What is the registration procedure for an asylum request? What kind of assistance is provided to asylum seekers? What was the answer of the Romanian authorities during the 2015 crisis and what is the plan for following period?

Eleodor Pîrvu is the deputy director of the Asylum and Integration Directorate, part of the General Inspectorate for Immigration (Romania). At the beginning of this year, the EurActiv Romania team had the opportunity to meet with Mr. Pîrvu and discuss about the activity of the Directorate and the situation of asylum seekers in Romania.

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Reporter: How many centres for asylum seekers are there in Romania?

E.P.: At national level, we have six reception and accommodation centres. The Asylum and Integration Directorate is responsible for coordinating all the activities implemented at national level in the regional centres, as well as the integration process.

”In total, we have 900 accommodation spots – 900 spots that can be supplemented during a period of massive influx of immigrants or field-related crises.”

Reporter: What is the process that asylum seekers need to pass through in Romania?

E.P.: The persons who enter the territory of our country, have the right, according to the Geneva Convention, to submit an asylum request. In Romania, the authorities competent for receiving such requests are: the border police, the Romanian police, and the General Inspectorate for Immigration. In addition, these requests can also be submitted in prisons. But the authority responsible for processing the requests is the General Inspectorate for Immigration.

Asylum request form available on the online page of the General Inspectorate for Immigration.

As I said, we have six regional reception and accommodation centres for asylum seekers, which have been strategically established in Romania. We have a centre in Bucharest, the first centre opened for this objective, ”the Regional Centre for Accommodation and Processing of Asylum Requests”. We have a similar centre in the eastern area of the country, in Galați, another one in the north-eastern area, in Rădăuți, in the north-western area, in Somcuta Mare, in Maramureș county, another centre in Timișoara, and the last centre in Giurgiu, in the country`s south, at the border with Bulgaria.

In total, we have 900 accommodation spots – 900 spots that can be supplemented during a period of massive migratory fluxes or field-related crises.

When a person comes, and asks for the protection of the Romanian state on the territory of our country – because a request is possible only on national territory – they submit an asylum request. What follows is the registration and verification process with respect to safety and public order. We have specialised people in all the six centres responsible for this process at national level - specialised people that register the requests and take finger prints of these persons, register their private information in the database of the General Inspectorate for Immigration, and check their identity in cooperation with other national institutions.

After the registration process, the persons, depending on their individual needs, can be accommodated in one of the six regional centres. If the persons do not request this assistance and can support themselves, they can choose were to reside, provided that they offer legal proof – a rent contract, for example. They receive a temporary ID card. Following that, they need to attend a preliminary interview to clarify certain data and information regarding their arrival in Romania.

”During the interview, the asylum seeker has the possibility of presenting the arguments on the basis of which he desires and requests the protection of the Romania state.”

After the preliminary interview, the person is programmed for a more in-depth background interview. These interviews take place in all the six regional centres and are led by decision officers. That is how they are called, decision and interview officers – officers with mandatory legal training, and field experience, who, with the assistance of an interpret, runs the interview. During the interview, the asylum seeker has the possibility of presenting the arguments on the basis of which he desires and requests the protection of the Romanian state.

After interview, there is a period during which the decision officer has to analyse the case and analyse all the arguments brought by the interviewed person. This is complemented by an ample research of the situation in the origin country of the asylum seeker. The statements are checked against information available from open sources and more. We have a specialised department that can provide general information for preparing the interview or for elaborating the decision, as well as specific information with respect to the statements made during the interview. Based on this documentation, based on the situation in their country of origin, and based on other evidences submitted by the asylum seekers, our decision officers proceed on elaborating a positive or a negative resolution.

I would start with the negative decision. When a person receives a negative decision, rejecting the request, they have the right to submit a complaint before national courts, and to two forms of appeal, and the procedure continues in court. During this process, the asylum seeker benefits from assistance in accordance with the law, accommodation and assistance in one of the six regional centres or the person – as I said – resides in the city. The procedure continues until judges deliver a definitive and irrevocable decision. After a negative decision is pronounced by a court or by a decision officer, the person in question has the obligation to leave national territory, within 14 days, to repatriate voluntarily.

