection in Romania.

Refugee life in Romania

The cases of foreigners which enter Romania via legal or illegal means are handled by the General Inspectorate for Immigration (IGI), which operates six Regional Centers for Accommodation and Asylum Seekers in Bucharest and in Timis, Maramures, Suceava, Galati and Giurgiu counties, with a total capacity of over 1000 places.

These centers process asylum applications submitted by foreigners who are in Romania or at its borders, provide assistance and accommodation to applicants who do not have the means to support themselves as well as to refugees and people requiring subsidiary protection. The centers are open-door and asylum seekers are provided legal stay throughout the asylum procedure.

Asylum centers are provided with medical practices, rooms designed for recreation, sports and educational activities.

According to Law no.122/2006 on asylum in Romania, including amendments and supplements, asylum seekers receive an amount of 3 lei/day/person for food, 1.8 lei/day/person for accommodation and 0.6 lei/day/person for other expenses. They also benefit from free primary medical care and emergency hospital care, as well as free treatment in case of acute or chronic diseases.

Other benefits include access to compulsory primary education for children, participating in activities of cultural integration, access to the labour market after one year since the date of submission of the asylum request (in cases when the asylum procedure has not been finalized.

In accommodation centers, the rooms offer up to 10 places. In practice, the number of places can differ, according to the nature of groups accommodated (men, women, families or families with children etc.).

In Galati, Timisoara, Radauti (Suceava), Somcuta Mare (Maramures) and Giurgiu, bathrooms are communal but separate for men and women; in the Bucharest, every room has its own bathroom (toilet and shower). All centers have medical practices.

All accommodation centers are provided with spaces for preparing food and laundry machines. The asylum seekers have the obligation to provide cleaning services in the communal areas, such as kitchens, bathrooms, hallways, on a rotating basis.
According to the procedure upon arrival to the center, firstly, asylum seekers are informed on their rights and obligations and regarding the procedures to follow. They get fingerprinted and photographed, then receive a temporary ID certifying the status of asylum seeker and the right to stay on the Romanian territory until the decision regarding their request becomes final.

The procedure also provides for a medical examination, on which occasion it is assessed whether the person in question suffers from a medical condition and if there are clues as to whether the person in question is a torture victim or has been subject to inhuman or degrading treatment.

Further, the asylum seekers are assigned to one of the accommodation areas. They each receive two bed sheets, a pillow case and objects for personal hygiene, such as soap, toothpaste, tooth brushes, shaving cream and razors, as well as dishes to cook and eat with.

The six centers have an open door policy so that individuals who request asylum can leave the center, provided that they follow the internal code of rules. In general, access to and from centers is made daily, between 6 am — 10 pm.

Asylum seekers can leave their place of residence provided that they receive approval from the administration. If they possess the means to support themselves, they are free to change their residence, provided that they inform IGI workers.

Governmental assistance to individuals which received a form of protection has as a purpose their integration in Romanian society. The general objective of integration policies is to help refugees to become self-sufficient and independent from the assistance provided by the state or NGOs and to actively participate in Romanian society, economically, socially and culturally.

According to current legislation, individuals who have received a form of protection benefit from the same economic and social rights as Romanian citizens: the right to work, accommodation, healthcare and social assistance, social insurance and education.

In order to support the integration of this category of individuals, IGI runs integration programmes held over six months, with a possibility of extension to one year. During this period, the refugees benefit from accommodation in one of the centers administered by IGI and receive material support for two months, the amount being equal to that of asylum seekers, cultural orientation courses, social counselling and psychological support as well as Romanian language courses.

When individuals receiving a form of protection fall under the category of special cases — disabled individuals, individuals who are eligible for pension due to age but are not receiving it, unaccompanied minors, torture victims and/or single parents and their children — they can benefit from the extension of their integration programme until it established that the state of vulnerability has been overcome.

Similarly, through Employment Agencies, individuals receiving a form of protection benefit from the amount of 540 lei in irredeemable material support for six months, with the possibility of extension to nine months.

In addition to governmental assistance, NGOs implementing running projects funded through the European Refugee Fund provide several means of assistance, from medical and psychological assistance and facilitating access to education and the healthcare system to access to the labour market and providing food, clothing, footwear and household products.

Source: Romanian News Agency AGERPRES. Link: http://www.agerpres.ro/english/2015/08/28/immigration-how-asylum-seekers-are-received-in-romania-14-58-02

The legal process

To legally prove that he/she deserves refugee status, the applicant needs to show that he/she cannot return to his/her country of origin because he/she would face persecution for various of reasons: political opinion, race, religion, nationality, ethnicity, membership to a particular group – something which cannot be changed, like homosexuality. Another example in this sense can be women in Islam countries.

Unfortunately a very small number of people have documentary evidence that can prove that they are refugees. This makes the task of interviewers much harder, because they have to take into account statements, evidence and documents when deciding if a person is eligible for a refugee permit.

Regarding the lawyer issue, a person whose application was refused (see question no 5) is allowed to hire a lawyer. If they cannot afford a lawyer sometimes they can get it from an NGO or UNHCR, other times the lawyer is provided pro bono from the states. There is even an EU fund for these situations.

If the person is rejected, while it depends on the reasons for this refusal,  Romania allows for three types of appeal: judiciary, recourse and tribunal.

Asylum law is not so prominent. Most lawyers who work in this area do so for reasons of social justice, because is not paid well.

