Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.
In December 2015, the government transposed into its national legislation the provisions of the EU council directive that established standards for the reception of applicants for international protection. In December 2015, the government also published a Strategy for the Reception of Asylum Seekers and Irregular Migrants to comply with standards within the Common European Asylum System. The publication outlines a comprehensive approach to the reception of asylum seekers and irregular migrants that addresses their basic needs while establishing procedures to safeguard their rights. The strategy in particular stipulates that the government will no longer detain asylum seekers automatically upon arrival.
The government, using EU funds, set up a new initial reception facility to accommodate newly arrived migrants in a contained environment. Upon arrival, authorities from the police and the Agency for the Welfare of Asylum Seekers medically screened and interviewed migrants. Within the facility, migrants received treatment while a caseworker was assigned to each migrant throughout the entire process.
Under the new policy, the government can only detain an asylum applicant: 1) to determine or verify the applicant’s identity or nationality; 2) to identify the elements on which the application is based which could not be obtained in the absence of detention; 3) to decide, in the context of a procedure in terms of the Immigration Act, on the applicant’s right to enter the country; 4) when the applicant is subject to a return procedure under applicable regulations and the principal immigration officer can substantiate, on the basis of objective criteria, that there are reasonable grounds to believe the applicant is making the application for international protection in order to delay or frustrate the enforcement of the return decision; 5) when protection of national security or public order so require; or 6) if an asylum seeker is to be returned to another EU country responsible for adjudicating the asylum application, provided that there is a risk the applicant will abscond.
If an asylum seeker does not meet any of the above criteria for detention but still presents a risk of absconding, authorities may require the individual (for up to nine months) to: report at an assigned place within specified timeframes; reside at an assigned place; deposit or surrender documents; or place a one-time guarantee or surety. If an asylum seeker or beneficiary of international protection cannot find alternate accommodation, open centers provide accommodation.
As of August, nine persons were living in closed centers.
Authorities generally released vulnerable individuals, such as children, pregnant women, elderly persons, and parents with infants, from the initial reception facility into open centers, where they were free to come and go. Migrant children were eligible for government social services, and the government assigned them each a caseworker.
During the year the government introduced the right to free legal aid for the first review of the lawfulness of detention. The government also provided asylum applicants free legal aid at the appeal stage of the application process. Prior to the appeal stage, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) provided limited legal assistance. Migrants also had the option to pay for legal assistance themselves. The government normally granted humanitarian protection to those with rejected applications and appeals.
Authorities released all detainees whose cases were not resolved within 18 months, regardless of whether police had initiated procedures to repatriate them. Authorities permitted such individuals to remain in the country in open centers or in the community at large and issued them work permits. They were eligible for voluntary repatriation programs, but only a few chose to participate.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country denied asylum to applicants who arrived from other EU countries.
Durable Solutions: The government rarely repatriated asylum applicants, although the option of voluntary return to their country of origin was available. As of September, five migrants sought assisted voluntary return. On October 4, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance released a report criticizing the process by which asylum seekers in the country access their files and receive legal aid.
Temporary Protection: The country provided subsidiary protection to individuals who do not satisfy the legal criteria for refugee status but cannot return to their country of origin due to risk of serious harm. From January to July, the country granted subsidiary protection to 758 persons.