United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1997 - Romania, 1 January 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8bb30.html [accessed 14 March 2014]
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The number of applicants filing asylum claims in Romania has fluctuated during the last several years: some 584 persons applied for asylum during 1996, 1,016 applied in 1995, and 610 applied in 1994. In 1996, the largest number of asylum applicants came from Iraq (127), Somalia (77), Bangladesh (76), Iran (62), Pakistan (60), Turkey (37), and Afghanistan (32). Of the 606 individuals whose cases were decided in 1996, Romania granted refugee status to 84 persons and rejected 522 claimants. This corresponds to a 13.9 percent approval rate for the year, down from 21 percent in 1995. The cases of 245 applicants remained pending a first-instance decision at the end of 1996. The Romanian government reported those granted refugee status in 1996 came mainly from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Rwanda. Between 1992 and 1996, some 1,091 asylum applicants disappeared after filing asylum claims with the Romanian authorities and are presumed to have left Romania. The high number of abandoned cases indicates that many prospective asylum seekers entering Romania continued to view it as a country of transit to points farther north and west rather than as a country of asylum. Asylum Procedure On April 1, 1996, the Romanian parliament promulgated a new refugee law, the Law Relating to the Regime and Status of Refugees in Romania (no. 15/1996), that entered into force in May. Romania acceded to the UN Refugee Convention in 1991 but lacked comprehensive national legislation to regulate the reception of asylum seekers and refugees until the new law was passed. On November 13, 1996, the Romanian government issued Government Decision 1182 to provide guidelines for implementing the new law. The refugee law provides for granting refugee status to applicants who meet the refugee definition contained in UN Refugee Convention. Those who do not may be granted refugee status on humanitarian grounds. The law also stipulates that persons fleeing armed conflicts may be granted temporary protection under some circumstances. Persons wishing to apply for asylum may file applications with a Romanian diplomatic mission, at a Romanian border crossing, with the General Directorate of Border Police, Aliens, Migration Issues and Passports (in Bucharest), or with one of the directorate's territorial units. Article 6 of the refugee law permits asylum seekers to enter Romania if they fulfill the normal entry requirements for foreigners. If these requirements are not met, an asylum seeker is allowed to enter only if he or she "arrived directly" from the territory where his or her life or liberty is threatened. "Direct arrival," according to administrative guidelines set forth in Government Decision 1182, is interpreted to include an asylum seeker's transit of third countries not signatory to the UN Refugee Convention as well as transit of countries where the asylum seeker, for reasons not imputable to him or her, was unable to make an asylum request. The refugee law also stipulates that asylum seekers applying within Romania must do so before their visa expires and, at latest, within ten days of their arrival. UNHCR has expressed concerns over the provisions of the refugee law that regulate access to the territory and asylum procedure. Under the law, there is no guarantee that an asylum seeker denied permission to enter Romania without a review on the merits of his or her claim to refugee status will have access to protection elsewhere, UNHCR said. The requirement that an asylum seeker must apply for asylum within ten days of arrival is also problematic, according to UNHCR, because it excludes persons who wish to request asylum due to events in their country of origin that transpired while they were residents in Romania (refugee sur place claims). The Romanian government reported to USCR that, in practice, failure to file an application within the ten-day deadline does not lead to an automatic denial of the request, but plays a role in assessing an asylum seeker's credibility. The new refugee law states that asylum seekers unable to provide for themselves are to be accommodated in a refugee reception center during the determination procedure. At the end of 1996, however, the Ministry of the Interior had not established any reception centers. In the absence of government support, UNHCR provided care and maintenance assistance to asylum seekers and refugees during 1996. According to the refugee law, the Decision Commission, an inter-ministerial body comprised of representatives of the ministries of the interior, foreign affairs, and labor and welfare, is responsible for interviewing asylum seekers and deciding their asylum claims. However, the Decision Commission often has delegated its interviewing responsibility to the Refugee Office. UNHCR reported that the quality of the interviews has improved since 1995, but also said that asylum cases rejected by the Decision Commission often lacked a well-reasoned basis for their denial, leading to problems for applicants in the appeals process. UNHCR also reported that the refugee law accords the Decision Commission unusually wide discretion to exclude applicants from consideration, saying that "the scope to exclude persons in need of international protection from refugee status is grossly exaggerated." Rejected asylum seekers wishing to appeal their cases must file with a local court within ten days of the negative decision. If the appeal is denied, a second appeal with a higher court is possible if the applicant files within five days. For approved applicants, the new refugee legislation provides for the grant of refugee status for three years, which can be extended for another two. UNHCR pointed out that the five-year limit on refugee status is arbitrary and not in keeping with the provisions of the Refugee Convention that regulate the cessation of refugee status. The refugee law also provides that recognized refugees are eligible for social assistance, an integration loan, and permission to work. Despite these rights accorded to recognized refugees under the law, humanitarian observers reported that significant barriers to integration remained at the end of 1996. Recognized refugees reportedly did not have access to government social assistance and had not received integration loans. Nor had any asylum seekers or refugees been granted work permits, to UNHCR's knowledge. The number of recognized refugees who have left Romania reflects the poor integration prospects. All but 15 of the 315 Somali nationals granted humanitarian status in Romania in 1991 had left the country as of July 31, 1996. Similarly, of the 563 persons granted refugee status by the Romanian government since 1991, only about 200 remained at the end of 1996. Detention and Removal Asylum seekers were detained, sometimes for as long as two months, in inadequate conditions in the transit zone of Otopeni International Airport in Bucharest during 1996. Other problems were reported concerning the deportation of some asylum seekers without a sufficient review of their claims or the safety of carrying out their deportation. Amnesty International reported that the Romanian authorities forcibly repatriated a Syrian asylum seeker in March 1996, despite his request for asylum and attempted intervention on his behalf by UNHCR. The man was immediately arrested upon his arrival in Damascus, Amnesty International said. The Romanian authorities claim that his return to Syria was voluntary. In an August 14, 1996 letter to the Romanian Ministry of Interior, USCR protested the refoulement of the Syrian man, saying: "The Romanian government should have given greater consideration to Syria's human rights record and (the deportee's) past detention as a prisoner of conscience before deciding not to give him the opportunity to seek asylum." Other deportations of questionable legality under international law were reported during the year. Readmission Agreements As of 1996, Romania had concluded bilateral readmission agreements with Austria, the Benelux countries, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Sweden, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and India. The Romanian government claims that these agreements were concluded in full observance of the principle of nonrefoulement, and do not affect asylum seekers whose applications are under review.