Source: interview Lorett Jesudoss (see Interview section)


Asylum Procedure

The competent authorities ensure the access to the asylum procedure to any foreign citizen or stateless person on the Romanian territory or at the border, since the manifestation of will, expressed in writing or orally, showing that herequests the protectionof the Romanian state, without discrimination, regardless of race, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, social status, belief, sex, sexual orientation, age, disability, non-contagious disease, HIV infection or belonging to a disadvantaged category, financial situation, status at birth or acquired status or any other distinction.

Also,within the asylum procedure are considered safety measures and additional guarantees for certain categories of people, which is why going through the asylum procedure is performed by taking into consideration the special needs of vulnerable people.

In the category of vulnerable persons are included minors, unaccompanied minors, disabled people, the elderly, pregnant women, single parents with their minor children, victims of trafficking, persons suffering from serious illnesses, people with mental disorders and persons who have been subjected to torture, rape or other serious forms of psychological, physical or sexual violence, or under other special circumstances.

The membership to the category of vulnerable people is determined after applying for asylum, as soon as possible, by specialists from the General Inspectorate for Immigration, based on an individual assessment.

Asylum claims formulated by these categories of people will be handled with priority, the necessary care will be ensured, tutors or guardians will be named for ensuring representation and there will be taken measures provided by law that are necessary to protect their rights.

It is also guaranteed the respect for family unity and best interests of the minor, and confidentiality. All data and information on the asylum application are confidential. The obligation to respect the confidentiality applies to every authority, every organization carrying out activities in the asylum field or any third parties involved in the asylum procedure or who accidentally comes into possession of such data.

Submission of asylum application

A person is considered asylum seeker from the moment of will manifestation, expressed in writing or orally, before the competent authorities, showing that it solicits the protection of the Romanian state.

The asylum application is submitted as soon as:

a) the applicant has attended to a checkpoint for crossing the state border, including the transit area;

b) the applicant has entered the Romanian territory;

c) certain events occurred in the country of origin of the applicant, which causes him to seek protection for the foreigner with theright tostay in Romania.

Applications for asylum submitted outside of Romania are not admitted.

The competent authorities cannot refuse to accept the application for asylum on the grounds that it was filed late.

The asylum application must be filled out in Romanian or in a language that the applicant understands, it is individual and personally submitted by the applicant or by the trustee or legal representative. Collective asylum applications are not accepted.

After recording the application for international protection at the General Inspectorate for Immigration or its territorial authorities, the asylum seeker is listened to establish personal data of him, of his family members, relatives or any other persons in a relationship of family nature with him,of his route from the country of origin to Romania, of any information on previous asylum procedures conducted in another Member State or in a third country and regarding identity or travel documents in its possession.

Competent authorities examining applications for asylum investigate any factual and legal circumstances which may lead to solving the case, even if those circumstances had not been raised or mentioned in the request for asylum or complaint.

Application for asylum submitted by a foreigner who benefits from international protection granted by another Member State is dismissed as inadmissible. However, the applicant is given the opportunity to present, in an interview, their personal situation and if the facts or evidence submitted by the applicant show that there is a well-founded fear of persecution or being exposed to a serious risk in the Member State that granted international protection and / or the applicant does not benefit of the effective protection in the concerned Member State, their application will not be rejected as inadmissible for this reason.

The competent authorities that receive applications for asylum are the Romanian Immigration Officestructures, Romanian Border Police structures, police units where are established and where are operating detention and remand centers and the structures of the National Administration of Penitentiaries within the Ministry of Justice.

Information and counseling on access to the asylum procedure

If there are elements that lead to the idea that foreigners held in detention and remand centers, in prison, in border crossings or in the transit areas, intend to seek international protection in Romania, the staff from the competent authorities provide information regarding the possibility of submitting an application in this regard.

Photographing and fingerprinting the asylum seekers

With the asylum application, the General Inspectorate for Immigration or other competent authorities photograph and fingerprint all asylum seekers who, according to their statements, are over 14 years old.

Taken fingerprints are sent, compared, searched and stored on paper in filing cabinets of the General Inspectorate for Immigration and in electronic format in the national AFIS database (Automated Fingerprint Identification System) and also in the Eurodac system according to the Eurodac Regulation.

Demand analysis

Interviewing, analyzing the given reasons and the decision on asylum applications are within the competence of the Romanian Immigration Office. These activities are performed by specially appointed officials.

Romanian Immigration Office may request any public institutions, agencies or organizations operating in Romania, anyneeded documents to analyze the situation and settlement of the asylum applicant, respectingtheir confidentiality. In these cases, the consent of the applicant is not needed.

Interview for determining international protection

The interview for determining international protection in Romania consists in a hearing of the applicant by an official of the General Inspectorate for Immigration. For an adequate examination, when deemed necessary, an official may request the participation of some family members of the interviewed asylum seeker, with the consent of the latter.

Upon request and when considered necessary to present all the arguments claiming asylum, the interview is carried out with the assistance of an interpreter in the language indicated by the applicant or in a language which he understands and can communicate clearly. Where possible, if the applicant requestsso, both the interpreter and the official will be the same gender as the person being interviewed.

The presumption of good faith

When some or all the reasonsinvoked in the asylum application that would justify granting a form of protection are not proved with documents or other evidence, it is granted the presumption of good faith, if the following conditions are fulfilled:

a) the applicant has made every effort to support his asylum application ;

b) all relevant elements available to the applicant were presented and the lack of such items was reasonably justified;

c) the applicant’s statements are found to be coherent and plausible and are not contradictedby general and specific information, relevant to their request;

d) the applicant has applied for asylum as soon as possible and any delay is justified by good reasons;

e) the general credibility of the applicant has been established.

