Access to Asylum: The law provides for access to asylum procedures to foreign nationals and stateless persons who express their desire for protection, which may be in the form of refugee status or temporary protection (“subsidiary protection” status in the EU). The asylum law prohibits the expulsion, extradition, or forced return of any asylum seeker at the country’s border or from within the country’s territory, but this was not without exception, particularly in cases that fell under the country’s terrorism laws.
Applications for international protection may also be filed with border police upon entering or exiting the country. In such situations, applications are channeled into a “border procedure,” which is carried out by the designated asylum authority, the General Inspectorate for Immigration’s Directorate for Asylum and Integration. Under border procedures, decisions are made within three days, and applicants may either be granted access to the country and to the ordinary procedure or have their claims rejected as manifestly unfounded. In theory it is also be possible to grant refugee status from the moment an application is filed, but no known cases of this have occurred.
UNHCR noted no significant impediments regarding access to asylum procedures or discrimination in access during the year with respect to specific populations. Nevertheless, there were several allegations of denial of access to the country and/or the asylum procedures at the border areas and transit zones. Several applicants for international protection, including Syrian nationals who arrived via the Black Sea in February 2015, were convicted of “illegal entry” and prosecuted for smuggling in their family members while their applications for protection continued to be rejected during the year. A court granted one Syrian national from the group access to a new asylum procedure, but his case was rejected once again at the administrative level and remained pending in a local court as of late December.
Approval of an international protection application filed in the country may result in the granting of either refugee status or subsidiary protection. The latter is a form of complementary protection that, pursuant to EU directives, is granted at the EU level to an applicant who does not qualify as a refugee but has shown substantial grounds for needing protection.
Between January and July, 274 individuals were granted international protection at the administrative level (176 refugee status and 98 subsidiary protection) and nine at the judicial level (three refugee status and six subsidiary protection).
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The law provides for the concept of safe countries of origin. This normally refers to EU member states but also includes a list of countries approved by the Interior Ministry at the recommendation of the General Inspectorate for Immigration, which must be published in accordance with the law. As of September, a minister’s order to this effect had not been issued. Procedurally, the government would normally reject applications for asylum by persons who had arrived from a safe country under accelerated procedures as manifestly unfounded, except in cases where the factual situation or evidence presented by the applicant shows the existence of a well-founded fear of persecution. In the latter case, the adjudicating authority is required to grant the applicant access to the ordinary procedure. The law does not provide exceptions for the serious risk of harm that would warrant the grant of subsidiary protection. There were no known reports of rejections of applications for international protection based on application on safe country of origin. Three asylum applications by EU nationals were rejected at the administrative level of the asylum procedure between January and July; no information regarding the legal basis for the rejections was available.
The law also refers to the concept of a safe third country. The provisions in the law related to this concept are far reaching, as the law extends to irregular migrants who transited and were offered protection in a third country considered safe or who had the opportunity at the border or on the soil of a safe third country to contact authorities for the purpose of obtaining protection. In such cases, authorities may deny access to asylum procedures if the designated safe third country agrees to readmit the applicant to its territory and grant access to asylum procedures.
Refoulement: The law establishes exceptions to the principle of nonrefoulement and the withdrawal of the right to stay following a declaration of a person as “undesirable.” This may occur, for example, when classified information or “well-founded indications” suggest that aliens (including stateless persons), applicants for international protection, or beneficiaries of international protection, intend to commit terrorist acts or favor terrorism. Applicants for protection who are declared “undesirable” on national security grounds were taken into custody pending the finalization of their asylum procedure and then deported.
Freedom of movement: While the internal movement of applicants for international protection was generally not restricted, legislation adopted in 2015 provides for placing asylum seekers under detention. Authorities may detain regular asylum seekers in custody centers or in “closed spaces arranged for this purpose” for a maximum of 60 days. Authorities may detain asylum seekers who present a danger to national security but may also use detention to limit abuses of the asylum procedure. NGOs and UNHCR expressed concern that the vague wording “abuse of the asylum procedure” could lead to abusive placement of migrants in detention.
The law incorporates four “restrictive” measures under which the internal movement of applicants for international protection may be limited. The first two establish an obligation to report regularly to the General Inspectorate for Immigration and to reside at a regional reception center (similar to placement under judicial control under the criminal code). These were deemed alternatives to detention.
A third restrictive measure allows authorities to place applicants in “specially arranged closed areas” for a maximum of 60 days, either to conduct the asylum procedure (especially if there is a risk of absconding) or if the asylum seeker is deemed to pose a danger to national security. There was one case of placement in a specially arranged closed area since the measure came into force on April 20.
