Vol. 3 No.2  

Romania qualifies as stop-over for women fleeing murder threat

Romania could become a safe haven for the urgent evacuation of women refugees, argues Machiel Salomons, the new representative for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
“I do not rule out the possibility that conflicts in the region could spark a wave of asylum seekers,” Machiel Salomons, UNHCR

     Somalis fleeing from civil war, or Iraqis fearful of ethnic cleansing do not turn up in vast numbers trapped in a boat in Constanta or walking across the border at night near Vama Veche.
     In fact, the number of asylum seekers in Romania was the lowest in the industrialised world in 2006, with only 480 claimants.
     Yet despite, or because of the few number of asylum seekers targeting Romania, this country has an international reputation as a keen host of refugees.
     Romania allowed 4,000 Serbs to stay in 2001, until they were resettled and 440 Uzbek refugees fleeing persecution sheltered in Timisoara in 2005, before relocation to other countries such as the USA and Canada.
     Now Romania could become a transit country for women at risk, who must move great distances from their home country, argues Machiel Salomons, the new romanian representative for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
     “These could be victims of gang rape who need urgent medical attention,” he says, “or where the perpetrators of the crime will not hesitate to go to neighbouring countries in hot pursuit of the women, to get rid of the evidence - to kill them.”
     Many of these abused women find it hard to access big resettlement countries. This is in part due to the current paranoia in the west over allowing the passage of potential terrorists.
     In the meantime, they remain in peril.
     Salomons is exploring whether the vacant accommodation now available following the departure of the Uzbeks could be suitable for women and their children. This will probably be only 30 per year and families are likely to come from Africa, Middle East and Asia and then move on to resettlement nations such as the USA or Canada.
     “Romania has shown outstanding commitment in the context of the Uzbeks,” says Salomons, “it has become an essential player in offering temporary shelter.”
     There is no “perceived intolerance” of refugees in Romania, argues Salomons, who is full of praise for the Romanian Government and the country in general in this respect. “They know what persecution is all about, because of the [immediate] past,” he says.

Entry point

     New regulations could impact the number of refugees choosing Romania as a point of entry to the EU.
     Before 2003, asylum seekers in Europe submitted claims in different member states of the European Union. This way they went ‘asylum shopping’ for the best deal, hoping they could find a home in at least one country.
     Now, under the Dublin II agreement, they will only be able to submit a claim at the EU nation they enter first.
     With Romania possessing one of the longest borders of the EU and a gateway to the east, Salomons says this “could impact on the number of asylum seekers in Romania.”
     If refugees chose Romania as their first port of call, the country would be obliged to process their claims. The numbers may increase, says Salomons, but he does not believe this country will become a target.
     Asylum seekers from the east are more likely to come through Turkey and then pass to Bulgaria or Greece, while from Africa they turn up on the coast of Spain and Italy and anyone coming through Ukraine has tended to opt for Poland or Slovakia.
     “When Poland joined the EU it was widely expected that due to Dublin II, the country would be swamped by asylum seekers who could no longer process their claims in the UK or other countries, but it remained the same as in previous years,” he says.

Conflict obligations

     Romania already has refugees from around the world, including Africa and Iran, who have settled permanently. Just last year, 670 refugees were granted freedom to remain in Romania. Many have entered the country through taking a boat across the Danube from Bulgaria.
     However, Romania is bracketed by frozen conflicts to its west and east, especially in the Black Sea region. There are still unresolved issues over the sovereign status of Kosovo in Serbia, Transnistria in the Republic of Moldova and Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia and Southern Ossetia in the Caucasus. These miniature cold wars could heat up at any time, with a likely influx to neighbouring countries a certainty.
     “I do not rule out the possibility that conflicts in the region could spark a wave of asylum seekers,” says Salomons. “We need to ensure emergency preparedness on part of authorities to deal with these potential influxes.”

Michael Bird