The updated AIDA reports on Romania and Serbia track legislative developments and practice relating to the treatment of people in need of international protection. Access to the territory remains a critical regional problem, as successive push backs continue to be reported at the borders of the two countries, as well as others such as Bulgaria.

Key developments in Romania

Access to the territory: Reports from 2018 show a decrease in the number of collective expulsions to Serbia in comparison with 2017. However, at least 746 persons were collectively expelled from Romania to Serbia during the year. Issues on information provision and interpretation at the border continued to be reported. In relation to irregular exits to Hungary, whereas up to 2018, asylum seekers or other migrants apprehended while trying to irregularly cross the border into Hungary were only fined, the situation changed in 2018 when the Regional Court of Chișineu-Criș started delivering convictions with a sentence of six months’ imprisonment, coupled with a two-year entry ban from the territory of Romania.

Interpretation: The availability and quality of interpretation has remained an issue. In Rădăuţi, as in Giurgiu, IGI-DAI uses double interpretation from Kurdish to Arabic and from Arabic to Romanian. The interpreter for Kurdish was an asylum seeker and the interpreter for Arabic was not qualified. This was brought to the attention of the Regional Court in an appeal lodged by an asylum seeker against a negative decision taken by IGI-DAI, which acknowledged contradictions and vague statements due to double interpretation.

Detention of vulnerable applicants: According to the amended Aliens Act, if the foreigner declares that he or she is a minor and cannot prove his or her age, but there are serious doubts about his minority, he or she will be considered an adult. In this situation, IGI requests an age assessment, with his or her prior consent. As a consequence the child will be treated as adult and placed in detention pending the age assessment, until his or her age is confirmed. In practice, vulnerable groups such as families and pregnant women have been detained in 2018.

Key developments in Serbia

Asylum reform: The new Asylum Act came into force on 4 June 2018, introducing an entire set of novelties. Among those, the most important ones are related to the accelerated procedure and the border procedure, more precise provisions on the grounds for persecution, sur place refugees, acts of persecution, actors of persecution, actors of protection in the country of origin, the internal flight alternative, and grounds for exclusion. Additionally, the safe third country provision has been improved, the first country of asylum concept has been introduced and the rights between persons granted refugee status and subsidiary protection have been aligned. However, the real effects of all of the enlisted novelties are yet to be seen during the course of 2019, since the old Asylum Act continued to be applied in the vast majority of the ongoing proceedings.

Access to the territory: Access to territory and the asylum procedure remains a serious problem, especially in the practice of police authorities in the border area with Bulgaria and North Macedonia, as well as at the Nikola Tesla Airport. The new Foreigners Act that came into force on 1 October 2018 also gives a lot of reasons for concern, taking in consideration that the newly introduced decision on the refusal of entry cannot be challenged with an appeal that has automatic suspensive effect. Coupled with the practice of push backs, the decision on refusal of entry will most likely become an additional obstacle for persons in need of international protection in accessing the territory and the asylum procedure respectively.

Safe third country: The safe third country concept still remains the most common concept applied in the asylum procedure, even though the rate of its application has dropped to 65%, and more cases were examined on the merits in comparison to previous years. However, numerous decisions proclaiming Bulgaria, North Macedonia and even Turkey as ‘safe’ clearly lack any assessment as to the risks of refoulement in these countries, and are not followed by individualised guarantees that asylum seekers would be allowed to enter the territory and the asylum procedure there.

*This information was first published by AIDA managed by ECRE

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin . You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.