Some 9,200 Romanians, most of who were believed to be members of the Roma minority, sought asylum during 2002, including some 1,900 in the United States, 1,600 in the United Kingdom, 1,700 in Ireland, 970 in Sweden, and 630 in Belgium.
Romania hosted 75 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection during 2002. These included 36 refugees and 39 pending cases.
According to provisional government statistics, asylum seekers submitted around 1,000 asylum applications in 2002, less than half the number submitted in 2001. The largest numbers came from Iraq (400), followed by India (130), China (90), and Bangladesh (80).
During the year, Romanian authorities issued 1,000 initial decisions, granting refugee status in 36 cases, a 4 percent approval rate, and humanitarian status in 15 cases. The authorities denied 950 asylum applications, of which 8 percent were rejected as manifestly unfounded. Some 78 applications were closed or withdrawn during the year.
In the appeal process, the Romanian courts overturned 30 cases giving them refugee status, and 30 cases granting them humanitarian status.
Romania ratified the UN Refugee Convention in 1991. A new refugee law entered into force in November 2000 that brought Romanian asylum policies and institutions further in line with European Union (EU) standards. The legislation exempts asylum seekers from penalties for illegal entry or residence, and incorporates the provision in the European Convention on Human Rights against returning persons to countries where they may face torture.
Asylum seekers file their applications with officials of the National Refugee Office of the Ministry of the Interior, and are issued temporary identification papers. The National Refugee Office conducts status determination interviews in consultation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Asylum seekers have the right to legal representation and free interpretation services.
Romanian authorities grant refugee status to applicants who meet the UN Refugee Convention standard, and also grant "humanitarian status" to persons who do not but risk torture in their country of origin. In addition, persons fleeing armed conflict may receive "temporary protection" under some circumstances.
The 2000 law introduced accelerated border procedures for asylum seekers entering the country. Applications can be deemed manifestly unfounded if the applicant originated or traveled through a country deemed safe. During the year, 76 applications were rejected as manifestly unfounded. Asylum seekers may not be detained at the airport for more than 20 days, whether or not they hold documents.
Persons granted refugee status receive identification cards, valid for 6 to 12 months and regularly renewable, as well as travel documents containing a one-year renewable residence permit. Those granted humanitarian status are issued temporary identification cards, also renewable.
Rejected asylum seekers who wish to appeal their cases must file with a local court within ten days of receiving the negative decision. If the appeal is denied, a second appeal with a higher court is possible if the applicant files within five days.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) observed that adequate access to the asylum procedure at border crossings and in the accelerated procedure may not be guaranteed, particularly in the short timeframes given for evaluation of claims in the accelerated procedure. UNHCR also noted that exclusion, cessation, and withdrawal clauses in the law exceed the provisions of the UN Refugee Convention.
Assistance and Accommodation
Asylum seekers unable to provide for themselves may be accommodated in one of three refugee reception centers in Bucharest, which have a combined capacity of over 700 persons. According to UNHCR, the cash given asylum seekers in reception centers – the equivalent of about $0.50 per person per day – is not enough for food and other basics.
Asylum seekers unable to stay in reception centers often cannot afford to pay for private housing with their allowance of the equivalent of $0.30 per person per day. UNHCR supplements government medical care and other services for asylum seekers through a local non-governmental organization (NGO). The government stated that it would open two additional reception facilities at the end of 2003.
Vulnerable refugees, such as separated children, single mothers, and families with many children, may continue to stay in reception centers. Other refugees are only eligible for an integration loan set at the equivalent of the minimum wage for nine months, and permission to work. The government reported that 80 refugees received loans during the year. New legislation passed in late 2001 promised to extend public assistance to a year, and to entitle refugees to state-funded employment services, language classes, vocational training, and unemployment benefits. However, UNHCR reported that the law was not implemented.
According to UNHCR, loans were often delayed for several months, creating hardship for refugees. As a result, refugees continued to be dependent on integration services provided by UNHCR through NGOs during the year.
Border Control and Readmission Agreements
Romania has readmission agreements with Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. In 2002, Romania also concluded readmission agreements with Albania, Latvia, Lebanon, Norway, and Portugal. The latter three agreements had not entered into force at year's end. During 2002, about 12,400 Romanian nationals were returned from European countries under readmission agreements.
Under 2001 legislation, Romanian border police may immediately return illegal migrants arriving from countries deemed to have high migration potential. Although such migrants are, in principle, given access to the asylum procedure, according to UNHCR, the quick return policy could hinder the right to seek asylum. Those involved in illegal border crossings or human smuggling suffer penalties deemed "excessive and disproportionate" by UNHCR.
In 2001, the Romanian government created a national strategy for improving conditions for Roma in order to dissuade their departure to other EU countries. In January 2002, a Council of Europe report condemned Romanian discrimination against Roma, criticizing neglect of the Roma in the education system and persistent police brutality against them.
In mid-2002, the government set up a National Council for Combating Discrimination, charged with proposing legislation and coordinating with government and non-governmental groups to "ensure the elimination of all forms of discrimination." However, according to the Romanian Helsinki Committee, the government modified the council's status in December, removing its independence.
Many Roma sought asylum abroad but, despite widespread and official European condemnation of their treatment in Romania, other European countries granted very few of them asylum; instead they expeditiously processed their claims, and summarily deported them to deter others from seeking asylum. The United States is the largest recipient of Romanian claims; its Immigration and Naturalization Service granted 53 percent of such cases in 2002.
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