Authorities may also place applicants for international protection in administrative detention in a public custody center if they are subject to a transfer decision to another EU member state under the Dublin Regulations III or if they have been declared “undesirable” for reasons of national security, pending their removal from the country. Public custody centers are normally used to detain apprehended irregular migrants.
During the year amendments to the asylum law to limit “abuse to the asylum procedure” took effect. Under these amendments, irregular migrants who submit their first application for international protection while in public custody are no longer automatically released but are only released if granted access to the ordinary procedure. The amendments raised concerns among UN agencies and civil society due to the ambiguity in the phrases “abuse of the asylum procedure” and “risk of absconding.”
The period of detention in a public custody center can periodically be prolonged, up to a maximum of 18 months.
Employment: Asylum seekers have the right to work starting three months after they submit their first asylum application, if the process has not been completed. This period begins again if the applicant obtains access to a new asylum procedure. Even when granted the right to work, many asylum seekers faced problems finding legal work, mainly due to the limited validity of their identification documents and lack of awareness among potential employers of their right to work.
Beneficiaries of international protection do not face any legal obstacles in accessing employment, as they have the right to work under the same conditions as citizens and do not require additional work permits or other documents. While persons granted protection have the legal right to work, job scarcity, low wages, lack of language proficiency, and lack of recognized academic degrees and other certifications often resulted in unemployment or employment without a legal contract and its related benefits and protections.
Access to Basic Services: By law persons granted refugee or subsidiary protection status have the same rights as citizens to access education, housing, lifelong learning and employment, public health care, and social security. Nevertheless, effective access to these rights varied across the country, depending on the level of awareness of various public and private actors responsible for ensuring access to these services.
State financial assistance to asylum seekers increased during the year from approximately 3.6 lei (one dollar) per day to 16 lei (four dollars) per day, with slightly increased allowances for vulnerable persons, which was low by the country’s living standards. Persons with special needs or vulnerabilities were particularly affected. Although supplementary financial support was provided under EU-sponsored projects, annual gaps between these projects regularly led to limits in funding availability. New provisions granting applicants of international protection explicit access to social assistance have yet to yield results, due primarily to a lack of awareness and/or incorrect interpretation of different laws at the local level. Applicants for international protection had limited options for meaningful activities, such as language classes, cultural orientation, and skills training, while Romanian language classes were no longer available. State-provided social, psychological, and medical assistance for applicants for international protection remained insufficient, with many dependent on NGO-implemented projects for such help. Assistance for victims of trauma and torture was lacking.
Durable Solutions: According to the Justice and Home Affairs Council decisions in September 2015, the country was allocated a quota of 6,205 applicants for international protection for relocation from other EU member states facing pressure on their national asylum systems, most notably Greece and Italy. Relocations commenced in March; applicants for international relocation were channeled into the ordinary asylum procedure. As of December 31, authorities had relocated 554 asylum seekers to the country from Italy and Greece after vetting them for national security risk. Authorities granted international protection to nearly 100 percent of relocated asylum seekers. Relocated asylum seekers have rights identical to those of other asylum seekers within the country.
Despite the low number of refugees in the country, anti-refugee sentiment increased dramatically during the year. Public perception toward the regional refugee and migrant crisis switched from initial empathy and a lukewarm reception to growing hostility due to increasing anti-migrant rhetoric within the public sphere. According to a national poll by INSCOP Research, almost 90 percent of the public would not agree to hosting refugees in their community. The poll had a 3 percent margin of error. In February an NGO attempted to build a small refugee shelter in Ardud, a town in the north of the country but gave up after residents protested and signed a petition against it. In April residents of Vama Veche, a popular seaside resort, protested the building of a government transit center there. The extreme-right party Noua Dreapta (New Right) was very active and vocal in protesting the establishment of such centers.
Beneficiaries of international protection continued to face problems with local integration, including accessing housing, employment, education, vocational training adapted to their specific needs, counseling programs, and citizenship information. Obtaining a legal work contract remained difficult for various reasons, including tax concerns. Beneficiaries of subsidiary protection complained of problems regarding their freedom of movement to other countries due to the additional visa requirements. Persons granted refugee status may apply for citizenship after four years of continuous legal residence in the country. These conditions, however, do not apply to persons under subsidiary protection, who are required to have eight years of continuous legal residence.
Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees and through September provided it to approximately 120 persons at the administrative level (statistics on persons provided temporary protection at the judicial level were unavailable).