d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The constitution and law provide for the freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern, which could include irregular migrants potentially in need of international protection.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: According to UNHCR, several incidents of harassment and crimes against refugees and migrants were reported throughout the year in Bucharest and other parts of the country, although many incidents were not reported because of fear, lack of information, inadequate support services, and inefficient redress mechanisms. Authorities consistently declined to investigate incidents of this kind as hate crimes.
In-country Movement: The internal movement of beneficiaries of international protection and stateless persons was generally not restricted. Asylum seekers may be subject to measures limiting their freedom of movement and to detention in specific circumstances. The law and implementing regulations provide that the General Inspectorate for Immigration may designate a specific place of residence for an applicant for asylum while authorities determine his or her eligibility or may take restrictive measures, subject to approval by the prosecutor’s office, that amount to administrative detention in “specially arranged closed areas.” According to UNHCR, as of September no cases of asylum detention were recorded during the year. Applicants who do not qualify for asylum were treated as aliens without a right to stay in the country who may be taken into custody pending deportation. According to the law, those applying for asylum while in public custody were released from detention if granted access to the ordinary procedure. Detention in public custody centers is subject to regular review and should not exceed six months unless there are specific circumstances, in which case detention may be extended for up to 18 months. Applicants for or beneficiaries of international protection in certain circumstances, particularly those declared “undesirable” for reasons of national security, may be subject to administrative detention in public custody centers.
The government may grant “tolerated status” to persons who do not meet the requirements for refugee status or subsidiary protection, but who cannot be returned for various reasons. These reasons include cases where stateless persons are not accepted by their former country of habitual residence or where the lives or well-being of returnees could be at risk. Persons with “tolerated status” have the right to work but not to benefit from any other social protection or inclusion provisions, and the government restricted their freedom of movement to a specific region of the country. According to UNHCR, 244 persons were holders of “tolerated status” as of January, of whom 141 had been granted “toleration” as an alternative to detention or following prolonged detention.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
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 asylum, or persons granted asylum intend to commit terrorist acts or favor terrorism. Applicants for protection declared “undesirable” on national security grounds were taken into custody pending the finalization of their asylum procedure and then deported. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as of the end of November, 390 persons had been subjected to refoulement.
Access to Asylum: The law provides 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 “subsidiary protection” status. 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 national security and terrorism laws.
UNHCR reported several allegations of denial of access to the country, pushbacks, and deviations from asylum procedures at border areas.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The law provides for the concept of safe countries of origin. This normally referred to EU member states but could also include other countries approved by the Internal Affairs Ministry at the recommendation of the General Inspectorate for Immigration. Procedurally, the government would normally reject applications for asylum by persons who had arrived from a safe country under accelerated procedures, except in cases where the factual situation or evidence presented by the applicant shows the existence of a well-founded fear of persecution. Between January and August, one asylum application by an EU national was rejected at the administrative level of the asylum procedure; no information regarding the legal basis for the rejection was available.
The law also refers to the concept of a safe third country. 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 could deny access to asylum procedures if the designated safe third country agreed to readmit the applicant to its territory and grant access to asylum procedures.
Freedom of Movement: The law incorporates four “restrictive” measures under which the internal movement of applicants for asylum may be limited. The first two establish an obligation to report regularly to the General Inspectorate for Immigration or to reside at a regional reception center. A third restrictive measure allows authorities to place applicants in “specially arranged closed areas” for a maximum of 60 days, either to access the asylum procedure or if the asylum seeker is deemed to pose a danger to national security. There was no case of an asylum applicant being placed in a specially arranged closed area through September. Authorities may also place asylum applicants in administrative detention in a public custody center if they are subject to a transfer to another EU member state under the Dublin Regulations or if they have been declared “undesirable” for reasons of national security, pending their removal from the country.
Under provisions of the law to limit “abuse to the asylum procedure,” irregular migrants who submitted their first application for international protection while in custody were released from detention only if granted access to the ordinary asylum application procedure. The provisions 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 could 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 was not completed. This period begins again if the applicant obtains access to a new asylum procedure. Even when granted permission 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.
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: Effective access by persons with refugee status or subsidiary protection to education, housing, lifelong learning and employment, public health care, and social security varied across the country, depending on the level of awareness of various public and private actors responsible for ensuring access to these services.
The government provides asylum seekers 16 lei ($4) per day in financial assistance, with slightly increased allowances for vulnerable persons. The allowance was low relative to the local cost of living, and persons with special needs or vulnerabilities were particularly affected. Supplementary financial support was provided under EU-sponsored projects, but timing gaps between these projects restricted funding availability. Applicants for asylum had limited options for meaningful activities, such as language classes, cultural orientation, and skills training. Romanian language classes were no longer available for adults. State-provided social, psychological, and medical assistance for asylum applicants remained insufficient, with many dependent on NGO-implemented projects for such help. Proper identification and assistance for victims of trauma and torture was lacking.
Durable Solutions: According to UNHCR, the country had become a resettlement country, having agreed to resettle small quotas of refugees every year. For 2018-19, the quota pledged by the government was 109 Syrian refugees, to be resettled from Turkey (69) and Jordan (40) with UNHCR and IOM support. As of September no arrivals had been recorded.
UNHCR reported that, as of August, 4,072 persons benefiting from any of several forms of legal protection were residing in the country. By the end of August, 1,406 persons had submitted new or repeat asylum applications.
Beneficiaries of international protection continued to face problems with local integration, including access to vocational training adapted to their specific needs, counseling programs, and naturalization. According to UNHCR, no municipality provided targeted support services or targeted integration and inclusion programs to refugees. Access to education was problematic, and several school inspectorates refused to organize Romanian language classes. According to several reports, schools across the country, including in large cities such as Bucharest or Timisoara, refused to enroll refugee children in school for several months. Obtaining a legal work contract remained difficult for various reasons, including tax concerns and the reluctance of employers to hire refugees. Recipients of subsidiary protection complained of problems regarding their freedom of movement to other countries due to the additional visa requirements. UNHCR reported that refugees saw citizenship acquisition as a cumbersome, costly, and difficult process, with some requirements, particularly related to the applicant’s financial situation, that were difficult to meet.
Temporary Protection: The government did not grant temporary protection to any individuals during the year.
According to UNHCR, as of August there were 337 stateless persons with valid residence documents in the country. These included legal residents under the aliens’ regime, stateless persons of Romanian origin, as well as 120 persons granted some form of international protection. Data on stateless persons, including on persons at risk of statelessness and persons of undetermined nationality, were not reliable due to the absence of a procedure to determine statelessness, the absence of a single designated authority responsible for this purpose, and the lack of adequate identification and registration of persons with unknown or undetermined nationality.
The law includes favorable provisions for stateless persons of Romanian origin to reacquire citizenship. Nevertheless, a significant gap persisted due to the lack of safeguards against statelessness for children born in the country, who would be stateless because their parents either were themselves stateless or were foreigners unable to transmit their nationality.