Examining an asylum application

The decision on processing the asylum application is taken after a proper examination of the applicant’s situation by specially appointed officials qualified in asylum issues. This includes: individual examination of each asylum application and making an objective and impartial decision and consulting the information from the country of origin and, if necessary, fromtransited countries,obtained from different sources, necessary for evaluating personal circumstances of the asylum applicant.

Any application for asylum is reviewed individually and sequentially from the perspective of refugee status and of subsidiary protection.

In the process of analysing the application, the competent authorities may determine that an applicant does not need international protection in Romania, when in a part of his country of origin are not good reasons to be exposed to acts of persecution or a serious risk or when they have access to protection against such acts.

In this situation, it will be determined whether the applicant can travel safely to that part of their country of origin in order to settle there, taking into consideration the general existing conditions in the part of the country of origin considered to be safe, and the applicant’s personal situation, based on accurate and current information obtained from relevant sources such as High Commissioner of the United Nations Organization for Refugees.

The deadline for settling

The specially appointed official interviews, analyzes the reasons given by the applicant and decides over the application, within 30 days from taking the case.

If the settlement of the application requires additional documentation, and also in other duly justified cases, making it impossible to perform the necessary activities for solving the application, the deadline is extended successively by further periods of maximum 30 days, whitout exceeding 6 months after the asylum application. This period may be extended with new periods that cumulateddon’t exceed nine months, in the following situations:

a) asylum procedure involves complex elements of fact and / or law; or

b) a large number of foreigners simultaneously request international protection, which in practice makes it difficult settling their claims at the administrative stage within 6 months.

In practice, these limits are exceeded constantly, the average period tosettle such a request in Romania being 10 months, as reflected in the Government Resolution approved on 01/19/2016 within the first meeting of the government this year.

Being that sanctions are not provided, these terms may be regarded as recommendation deadlines,being at the discretion of the competent institutions or the official designated for resolving the request to comply or not with the legal deadlines for resolving the asylum procedure.

So, although,according to the law, exceeding the maximum period of nine months for processing the asylum application can only be done in exceptional circumstances, in reality there are very few situations where it is given a solution within the legal deadline of 30 days, normalcy being in fact, the exception.

Restrictive measures

In order to fulfill the necessary formalities, reduce abuses to the asylum procedure, and if a threat to national security, based on an analysis of individual, competent authorities may apply to applicants for international protection, restrictive measures, such as:

 ordered to appear at the headquarters of the General Inspectorate for Immigration structure;

 up residence in a regional center procedures and accommodation of asylum seekers;

 placement in confined spaces specially arranged;

 making or keeping in detention.

We believe that this regulation is pretty vague, is not very clear what does it mean to reduce abuses according to the legislator. In these circumstances, the persons designated in the competent institutions could have complete freedom to decide against which asylum seekers should be taken a restrictive measure, which could lead to further abuses, from the authorities this time, created by the desire to limit alleged abuses of the asylum seekers.

Solutions

The Official designated with the examination of the asylum request has to issue a decision that either recognize refugee status or subsidiary protection granted or reject the application for asylum.

The decision to grant subsidiary protection reasons include denial of refugee status and the decision to reject the asylum application contains adequate reasons for each form of protection and the indication on the obligation to leave Romania.

Remedies

Against the decision to grant subsidiary protection and against the decision to reject the asylum application may be submitted a complaint within 10 days of notification.

The applicant has the right to remain on Romanian territory during the settlement of the complaint.

The complaint is settled by the court in whose territorial jurisdiction the specialized structure on asylum issues of the Romanian Immigration Office which issued the decision.

The court resolves the complaint within 30 days of its receipt and will motivate the decision made within 5 days after judgment.

The appellant or the Romanian Immigration Office can appeale the Court judgment within five days.

The applicant has the right to remain on Romanian territory during the appeal settlement.

The appeal shall be heard within 30 days of its registration by the court – administrative contentious – in whose jurisdiction is the court whose decision is being appealed.

After completion of the asylum procedure in the case of an foreigner who has not obtained international protection, the General Inspectorate for Immigration issue the return decision containing an obligation to leave Romania immediately or in maximum 15 days.

The causes for exclusion from refugee status and subsidiary protection

Refugee status is not recognized to foreigners and stateless persons regarding whom there are serious reasons to believe that:

a) committed a crime against peace and humanity, a war crime or another crime defined in relevant international treaties to which Romania is a party or another international document that Romania is bound to respect;

b) committed a serious non-political crime outside Romania before being admitted to the Romanian state;

c) committed acts that are contrary to the purposes and principles as they are laid down in art. 1 and 2 of the UN Charter;

d) instigated or abetted the commission of the acts were referred to in subparagraph needle).

It also does not recognize refugee status for foreigners and stateless persons who planned, facilitated or participated in the commission of terrorist acts, as defined in international instruments to which Romania is a party.

Refugee status does not recognize foreign citizens and stateless persons having permanent residence in another state, are considered by the competent authorities of that State as operating rights and obligations arising from the nationality of the State or enjoy rights and obligations equivalent.

Cessation and cancellation of international protection

Refugee status ceases if he:

a) was reinstated voluntarily under the protection of the country of his nationality; or

b) after he lost his nationality, he has voluntarily acquired; or

c) has acquired a new nationality, and enjoys the protection of the State whose nationality has acquired; or

d) it was voluntarily re-established in the country which he left or outside which he remained as a result of the reasons for which he was recognized as a refugee; or

e) can not continue to refuse protection of the country of his nationality, because the circumstances in which he was recognized as a refugee have ceased to exist, and can not invoke to justify this refusal, compelling reasons relate to persecution above. These provisions shall not apply to a person that was recognized as a refugee and who, for compelling reasons arising out of previous persecution relates to refuse protection of the country of his nationality;

f) being a stateless person, he is unable to return to his country of habitual residence, being no circumstances in which was recognized as a refugee. These provisions shall not apply to a person that was recognized as a refugee and who, for compelling reasons arising out of previous persecution concerns, refuses to return the land that normally reside.

g) expressly waived in writing to refugee status recognized by the Romanian state. Refugee status is informed in a language that he understand or there are reasonably assume that he understands, of the consequences of the act of renunciation.