If they do not comply with this deadline, they will be returned with the assistance of our colleagues from the Migration Directorate, the General Inspectorate for Immigration. If the decision is positive, either after a court ruling, or after consideration by our decision officer, the person receives protection, of course – either refugee, or subsidiary protection status. They can also request to be added to the national integration programme.

The programme is not mandatory. We cannot force people, but according to the recent legislative changes in the field, from 2015, when Romania transposed the last two mandatory directives at that moment, the directive on procedures and the directive on reception, the persons in question, if they desire support from the Romanian state, if they desire a form of material assistance to support their integration, they are obligated to register in the programme. Moreover, they cannot receive any social assistance, if they do not actively participate in the integration programme in accordance with the individual plan drafted by us – specialised officers from the six regional centres in partnership with non-governmental organisations alongside which we implement projects with the financial assistance of the Fund for Asylum, Migration and Integration. Any person in this situation is obligated to follow and participated in every activity encompassed by this plan, for example activities for learning the Romanian language, cultural adaptation activities with a focus on the region where the person resides, and, at national level, professional training, support for finding a job, and education.

Reporter: Do asylum seekers receive other forms of assistance as well?

E.P.: In addition to accommodation in our regional centres, we also have medical and psychological assistance, food allowances, which have been raised in 2015, as well as many other activities that we run with the support of non-governmental organisations. We have at least three or four non-governmental organisations that support us in different fields and run projects, starting from legal assistance for the asylum procedure.

In parallel, we have projects financed by the Commission and implemented with the National Council for Refugees who assists and advise asylum seekers during the entire procedure, including during the legal stages that enter into play when a request is rejected and the asylum seeker files a complaint before national courts. We also have non-governmental organisations who support us on social aspects with recreational activities, counselling for obtaining certain rights on our national territory, obtaining child allowance, for example AIDROM. We also work with some organisations on psychological and medical assistance – the ICAR Foundation. Finally, after obtaining a form of protection, during the integration process, we work with some organisations on social integration in the Romanian society.

Reporter: Do you also collaborate with UNCHR?

E.P.: We work closely with them. They have been present in Romania since 1991 when they supported us with staff training and legislative development in the field. At the current moment, we collaborate very well. We have many actions organised with them. We even have monitoring actions in our regional centres developed in partnership with them – monitoring the reception and assistance condition for the target group, monitoring the asylum procedure and the manner in which the interviews are run with asylum seekers, the manner in which decisions are elaborated. There are certain quality standards that we verify together.

”The 2015 refuge crisis was a difficult moment...”

Reporter: What happened in 2015? What was the reaction of the authorities? What were the main difficulties?

E.P.: The 2015 refugee crisis was a very difficult moment, both at national and at regional level, when similar authorities to those in Romania were confronted with a very high pressure in what concerns the management of massive migratory fluxes on their national territories. It was necessary to apply contingency plans, urgency plans – which existed or had to be developed in some of these countries. In addition, the systems of these countries – assistance, reception and processing – were overwhelmed due to the situation, due to the large number of people that entered their national territories in a very short period of time.

Romania reacted in solidarity and attempted to support the states subjected to this migratory pressure, in particular Greece, Italy, Serbia, and Macedonia. We contributed with experts detached for long and difficult periods of time, for providing assistance on processing and admissibility. We had an approximative number of 20 experts detached on a period of at least three months in Greece and Italy. They did a very good job, appreciated by the authorities of these countries and by the European Commission. These people had the role to take part in the support teams coordinated by the European Asylum Support Office for the implementation of the intra-EU relocation programme. They also offered support on national procedures, separately from the intra-EU relocation programme for similar authorities in Greece and Italy.

We also had support missions for the Serbian authorities. In Serbia, a year before the crisis, we helped similar authorities to elaborate a contingency plan.

”Romania was the first country at that time that had a well put together contingency plan that enabled the authorities to react.”

At national level, Romania had, at that time, a contingency plan that was a model for Serbia and the Republic of Moldova. Romania was the first country at that time that had a well put together contingency plan that enabled the authorities to react.

Following this plan, at national level, a dedicated legislation was developed – the governmental ordinance 53 on 2015 with respect to the establishing of centres alongside the country`s border with responsibilities for the Border Police, the General Inspectorate for Immigration, etc.

”…in the coming period, a raising awareness campaign is needed, developed at national level, which can give the real, clear image of this phenomenon, and of the measures that the Romanian state has to take in order to manage the situation and ensure a climate of security.”

