On 23 February 2016 I had the honor to take part as a panelist, at the kind invitation of the LiderJust Association, the Romanian Association for Law and European Affairs (RALEA) and Romanian US Alumni Association, to the international conference “The Flux of Migrants – a new test for the Member States of the European Union? How is Romania responding to the new socio-political challenges?” (Fluxul de imigranți- un nou test pentru statele membre ale Uniunii Europene? Cum răspunde România noilor provocări socio-politice) that took place in Bucharest, Romania. It was conducted in Romanian and English and took place at the premises of the Commission Representation office in Romania.
With this honor came also a sense of responsibility and humility given the sensitive nature of the topic. The flux of migrants currently on the European territory shall represent the main test both for the European Union institutions and the Member States. In order to answer this challenge is important that the Members States develop at the level of the institutional structure of the public administration and of the justice system the capacity to respond to the flux of migrants, by adapting their legislation concerning the asylum and the border security at the new configurations. Moreover, it becomes more obvious as the time passes by, the need to develop a minim package services for the migrants. It is essential that all these measures to be done by taking into consideration the main values of the EU, such as solidarity and responsibility.
I was really impressed by the quality of this debate that brought together Romanian and foreign experts to talk about the most recent evolution in the topic of migrants crisis.
I took part in the First panel Massive immigration – a test for the administrative and justice system? alongside Ms. Rodica NOVAC, President, Conect Association and Ms. Mariana FELDIOREANU, judge, President of the Sector 4 Court. The Panel was superbly moderated by Ms. Raluca SÎMBOTIN, public policies expert.
My presentation entitled Romania’s stance in the issue of the Refugees crisis. Political aspects.Preliminary observations related to the Romanian authorities’ reaction in front of the refugee crisis.
What is to be noted early on is Romania’s lack of experience with the refugees mainly the very low number of refugees that arrived in Romania in the last 25 years – Romania has so far, within the European Union Member States, the lowest percentage of the total population formed by immigrants that raised from 0.6% (in 1990) to just 0.9% (in 2013, according to UN Data).
International migrant stock as a percentage of the total population (Romania, 1990 – 2013, UN Data)
This low percentage is due to the low number of persons who filled asylum requests in Romania: from 1991 until December 31st 2013 approx. 25 100 asylum requests were registered in Romania out of which approx. 5 200 were approved (UNHCR). As for the year 2015 Romania received from January 1st until September 30th 2015 a total number of 944 asylum requests (Romanian Government). All this in a year (2015) which is likely to break any known records for forced displacements (UNHCR).
In that context the Romanian authorities rejected any compulsory refugee quotas, clearly stipulating that we can receive just 1 785 refugees, and this on a voluntary basis.
”solidarity is required, but it is best for each Member State to establish on its own how many refugees it can take. It is what is called voluntary quotas.” (7 September 2015, Presidential Administration)
What is to be done in that context? We can identify a series of opinion of the main public institutions as following:
”we need to go to the roots of the crisis and have a decisive intervention to the source of the crisis – meaning Syria but not only in order to end this conflict and bring back peace”
”we must reinforce the support granted to the safe areas from around the crisis zone, meaning an increase support for countries such as Jordan, Lebanon or Turkey, where there is a great number of refugees”
”reinforce European Union external border”
”these „hot spots”, these centers must become European centers”
”we have requested an integrated concept, in order to approach the entire mechanism from source to the country where the refugee who has this right finally arrives” (24 September 2015, Presidential Statement)
”the solution on short and medium term is based on the relations between EU, Turkey, Jordan and the other countries sheltering the biggest part of the refugees”
”the solution on the long term is fighting against terrorism in Syria, the recovery of the Syrian state structure and the support for Syria’s rebuilding. From the diplomatic point of view, Romania will join EU and USA’s efforts concerning this long term solution”
”Russia’s intervention in Syria can not solve the conflict, but on the contrary just to aggravate it and to create new and new sufferings for the civilian population” (5 October 2015, Prime-minister speech)
the principle of solidarity must be endorsed by the principle of voluntarism while the measures for burden sharing must be on a temporary basis
democratic control over the envisaged measures
the need for further impact studies
draws the attention over the Ukrainian crisis– the risk of aggravation of the refugee flux from there (Decision no. 59 of June 30th 2015 of the Chamber of Deputies)
”considers that the decision concerning a transfer mechanism for international protection seekers should be adopted trough a search of consensus amidst the Member States”
”signals that it would be rational to search first of all solutions meant to avoid the perpetuation of a phenomenon that would jeopardize the existence of the Union in itself instead of mobilizing all the available resources for the creation of a permanent transfer mechanism”
”expresses reserves toward possible “financial sanctions” for the Member States that cannot take part to the transfer mechanism” (Decision no. 82/2015 of October 21st 2015 )
As for the contrary opinions we can identify two types of arguments:
”Romania, in a profound moral crisis and in the incapacity to overcome the economic recession, can offer the right to asylum only on an individual and selective basis”
”Romania, in its multi-secular historical tradition, can play a role of protector of the Christians from Orient” (deputy PNL, Andrei Daniel Gheorghe – political statement: “European Commission Quotas„, 4 June 2015)
”The basis of the problem is the clash of two cultures. Never those from the Islamic culture would adopt our European culture”
”Romania has a great pillar in its own Constitution, article 3 paragraph 4, which stipulates that no foreign populations may be displaced or colonized on the territory of the Romanian State. […] We are not in the Schengen Area, nor we do not for now to join it very soon, so you can leave me be. The States don’t forget when they have been mistreated, and Romania must not forget the way it was treated, concerning the Schengen Area.” (Traian Băsescu, PMP leader, TV statement, 6 September 2015)
Percentage of Romanian citizens who are opposed to the idea of receiving refugees/immigrants in Romania within the quota system envisaged by the European Commission
Source: own calculations based upon the data provided in INSCOP Opinion Polls
Following Romania’s stance shown above we can now clearly stipulate the following partial conclusions:
- the absence of a xenophobic/anti-refugees rhetoric at the official level;
- internal difficulties in integrating the refugees;
- high oscillations of the citizens attitude toward the refugees issue/compulsory quotas;
- the disappearance of this theme from the internal public agenda of the at the beginning of 2016;
- short/medium term solutions v. long term solutions;
- tensions in the relationship with the neighbors – see the case of Hungary;
- the Eastern crisis – unsolved issue – a possible impact upon the refugee crisis;
- joining/reforming the Schengen Area – unsolved problem.
In the end the questions remains: Are we ready for the arrival of the first refugees?
Special thanks are in order for the organizers of this event, Ms. Alexandra Carmen Lăncrăjan, President of the LiderJust Association, professor Daniel-Mihail Șandru, President of RALEA, and Oana Iacob, President of the Romanian US Alumni Association.
Thanks were also addressed to the Institute of European Democrats who had the initiative of this research.
The full paper is available online at http://www.iedonline.eu/publications/2015/romania-refugee-crisis.php
Here is also a link to the Facebook page of the event https://www.facebook.com/events/546767168824942/
The video recording of the first panel is available online on Digi24 (available only in Romanian).