Annulment of refugee status and subsidiary protection

Refugee status is canceled when the person who has been granted international protection gave false statements, omitted to present certain data or used false documents, were decisive for the recognition form of protection, and there are no other reasons which lead to maintain a form of prote

Interviews

Interview with Mihai Dobai, Romanian student who saw from close the refugee crisis

In Romania the refugee crisis has held breaking news status more than once in 2015. Most of the stories that came from this ongoing crisis are negative in tone and focus. But they are more or less based on opinions of people, who had ignored until last year, wars in the Middle East and had based their opinions on the influx of migrants based on stereotypes and bad examples.

On the contrary, some people who possessed detailed knowledge on the events in Syria or Lybia tended to use a more moderate tone when discussing the refugee issue. Mihai Dobai is one of them. He majored the Faculty of Geography of the Oradea University with a thesis focusing on the Arab Spring’s effects on tourism in MENA countries. And he advanced his studies in the summer of 2015 through the Erasmus program, where he had the opportunity to study at the Harran University affording him a first row seat to witness to the mass exile to Europe.

So, naturally, taking into account Mihai’s knowledge and experience, we approached him for an interview to record his opinion about the refugee crisis and his preferred solutions towards ameliorating its negative effects and putting and end to it.

  1. Tell us your story. How did you end up this summer as an eye witness to the refugee crisis?

I chose to go with the Erasmus+ Placement programme and our faculty’s Erasmus Coordinator told me that there is an opportunity to go to Harran University in Șanliurfa.

  1. What did you know about the refugee crisis before going to Şanliurfa and Akcakale?

Yes, I knew about the ongoing war in the region, I actually chose Urfa as the destination of the traineeship I have done because I wanted to study more in depth about this issue and to get to know it from another point of view. But in that time the European refugee crisis had just started and it was about to reach its peak meanwhile I was in Turkey.

  1. What was your first impression when you went to Akcakale? How did the people treat you, as a foreigner? What was their opinion about the people fleeing their countries?

In Akcakale, the Turkish bordering city, I have been only once to see the surroundings, the border and one of the refugee camps installed there by the Turkish government. I went there by car with one of my professors from Harran University and I did not have the chance to talk to anybody. Moreover the streets were mostly empty, the atmosphere was desolate, and everything seemed abandoned even though the inhabitants were still trying to have a normal life.

  1. Did you engage in conversations with refugees? How was their morale? What where they expecting from their new life?

I tried to speak with as many refugees as possible and I can see that all of them seemed worried about their future, their new life and were hoping to return to their homeland where not a long time ago they had pictured that their future will be. One of the refugees was also working on mental health issues with other refugees and confesed that many of them are having a hard time and have low morale.

  1. Now that you had a first row experience to the refugee crisis, what do you think about the measures that the EU took regarding this issue?

I think that the EU was caught unprepared by this crisis and it tried to respond punctually to the crisis but without having a coherent plan and without collaboration between its member states or between its member states and the non EU member states which played an important role in the transition of the refugees towards their destination.

  1. In Romania recent polls show that there is a strong anti-migrant sentiment. In your opinion, how can that be changed?

First of all should be reminded that there are more than 3 million Romanian migrants and most of the Romanians currently living in Romania have relatives or know someone who lives or had lived in another country. Even though we are talking about refugees, not about economic migrants, comparing the life of the Romanians abroad with the one a refugee has to live fleeing his/her country might make the people more empathic. Secondly, it is a humanitary issue and as a society believing in human rights should be informed correctly by different NGO’s and Associations fighting for the cause of spreading democratic values. Anyhow, I still believe that our society will be reticent at the beggining to receive refugees in our country but this can change through the power of good example/practices and accurate information provided by the media.

  1. Tell us some solutions that you see towards ending this crisis.

The root cause, namely the war, must be tackled first in order to stop the flux of refugees and to start creating the premises for the current refugees to return to their country. But because there is an actual influx of refugees which requires the attention of the EU, it should collaborate internally to adapt a common refugee and asylum policy, cooperate with the transitory non-EU countries, enhance the cooperation between the EU members, help the overcrowded hotstop countries that cannot bear the burden by themselves and establish safe routes in order to avoid drownings in the Mediterranean.

  1. Since the summer, when you visited Turkey, things have gotten much more tense in Syria, after the Russian intervention, the Paris terrorist attacks and the conflict regarding the Russian fighter jet brought down by the Turkish Air Force. How do you think that all these events affect the refugee crisis?

The situation evolving into a more tense one might provoke another flow of refugees especially when the weather gets warmer and they can travel towards Europe, but also by bringing the situation into the attention of major international actors, the root cause might be stopped by a common effort and the situation can start to develop in favour of the Syrians who do not want to leave their homes.

  1. Do you want to get back to Southern Turkey next summer?

Southern Turkey was a very hospitable place for me and I was well welcomed there so I would be out of my mind to refuse such an opportunity if I get it. But next summer I do not think that it will be possible to return for being busy with studies and other projects.