Reporter: What have you observed in Romania, in terms of public attitude?

E.P.: Romania has a long-standing policy in the field of asylum and migration. The problems are not new, but they have not received much media attention at national level. In the cities where we have regional accommodation and reception centre for asylum seekers, people are more familiarised with the situation. In other areas, where we have important communities of foreigners, it is the same.

The migratory flux of 2015 and also the problems from certain countries in the region and from Central and Western Europe have shifted the public opinion – not necessarily in a positive direction. There were people who understood the phenomenon, the real image of the migrant, the real image of the asylum seekers, of the person who needs protection, who leaves his home country due to armed conflict, due to persecution, but there were also people who failed to understand the phenomenon in accordance with its true image. In this sense, I believe that, in the coming period, a raising awareness campaign is needed, developed at national level, which can give the real, clear image of this phenomenon, and of the measures that the Romanian state needs to take in order to manage the situation and ensure a climate of security.

”Romania, until now, has not received that many asylum requests. The average of asylum requests in the last years has been of approximately 1500.”

Reporter: Has this affected your support activities or the integration programme?

E.P.: Romania, until now, has not received that many asylum requests. The average of asylum requests in the last years has been of approximately 1500. Only in 2012, when there was another crisis in the region, in northern Africa, we had over 2000 requests submitted. The situation is however different. In 2012, the persons that came in our country were mostly economic migrants. The admissibility rate, i.e. of providing a form of protection, was at the time very low, at 10-15% maximum. The situation now, starting from 2015, has changed. We have persons who are coming from countries like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan – countries where there are ongoing conflicts, in which certain minority groups are persecuted by state and non-state agents. These persons run and come to the European Union, including to Romania. The average of requests has maintained. Last year, we had a little over 1800 asylum requests. The situation has changed however in terms of granting a form of protection, because – as I was saying – the majority of those who request asylum come from countries like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Considering that they qualify for a form of protection, they have indeed received that protection, but only after an individual assessment.

In what concerns the integration programme, we have a field-dedicated legislation since 2004, which was developed in congruence with the operational situation at the time. The General Inspectorate for Immigration has the task to coordinate the activities pertaining to the field of integration, but many other institutions have important roles. This refers to the Ministry of Education, who organises Romanian language courses, or the Ministry of Labour, who works on access to the labour market and professional training courses. We also have local authorities who shave to provide access to accommodation – a very important element over the course of the integration programme. There are also several non-governmental organisations with whom we work and implement projects with the help of European funds, through which we supplement the assistance provided by the government.

The role of the General Inspectorate for Immigration is limited to coordinating these activities, but the most important tasks refer to the moment when a person receives protection status and our specialised officers that work in the regional centres inform and advise him or her on the integration programme and elaborate an individual plan that responds to the specific needs.

In the following period – the programme spans over an entire year -, the person receives assistance from several institutions that I have mentioned earlier. This person needs to have access to a place of living. The current legislation gives them rights in the regard, but until now we have not had people benefiting from social accommodation. At national level, social housing is a problem for both foreign and Romanian citizens. The General Inspectorate for Immigration has supported some people with the help of European funds. We managed to cover in certain cases rent and utilities over the course of the integration programme, but only if they have participated actively in the activities encompassed in their individual plans.

The people who have received a form of protection have access, during the time span of the integration programme, to our accommodation centres only in the limit of available places. Priority is given to asylum seekers who submit a request for protection and who are in the process of having their cases analysed. Free spots can be occupied for a year by people who obtain a form of protection, but they have to register in the integration programme and they also need to pay rent and the utilities they are provided with.

Reporter: If there are no free spots in the centres and social housing is not available, what happens to these people? They end up on the street?

E.P.: Until now, we have not had any cases of people without a place to stay. The operational situation has made it possible to find accommodation for them in our centres. We also have a programme – as I told you - financed from the Asylum and Integration Fund that helps cover private rents. The European Commission prioritises ensuring access to housing for persons who have obtained a protection status. This programme allows us to cover rent and utilities expenses for a maximum of one year.

Many of the people who have obtained a form of protection have also been supported by existing communities. We have a Syrian community, an Iraqis community, and even from other origin countries. They primarily offer assistance with respect to accessing the labour market.

”The General Inspectorate for Immigration has created through European funded projects the institution of the cultural mediator.”

