United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1998 - Romania, 1 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8bc36.html [accessed 10 March 2014]
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At the end of 1997, Romania hosted about 2,000 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection, the largest number coming from Bangladesh, Congo-Brazzaville, Congo/Zaire, Iran, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Somalia. Although more than 5,000 persons have applied for asylum in Romania since 1991 (of whom 660 were recognized as refugees), only about 2,000 asylum seekers and refugees reportedly remained in the country at the end of 1997. Many asylum seekers abandoned their applications before receiving a decision and traveled on to countries farther north and west, suggesting that Romania continued to be a country of transit rather than a country of asylum. Others returned home following rejection of their asylum claims. Asylum Procedure Romania enacted a refugee law in May 1996 (no. 15/1996) that provides guidelines for implementing the UN Refugee Convention, to which Romania acceded in August 1991. In November 1996, the Romanian government issued administrative guidelines to implement the new refugee legislation. Despite these steps to create a legal basis for receiving refugees and asylum seekers, much of the new refugee law reportedly remained unimplemented during 1997. The refugee law provides for granting refugee status to applicants who meet the refugee definition contained in the 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 receive 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 the directorate's territorial units. Asylum seekers not meeting the normal entry requirements for foreigners may enter Romania only if they "arrived directly" from the country where they fear persecution. "Direct arrival," according to guidelines for implementing the refugee law, 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, could not request asylum. 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 concern that the refugee law's provisions regulating access to the asylum procedure prevent bona fide refugees from applying for asylum in Romania. The refugee law mandates that asylum seekers unable to provide for themselves be accommodated in a refugee reception center during the asylum procedure. At the end of 1997, however, the Ministry of Interior had not established any reception centers. In the absence of government support, UNHCR assisted asylum seekers and refugees during 1997. 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 has delegated its interviewing responsibility to the Refugee Office of the General Directorate of Border Police, Aliens, Migration Issues, and Passports. Insufficient training for asylum interviewers and a lack of interpreting services reportedly resulted, in some instances, in poor quality status determinations during 1997. Rejected asylum seekers wishing to appeal their cases must file with a local court within ten days of their negative decision. If the appeal is denied, a second appeal with a higher court is possible if the applicant files within five days. The refugee legislation provides approved applicants a 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 UN Refugee Convention that regulate 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, significant barriers to integration remained at the end of 1997. Recognized refugees did not have access to government social assistance and had not received integration loans. Because recognized refugees also did not receive work permits, many remained dependent on UNHCR and NGO assistance. Readmission Agreements As of 1997, 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. Romanian Asylum Seekers Due to a faltering economy, continued political unrest, human rights abuses against Roma (Gypsies), and laws discriminating against homosexuals in Romania, thousands of Romanians have sought asylum abroad in recent years. To prevent the movement of Romanian asylum seekers westward, Austria called on the governments of Hungary and the Czech Republic to introduce visa requirements for Romanian citizens. Germany, the destination for many would-be asylum seekers and immigrants, has also expressed frustration over the influx of undocumented Romanians and other eastern Europeans, urging Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary to tighten controls and step up surveillance of their eastern borders. Stereotyped as economic and social burdens rather than victims of persecution, Romanians generally, and Roma in particular, are rarely considered seriously for asylum abroad. Human rights advocates in several Western European countries expressed concern that Romanians who apply for asylum in Europe are quickly deported home without receiving due process.