Interview with Lorett Jesudoss, protection officer at UNHCR Romania

Before the refugee crisis reached a great level of hype in the media, in April 2015, I had the opportunity  to interview Lorett Jesudoss, the protection officer of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Representation in Romania. She offered me all the details regarding the technical aspect of the refugee selection and kindly responded to all of my questions about the situation of the refugees in Romania. Mind you that some of the numbers might be today inaccurate, because the interview was taken about nine months ago.  But it is still a valuable piece of information for those who are interested in the asylum process for Romania.

1.What is the role of UNHCR in Romania?

When first established in 1991, the UN Refugee Agency in Romania assumed the role of offering direct assistance to refugees. In recent times the role of this agency has become more complex and has expanded to include: advocacy for the refugee cause, working with the government towards better legislation on the issues of refugees and humanitarian causes, offering expertise to the General Inspectorate of Migration (Inspectoratul General pentru Imigratii IGI), to basically set up the system for refugees in the country.

UNHCR’s role has evolved to keep pace with the asylum system in Romania. In actuality, Romania’s first law for asylum seekers was based on EU legislation in 2006. Since then the UNHCR has at various times commented on the laws governing refugees and to offer advice on this subject.

The Agency also helps NGO’s working on issues around refugees and helps them to become involved in more direct activities.

So, basically, UNHCR has an active presence, or at least influence, in the Romanian legislative process for asylum seekers from beginning to end.

2. How many refugees are in Romania and which are the countries they come from?

From 1991 until April 2015 there were approximately 26.000 applications for asylum in Romania, 2.500 of these were reapplications. Compared to other European countries, the numbers are modest. The record number of asylum seekers was in 2013, with 2.511 applications.

Also, from the 26.000 applications only approx. 5.400 were accepted. Almost 1.500 refugees were accepted in 2013-2014.  But not all the people who are accepted in Romania decide to stay. As of December 2014 there were 2,182 registered persons who held a valid permit.

The refugees who are living in Romania come from 47 different countries, with over 60% coming from Syria. There are also significant communities from Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran.

3. How many refugee centers are in Romania?

In Romania there are six Regional Centers for Accommodation for Asylum Seekers. These are in Bucharest, Giurgiu, Timișoara, Rădăuți, Galați and Șomcuta Mare. Also, Romania was the first country to have an Emergency Transit Center, also based in Timișoara.

The six Accommodation Centers can host more than a thousand refugees. At the time of this interview, the occupation rate was only at about 20%.

4. How hard is to get a refugee status in Romania and what is the percentage of those who succeed to get a refugee status?

The percentage of those who achieve refugee status is around 20% (see question 2). But the government “is not making you a refugee, it just recognizes you as one”.

5. What happens if a person does not get the refugee status? Can he move to another EU/European state?

If they do not receive the residence permit, they are considered for subsidiarity protection. They can obtain this kind of protection if they show evidence that they are victim of general violence, inhuman or degrading treatment, if they were tortured or there is a death penalty awaiting them should they return to their home countries.

If they do not obtain the subsidiarity protection, they have 15 days to voluntarily leave Romania. If they stay over the 15 day voluntary leave timetable, the applicant will be remanded into Public Custody. In Public Custody they can once again apply for asylum.

If the refugee application is finally rejected, a person can theoretically apply for asylum in another EU country. But practically they do not have any chance, because the refugee legislation is almost the same in every country.

6. How can a person prove from a legal stand point that he deserves a refugee status? Can he appeal? Do they have the right to a lawyer?

To legally prove that he/she deserves refugee status, the applicant needs to show that he/she cannot return to his/her country of origin because he/she would face persecution for various of reasons: political opinion, race, religion, nationality, ethnicity, membership to a particular group – something which cannot be changed, like homosexuality. Another example in this sense can be women in Islam countries.

Unfortunately a very small number of people have documentary evidence that can prove that they are refugees. This makes the task of interviewers much harder, because they have to take into account statements, evidence and documents when deciding if a person is eligible for a refugee permit.

Regarding the lawyer issue, a person whose application was refused (see question no 5) is allowed to hire a lawyer. If they cannot afford a lawyer sometimes they can get it from an NGO or UNHCR, other times the lawyer is provided pro bono from the states. There is even an EU fund for these situations.

If the person is rejected, while it depends on the reasons for this refusal,  Romania allows for three types of appeal: judiciary, recourse and tribunal.

Asylum law is not so prominent. Most lawyers who work in this area do so for reasons of social justice, because is not paid well.

7. What are the living conditions for a refugee in Romania? How much money does he get from the Romanian state? Do they have the opportunity to learn Romanian language?

Once a refugee gets formal protection, he/she can apply for a grant, for which he/she has to pass a means test. The grant is 540 lei (almost 120 euros) per month for six months. It can be extended for a further three months. The grant’s purpose is to kick start the refugee’s new life and to help him/her establish themselves in Romania. The sum was last modified in 2008.

Children can go to school or kindergarten, they have the legal right to work, and they can get themselves insured if they pay for it. They also benefit from free primary medical care and emergency hospital care, as well as free treatment in case of acute or chronic diseases.

Governmental assistance to individuals who have received a form of protection has as its goal the integration of those persons into Romanian society. The general objective of integration policies is to help refugees to become self-sufficient and independent from the assistance provided by the state or NGOs and to actively participate in Romanian society, economically, socially and culturally.

In order to support the integration of this category of individuals, IGI runs integration programs held over a six month period, with a possible extension to one year. During this period, the refugees benefit from accommodation in one of the centers administered by IGI and receive material support for two months, the amount being equal to that of asylum seekers. The programs include cultural orientation courses, social counselling and psychological support as well as Romanian language courses.