Reporter: Do you collaborate with these communities?

E.P.: The collaboration with some local representative communities is very good. We meet regularly, exchange opinions, we try to see what the problems are, and we try to fix them. Moreover, the General Inspectorate for Migration has created through European funded projects the institution of the cultural mediator. This is a representative person from the community, who knows the Romanian language and who can mediate the relation between the host society and people from the target group. We have Syrian, Iraqis, and Afghan cultural mediators in Romania.

Reporter: What are your objectives for 2017? Do you have difficulties or specific needs that you need to attend?

E.P.: As I said earlier, Romania has a dedicated legislation for integration since 2004. The main tasks in this field belong to certain ministries and local authorities. The legislation is currently being modified. We are trying to adapt to the new situation, to new needs, to new demands at the European level. In this regard, the legislation will suffer a few changes in the following period.

The General Inspectorate for Immigration, considering the current operational situation, with the assistance of European funds, has attempted to change something in the field in order to cope with new needs, as the persons who receive a form of protection - and not only them, because we also have responsibilities in what concerns the integration of other third country nationals who have a legal form of residence in Romania – no longer reside only in the areas of the regional centres. We now have important communities of foreigners in other cities, in Cluj, in Iași, in Brașov, Craiova, Oradea etc. We tried to rethink the entire system and with the help of European funds – the Asylum, Migration, and Integration Fund – we created regional centres in 11 important cities where we have communities of foreigners. Here, we aim to have all the activities of the integration programme implemented in a centralised manner – all the language courses, the cultural accommodation courses, the recreational courses, the counselling of the target group to be held across the national territory. We work in these centres with the civil society, who supports us within the framework of grants. In the region of Bucharest, we have the International Organisation for Migration, with regional centres opened in Bucharest and Craiova, and offices in Giurgiu and Pitești. In the region of Galați, we have World Vision, with a regional integration centre in Galați, one in Constanța, and an office in Brăila. In the region of Suceava, we have the ICAR Foundation, with two centres opened in Rădauți and Iași, and an office in Vaslui. In the region of the Somcuta Mare centre, Maramureș, we have LADO Cluj, with a regional integration centre in Cluj and one in Baia Mare. In the western region, we have AIDROM Romania, with a regional centre in Timișoara and one in Oradea.

Local authorities should support us more in the coming period to find solutions for securing social housing, by accessing European funds made available by the European Commission. In the recent period, the Commission has launched a multitude of calls on these lines.

The ministries with tasks in the field of integration could also do more to access these funds and to develop their systems as we have tried and succeeded to do. The Ministry of Education has to develop its language training methods. We are trying to support them and have launched a grant financed from European Funds for rethinking the current curriculum.

There is also the situation in the countries close to conflict, Jordan, Lebanon, and, most important, Turkey, from where most of the migratory groups leave for Europe. The European Commission and all the Member States, in addition to the intra-EU relocation programme, support the implementation of sustainable solutions that involve integration, voluntary repatriation, or relocation. Romania has a history in the field of extra-EU relocation from third countries, which goes back to 2008. We have developed our infrastructure. We have trained our people. We have developed the legislation and internal procedures, and, until now, we have successfully run two relocation operations – a group of 38 Burmese from Malaysia, in 2010, and 40 Iraqi refugees from Turkey, in 2013. It is a difficult process because these people, depending on the quotas established in the national legislation, need to be identified in third countries. We are supported by UNHCR. A registration and interview procedure has to be implemented with these people in the country of first asylum. People pass through an ample verification process, before a decision is taken with respect to their transfer in Romania. We are currently relocating a group of 15 Syrians from Turkey in accordance with the 2014 quota.

Romania has constantly supported the principle of solidarity, having a beautiful history in the field of sustainable solutions. At the Timisoara Centre, an emergency transit centre was founded on the basis of tri-party agreement between the Romanian government, the International Organisation for Migration and the UNHCR, where we have 2000 spots where people in sensitive situations can be evacuated temporarily at the recommendation of UNHCR for a period of 6 months. Their freedom of movement is limited, they have access solely to the facilities of the centre. From here these people are relocated to other countries. All the expenses are covered by UNHCR.

Authors: Andrei Schwartz (interview), Dani Drăgan (camera and video editing), Paula Căbescu (editing and subtitles)

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