U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Romania
|Publisher||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants|
|Publication Date||1 June 2000|
|Cite as||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Romania , 1 June 2000, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8d11f.html [accessed 24 October 2014]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
At the end of 1999, Romania hosted about 900 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. Of these, 621 were recognized refugees, about 40 were rejected Yugoslav asylum seekers still in need of protection, and an estimated 200 were asylum seekers awaiting a first-instance decision.
Asylum seekers submitted 1,667 asylum applications in 1999, the largest number coming from Bangladesh (459), Yugoslavia (391), and Afghanistan (292).
During the year, Romanian authorities issued 1,742 first-instance decisions, granting refugee status in 598 cases, an approval rate of 34 percent. The authorities denied 1,144 asylum applications. In the appeals stage, Romania granted 23 applicants asylum and rejected 598 applicants during the first six months of the year. Some 240 persons withdrew their applications during the year.
Romania remained primarily a country of transit for asylum seekers and migrants traveling on to countries farther north and west. During 1999, 8,596 Romanians sought asylum in other European countries.
Romania's asylum system is based on a 1996 law that implemented Romania's 1991 accession to the UN Refugee Convention.
During 1999, Romania participated in the PHARE Horizontal Program, a joint project sponsored by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the European Union (EU). This included the preparation of a National Action Plan to bring Romania's asylum law and institutions in line with EU standards.
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.
According to the refugee law's administrative guidelines, "direct arrival" is interpreted to include asylum seekers' transit through third countries that are not signatories to the UN Refugee Convention as well as transit through countries where the asylum seekers, through no fault of their own, could not request asylum. The refugee law also stipulates that asylum seekers applying within Romania must do so before their visas expire and, at the latest, within ten days of their arrival. Bulgaria did not generally invoke the direct-travel requirement as grounds to deny would-be asylum seekers access to the determination procedure in 1999.
The refugee law mandates that asylum seekers unable to provide for themselves be accommodated in a refugee reception center. One center in Bucharest with a capacity for 250 persons housed asylum seekers in 1999. Another reception center with a capacity for 350 persons is scheduled to open in Bucharest by the end of 2000. Asylum seekers not residing in the government-run center receive 6,000 Romanian Leu (approximately 30 cents) a day, far below subsistence level, to cover accommodation costs.
According to the refugee law, the Decision Commission, an interministerial 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. Despite its statutory mandate, the Decision Commission has delegated its interviewing responsibility to the Refugee Office of the General Directorate of the Border Police, Aliens, Migrations Issues, and Passports. Insufficient training for asylum interviewers and a lack of interpretation services reportedly resulted in some poor decisions during 1999. The Commission also lacked procedural guidelines for deciding asylum cases.
The refugee law grants refugee status to applicants who meet the definition contained in the UN Refugee Convention. Those who do not meet the UN criteria may be granted refugee status on humanitarian grounds. The law also stipulates that persons fleeing armed conflicts may receive temporary protection under some circumstances.
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 years. UNHCR points 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 says 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, UNHCR reports that significant barriers to integration remained at the end of 1999. Recognized refugees do not benefit from government housing and receive the equivalent of 70 cents a day, not enough to cover basic food and accommodation costs. Refugees receive assistance as a reimbursable loan from the Ministry of the Interior for six to nine months. UNHCR has urged the Romanian authorities to increase and prolong this assistance.
Romania has yet to establish a comprehensive integration program with language and vocational training for refugees. Because most recognized refugees had only rudimentary Romanian language skills in 1999, few were able to find employment.
UNHCR cited conditions for asylum seekers arriving at Otopeni Airport on the outskirts of Bucharest as a continued source of concern in 1999. Airport authorities reportedly detained significant numbers of undocumented asylum seekers in the transit zone of the airport for long periods pending decisions on their asylum applications. This practice appeared to contradict the Romanian constitution, which mandates 24 hours as the maximum period that anyone may be detained without charge.
Food distribution to asylum seekers in the transit zones was sporadic; many relied on relatives and friends in Bucharest to provide supplies. In addition, the authorities provided medication only to those who could pay for it. UNHCR intervened, however, and the authorities released all detained asylum seekers from the airport transit zone in December 1999.
During 1999, Romania drew international criticism for its treatment of the Roma minority. Human Rights Watch reported that Roma faced widespread discrimination in education, employment, and housing and that the authorities failed to investigate and prosecute harassment of Roma.
Discrimination and intolerance led many Roma to seek asylum abroad. In 1999, Romanian Roma flocked in record numbers to Ireland, which registered 2,226 Romanian asylum seekers. Romanians constituted the largest group of asylum seekers in Ireland during the year. The increase reportedly stemmed largely from Ireland's granting refugee status to 13 Romanian Roma in the appeals process in March.
In 1999, 391 Yugoslavs applied for asylum in Romania, which granted refugee status to 373 of the Yugoslav applicants. During the refugee emergency in Kosovo, Romania agreed to receive 6,000 Kosovo Albanians under the humanitarian evacuation program (HEP). Romania only hosted about 100, however, most of whom had repatriated by August 1999.
Prior to the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in March 1999, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR sponsored refugee processing in Belgrade for U.S. resettlement. Because Yugoslavia and the United States severed diplomatic relations when NATO began the air strikes, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) began interviewing former Yugoslav candidates referred by UNHCR in Timisoara, Romania in September. The U.S. resettlement program is confined largely to two groups of refugees Krajina Serbs (some of whom have been displaced for a second time by the Kosovo crisis so-called "double refugees") and Bosnian Serbs originating from the area now recognized as the Bosnian Federation. By the end of 1999, UNHCR and IOM had arranged for about 4,000 INS interviews in Timisoara, and 1,339 former Yugoslavs had been resettled to the United States out of Romania.