8. Do you think that they are adapting to Romanian society?

The Romanian people are really tolerant and have helped them along the way, but it mostly depends on the individual case. There are a lot of success stories, though.

9. Do they have the opportunity to speak with their families?

Yes, they do, if they choose to. Again, it depends on the case. As a refugee you have permission to communicate with your family, but many times you can put them into real danger by doing so.

What do the refugees prefer: to get back to their countries or to bring their families to Romania?

Most of them would love to get back to their home, but they cannot, so they try to bring their family to them. There are laws in Romania that can provide for a family reunification, but they are restricted by the Dublin Regulations.

At the time of the interview I was presented with a case of forty families that the Government of Romania was trying to reunite.

Primarily refugees are desperately wishing to get back home. That is why from the four million refugees created by the Syrian conflict over 95% of them are living in refugee camps near the borders of their country: in Turkey (almost two million), Lebanon (over 1.1 million) and Jordan (over 620.000)[1].

[1] Syria Regional Refugee Response, UNHCR, http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php

Description of what happens if they do not receive the refugee status

If they do not receive the residence permit, they are considered for subsidiarity protection. They can obtain this kind of protection if they show evidence that they are victim of general violence, inhuman or degrading treatment, if they were tortured or there is a death penalty awaiting them should they return to their home countries.

If they do not obtain the subsidiarity protection, they have 15 days to voluntarily leave Romania. If they stay over the 15 day voluntary leave timetable, the applicant will be remanded into Public Custody. In Public Custody they can once again apply for asylum.

If the refugee application is finally rejected, a person can theoretically apply for asylum in another EU country. But practically they do not have any chance, because the refugee legislation is almost the same in every country.

Source: interview Lorett Jesudoss (see Interview section)

Analysis of how the media depicts the refugees in Romania

Aspects of refugee problems: a new offensive against migration

Nowadays, when we use words like migration, migratory or displacement, it almost seems like we are discussing a ghost. Our new civilized world is haunted by a frightening movement of people – who can at best be described as strangers. While certain people migrate or move to other countries because of social, professional or economical reasons, another group of people is on the move because of reasons like war, violence, hunger or persecution. It is this last group, also known as refugees, that is striking fear into our new civilized world, also known as the European Union. Judging on what history books teach us, not much has changed and we have learned little.

In this article we give our view on how migration and the issue of refugees are discussed in Romania. We do this by looking at how the media treats this topic and, in order to give a general impression of how the Romanian public views refugees and migrants, we have administered surveys on this topic. With the number of refugees entering the EU this year moving steadily towards at least one million, it is understandable that people are staggered by the scale of this movement of people. This scale is also what is exploited by several television programs; these programs try to create sensation and panic among viewers. In addition to the manipulating use of numbers, programs also highlight violent incidents in which refugees are involved – which occur only rarely, feeding fear and neglecting to discuss the cause of such incidents: loneliness, alienation and a general sense of despair.

From the following headlines alone it is clear that the producers of news media permit themselves the liberty to create fear: Refugees in Germany , welcomed with fire – Fire at a shelter in Baden –Wurttemberg, <http://www.hotnews.ro/stiri-international-20376412-refugiati-germania-intampinati-foc-incendiu-adapost-din-baden-wurttemberg.htm?nomobile>; Lesbos, near collapse because of the 2000 refugees who come daily to the island, <http://www.hotnews.ro/stiri-international-20365898-lesbos-aproape-colaps-din-cauza-celor-circa-2-000-refugiati-vin-zilnic-insula.htm>; Chaos at the border between Macedonia and Serbia! More than 7,000 refugees have crossed the border in a single night,<http://www.libertatea.ro/detalii/articol/frontiera-macedonia-serbia-refugiati-548807.html>. Further such reporting is not typical for Romanian media, any person in the EU that follows the news with a critical eye, can confirm that the majority of EU news media are guilty of the same tactics as their Romanian colleagues.

Despite the rights of refugees, which are grounded in UN international law (1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees), it seems that the policies of individual EU states are selective in respecting these laws. In line with the news articles mentioned above, these days it is clearly visible, in full scandal, that political gain and populist appeasement are more important than the protection of vulnerable and traumatized people. Instead of respecting laws that were designed to safeguard human dignity, politicians rather prioritize elections and use refugees as a political tool. This mentality makes that the fate of refugees depends more on political whims and manipulation of the public than on true democracy and respect for human dignity.

Even though international law and EU legislation should ensure some form of uniformity, the attitude, conception and approach with regard to refugees is notably different from country to country. This is not only caused by the above mentioned political whims, but also by the room left for interpretation in such laws. For example, the protected characteristics <http://www.refworld.org/pdfid/470a33b30.pdf> which should give a refugee a secure chance of being granted asylum; these characteristics leave quite some room for interpretation, for example: is homosexuality really a protected characteristic for an asylum seeker from Russia? This leeway within international laws is notably visible in the deportation of unwanted asylum seekers. Even though the 1951 Convention contains the provision of non-refoulement (art. 33 (1)), in many cases it is difficult to objectively determine whether or not an asylum seeker will face immediate danger or persecution upon return to her or his country of origin.

The challenge our new civilized world faces today is to truly adopt the 1951 Convention and not stick to the derivative interpretations that often do not focus on the well-being of those who need it most, refugees. Still, we can assume that in the 64 years since the Convention international humanitarian law has evolved. Despite its many flaws, there now is a sophisticated system of rights and obligations, divided between individuals and states, that should ensure international protection for individuals. In order to reap the many potential benefits of this system, the citizens of our new civilized world should actively strive to understand more and fear less. At this moment, each of us stands on the periphery of a social, political and economical circle; we can only see left and right and cannot see across. As long as we stay away from the center, we will not understand each other and suffering will be disregarded and continued.

Survey – 5 questions with multiple choice:

*150 respondents aged between 16 and 40 years old;

*40% women;

Immagine2

 

*16 % primary education;

*44 % secondary education;

*20 % professional studies;

*20 % higher education;

Immagine2
How are the refugees protected?

  1. There are authorities that ensure respect for human rights and physical integrity of its citizens;
  2. There is international protection;
  3. The refugees are returned to the states of origin.

Immagine3

What are the obligations of a refugee?

  1. A refugee must respect the laws and regulations of the country of asylum;
  2. The refugee must respect the laws and regulations of the country of origin;
  3. A refugee must comply with EU regulations.

Immagine4

What are the rights of refugees?

  1. A refugee has the right to safe asylum;
  2. All adult refugees have the right to work;
  3. No refugee child is deprived of education.

Immagine5

Who decides about the granting of a refugee status?

  1. Governments establish the procedure for determining the refugee status;
  2. Refugees established the procedure for determining refugee status;
  3. The population establishes the procedure for determining refugee status.

Immagine6

Can people who flee war, armed conflicts, famine and ethnic violence be regarded as refugees?

  1. Yes;
  2. No;
  3. Do not know;
  4. Do not understand the question;
  5. I can not say.

Immagine7

Everyday life is full of talk about refugees, freedom, the elimination of discrimination, equality between women and men and rich and poor, but the reality is quite different. This is of course clearly visible in the case of refugee rights, but it is only part of a greater inability to live not only for oneself. Although here we focus on Romania, it is clear that this is not only a local problem; it is a European and also a global problem. Even though stumbling blocks and inhibitions are in abundance, positive developments cannot be denied. But to really turn development in progression more has to happen, a good start and a solid basis is a better education!

Follow-up on the refugee crisis

Romania was one of four countries of the EU, alongside Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic (with Finland abstaining to vote) that voted against the second plan regarding refugees’ relocation, during the Justice and Home Affairs Council on the 22nd of September 2015.

The reason for Romania’s vote was given by the fact that our country would not allow to take more than its capacity, which is at 1.785, according to the officials. But the second quota plan would give to Romania 6.351 refugees, which count for 3,87% of the 160.000 asylum appliers who were taken into account in the relocation plan:  40,000 from the first relocation plan plus 15,600 from Italy, 50,400 from Greece and 54,000 from Hungary.

On the 3rd of March Romania will host its first 11 refugees in the Galati center. In the following months some 300 refugees will come in Romania from Italy and Greece through the relocation program.

Until now Romania is not a path in the Balkan migration route and in only three or four cases migrants passed by our country on their way to Germany and the Scandinavian countries. Most of the times they do it by mistake and ask the police to be released so they can be allowed to pursue their dream for a better life in the Western and Northern countries.

The subjective perspective

Eduard Nicolae Popa

Romania is an Eastern European country with a population over 20 million people. Its geopolitical position (at the North of the Danube river, inside and on the outskirts of the Carpathian Mountains and on the Western border of the Black Sea) and its valuable natural resources (oil, gold, rich arable lands) contributed to the really interesting history for Romania. During the Middle Ages, the three regions that form the Romania of our days (Transylvania, Wallachia and Moldavia) were battlefields for the biggest empires of this part of Europe: the Ottoman Empire, The Russian Empire and the Habsburg Empire. After their reunion in 1859 and during the First and Second World War, our country has been an occupation target for bigger and more powerful states, such as the Austro-Hungarian and German Empires or Nazi Germany and USSR.

After the Second World War, Romania became a satellite state for the Soviet Union and suffered a harsh ruling from the Communist Party. During the 1980’s, Romania isolated itself during the rule of Nicolae Ceausescu, and conspiracy theories, according to which foreign countries would want to topple the Communists, being used as propaganda by the regime. After the fall of Communism in 1989, the first decade was a really tough period for Romania. But the former Communist country started an Euro-Atlantic path that could not be reversed. Today, Romania is a member of the European Union (although not of the Schengen Acquis) and NATO. Even though it is still one of the most pro-EU countries, some Euroskeptic and anti-American voices started to get out in the public opinion’s attention.

All these facts determined the Romanian people to have an “invaded country” mentality.

This may be the main cause for these days’ opinion regarding the refugee crisis. According to the most recent opinion polls, over 80 percent of the Romanians do not want refugees in their country through the EU quota plan and almost 82 percent do not want refugees in their city[1]. The latest poll has been registered right after the Paris terrorist attacks from 13th November 2015 which leads me to another important conclusion regarding the lack of Romanians’ support towards the refugee issue: the fear caused by the lack of proper information on this subject.

I am referring to the online sources that are using misleading, incomplete or even false information on the present refugee crisis. They manipulate people into thinking that an invasion is taking place in Europe these days and Romania will be the victim of it just like it happened during the days of the Ottoman Empire if we do not act immediately in order to counter this invasion. All this nonsense feeds the fear of unknown into the hearts of the masse population of Romania, creates a deep feeling of distrust in the society regarding the migrants and awakes the “dark” misconceptions that we managed to bury a long time ago, like xenophobia and racism.

The fact that Romanian people act like this is partially understandable, because of the fear caused by terrorism and Romania’s long history of being occupied by foreign countries. But, mostly, is shameful, if we take into account a series of facts and numbers which show that our country is having big emigration numbers itself.

An unofficial number shows that over four million Romanians are currently living in foreign countries, most of them working in countries like Italy, Spain and France. Only 2,3 million Romanians are working legally in the EU, the rest of them being illegal migrants. These numbers are staggering if you take into account the fact that the working force in Romania is somewhere around 4,2 million persons. This means that almost somewhere between 33% and 50% of Romania’s working force tries to make a living outside our country. The fact that Romania has such a high number of economic migrants who are trying to make a living in the Western countries should be a good reason for the Romanians to be more thoughtful regarding the refugee issues. But, as Poland, another country with a big number of economic migrants, is simply not the case[2].

Another reason why Romanians should have a different perspective regarding the refugee crisis should be the fact that Romanians were also not a long time ago refugees themselves, during the Communist regime. Between 1945 and 1989 Romania has been a Communist country. And, as in all the states with similar regimes, tens of thousands Romanians left the country during its dark Communist ages, trying to achieve a better life in another country.

Even though the exact numbers regarding the people who left Romania during the Communist period are difficult to be figured out, some documents may offer those who are interested an idea about the extent of our country’s emigration in those years. A document from 1982 proves that about 42.000 Romanians left the country since 1941. Keep in mind that this period does not include the worst part of the Communist regime, during Ceausescu’s last years of dictatorship in which the population of the country was starving and was really poor[3].

Another document, dated 1st of August 1984, states that about 45.000 and 50.000 people were living in France[4] only.

These two documents do not present concrete data about the Romanians who have chosen to refugee themselves from the Communist regime, but show the fact that we also had our fair share of people who tried to leave a regime of terror for a better life in the Western countries of Europe.

And the third thing that Romanians have to think about when it comes to the refugee crisis is the fact that Romania has traditionally an integrated Muslim community in its society. Most of them located in the Dobrogea region, the Romanian Muslims are mostly of Turkish and Tatar ancestry. At the latest census they numbered almost 65.000 people[5]. They have been living in peace, with mutual respect and tolerance for centuries in Dobrogea. Their cultural contribution to the Romanian society has been recognized by our first king, Carol I of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, when he commissioned a mosque to be build in their honor in 1910. Today the “King’s Mosque” is a famous touristic point in Constanţa and a symbol of the great peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims in that area[6].

In conclusion, Romanians have a lot of reasons to be afraid of the refugees but a lot more to be tolerant and receptive with their cause. Also is their responsibility to keep in touch with reality, to be always informed, to see both sides of every piece of information and to check all of the information on this matter before sharing, liking or commenting an “incendiary” article on Facebook.

Romania today is at its highest point of social and economical wellbeing of its short history. A big part of it is because of our country’s adherence to the Euro-Atlantic organizations. But today these organizations, especially the EU, have been affected by the refugee crisis and the great amount of propaganda that is trying to destabilize them. Romania needs to play a real role in the EU’s decision making regarding the refugee crisis. It has to show a balance between responsibility and solidarity. Also, Romanians need to be always remembered that today’s refugees are victims of a war they do not want to be a part of, of terrorists and a regime that tries to kill them, like they were during their recent history.

Or else, if Romanians are not showing solidarity with the EU, the system might collapse and with it the peace that exists between the European countries. And peace is one of those things worth fighting for.

[1]Cristina Tatu, “INSCOP: 80,2% dintre români nu sunt de acord ca refugiații să se stabilească în România”, Agerpres, 11 December 2015, http://www.agerpres.ro/social/2015/12/11/inscop-80-2-dintre-romani-nu-sunt-de-acord-ca-refugiatii-sa-se-stabileasca-in-romania-10-33-06

[2] “GENERAȚIA X | Câți români au plecat din țară, unde și de ce?”, Digi24.ro, 1 March 2015, http://www.digi24.ro/Stiri/Digi24/Special/Generatia+X/GENERATIA+X+Cati+romani+au+plecat+din+tara+unde+si+de+ce

[3] Mihai Pelin, Opisul emigraţiei politice: destine în 1222 de fişe alcătuite pe baza dosarelor din arhivele Securităţii, Bucureşti, Editura Compania, 2002, p. 7.

[4] A.M.A.E., fond Franţa, problema 202/1984, f. 83

[5] Bianca Felseghi, “HARTĂ. Unde şi câţi sunt musulmanii din România”, pressone.ro, 23rd September 2015, https://pressone.ro/harta-unde-si-cati-sunt-musulmanii-din-romania/

[6] ” Constanţa: Marea Moschee, un secol de existenţă. În 6 iunie 1913 se oficia primul serviciu religios” , Televiziunea Romana, 6 iunie 2013, http://stiri.tvr.ro/constanta-marea-moschee-un-secol-de-existenta-in-6-iunie-1913-se-oficia-primul-serviciu-religios_31331.html

Romaniaro

Capital: Bucharest
Location: Eastern Europe
EU-member since 2007
Currency: RON (Leu)
Population: 20,057,500
GDP:
Min. wage:
Poverty line:
Population under poverty line:

IWB Researchersforwebsite

Eduard Nicolae Popa

eduard
I joined the refugee project because I think that I can help people in need of safety, and also to help people from host countries to be informed properly on the subject.

Raluca Ioana Calbaza

12769410_10208510865468314_2046949403_n
Lawyer
I joined IWB for refugees project because of its humanitarian objectives and because I would like to bring a contribution to the IWB projects which I consider to be of great importance. They identify the real problems society is facing.

Nastasia Savin

NASTASIA SAVIN

Mirela Savin

MIRELA SAVIN

Why I chose this project? In a few words, because any change affects us – whether we like it or not. Because I care, I want to learn more and because I can change perceptions, visions, thoughts.

Would you like to join the campaign?
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on 21 September 2015

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