europa algemeen

The Amsterdam Treaty, june 1997

Knocking at the gate, june 1997

europa landen


Rumania, preselection for the European Fortress

France, Human rights for 'sans-papiers'

Belgie, "He who keeps silent now must fear everything" Ratko Zamir



Romania, preselection for the European Fortress

The ever stricter asylum policy in the European Union also has its consequences in countries that border on the EU or are trying for membership.
One of these countries is Romania.
It is part of the 'buffer zone' which has grown around the European fortress. Here the first selection takes place among immigrants and refugees from other continents. Romania is a country of transit for refugees from the Middle East and Africa. Many remain in this waiting room while their passage is being blocked. At the same time in Romania poverty has grown since 1989 and the persecution of Roma has increased.

One of the most important causes of the collapse of the Ceau- cescu government was the wish to open the borders for people to travel to Western Europe. For trading with the west they were reasonably open, against the will of the USSR, for Roma- nians themselves however until 1989 there was practically no opportunity to travel abroad, not even into bordering Eastern Bloc countries. This isolated the Romanians. Many, among them many Roma, lost their lives trying to illegally cross the border, or they ended up in prison where abuse awaited them. Still since the sixties Somali students came to Romania, Romanian workers traveled to Libya and many Romanian Jews left for Israel.

Exodus from Romania

When Ceaucescu fell in '89 masses of people left the country. This exit reached its height in '90. The Romanian economy opened up to the world market, it's restruction led to mass dismissals. Especially small scale industries were hurt, the standard of living went down. At the same time the tightening of the asylum policies in Europe were being felt in Romania. Various countries adopted new agreements regarding deportati- on, where the EU countries, following the BRD, obliged them- selves to form repatriation treaties with Romania and intensi- fy their border controls.

The relations between rich and poor inside Europe then led to the tightening of border controls, for example on the Hungari- an/Romanian border, an outer border of the European fortress. Many countries which form the outer border of Europe, like Hungary, have largely adopted the immigration and deportation policies of the western European bloc. The results of wars like those in the former Yugoslavia and Moldavia as well as the second Gulf War and the consequences of the trade embargo against Irak have left their mark on Romania and it's borders.

Intensified control

Military border control in particular but inland control as well, have increased. Illegal border crossing has since '92 again become a punishable offence, whereas before it was a misdemeanor. When arrested on the border or inland one can expect the worst. Romania is still a police state, months of detention under dismal hygenic circumstances in small spaces are an everyday thing; torture is plenty. Following the EU countries Romania also adopted mandatory visa's for people of the South Asian subcontinent. For entry a return ticket and financial means are mandatory. Romania has obliged itself to take back those that illegally travel to Hungary or the former Yugoslavia (Serbia), but are arrested.
The Romanian border is guarded by two means of control. The border police and custom department control the streets, the stations and the harbours and deal with the travelers; the national border guard authorities control the entire green border, using conscipted soldiers. Both come under the Minis- try of Internal Affairs. The first is made up of 6 regions (including Bucarest). The 6 brigades that make up the last are spread out over the many border crossings. The Hungarian and Ukranian borders are less tightly guarded.


If one reaches the Romanian border wanting to apply for asylum and able to produce travel documents one is allowed into the country. Without these documents one must apply for asylum immedeately at the border, after which one mˇght be allowed into the country. This however depends on the discretion of the individual civil servant, many of whom do not know or respect the rules of admission.
The Romanian procedure for asylum allows the refugee almost no rights, shelter is minimal and there is great poverty. Asylum seekers in Bucarest must renew their temporary residence permits every two months, they receive the equivalent of around 300 Dutch guilders to live on. They are stuck in Roma- nia and cannot acquire a visa to go elsewhere because they applied for asylum in Romania.

Walking on the Romanian side of the European border, for instance in the city of Arad, you are aware of painful con- trasts. On the main street there are many travel agents offe- ring trips to cities in Europe, on the corners of the same street are groups of Roma and, right behind the main street, the impoverished parts of the city. Many houses in the border area are overpopulated, condemned premises are being rented to immigrants in transit. Many people without papers are arrested there. During the first years after the Wall fell the border was fairly open to people. Now here on the Romanian-European border the journey ends for many refugees and migrants. In the years between '90 and '94 more than 200.000 people tried to cross the Hungarian borders illegally, hoping to enter Western Europe, most through Romania. About half of them were arrested during their attempts. More than half of these are Romanian, then Turkish/Kurdish, then Pakistani. Many are detained in the overcrowded prisons, for example 1400 prisoners had to share 600 beds. For this reason they are often dumped again, mostly after around three to six months of foreigner's detention. The prisons in Timisoara and Oradea also hold immigrants.

Border prison

Since '94 Otopeni, Bucarest airport, has a border prison. It holds people who's identity could not be traced in the EU countries but who are not connected to Romania either. The foreign police state they have traveled to Europe on the Romanian airline Tarom. There are also prisoners who were on their way to Western Europe and for example had a stop-over in Romania. And there are people who crossed the national borders but did not have the proper visa, or who were arrested during raids.
The transit facility at Otopeni is shared by airlines, cus- toms, border police and special units. The space has been renovated and rebuilt assisted by German know-how. The 'depar- ture airline' LuTas: Lufthansa Tarom Airport Services, played a large part in this transformation. A building which was easier to close off and more remote serves as a prison com- plex. Tarom 'voluntarily' supplies food there.

Many are deported and new refugees are imprisoned. Some are there for four months or longer. Wether or not they are aired depends on the willingness of the guards. Sometimes prisoners were not aired for four days. Medical care is minimal; various medical problems are treated with the same medication. There is no TV, there are no newspapers, the prisoners are isolated.

The detention of foreigners has never been openly discussed in Romania, it's just there, while there is no legal ground for it. Legal detention orders or legal scrutiny do not exist. It is a kind of police detention with no maximum term; often detention lasts around 5 months. On an everyday basis rights depend on the discretion of the guard on duty. Together with the airport police and the cooperating airlines, political responsibility for the detention at the airport lies with 'the interdepartmental committee for migration problems'. It was instated in September of '92. On this committee are represen- tatives of the Ministries of Labour and Social Affairs, Inter- nal and Foreign Affairs, Justice and Finance and Economic Affairs, Health and Education. This committee has made some recommendations, for instance a decision has to be made about an appeal for asylum within 1 month. But according to APADOR, the Helsinki committee from Bucarest, these guidelines are usually not followed. In Romania an appeal for asylum can only be made on wednesdays and thursdays between 12.00 and 16.00, in the centre of Bucarest. For those detained at the airport this is impossible. There is no opportunity to be heard there either. Because the reasons for turning down a request are not stated, any form of appeal is a farce.

Waiting for deportation

The arrested illegals and refugees who have been deported from other EU countries to Romania, have no chance to apply for asylum, neither during their arrest nor during their detenti- on. Many repeatedly but to no avail appeal for asylum to the police and UNHCR. The UNHCR has visited the prison but stated they can do nothing.
There are refugees from Kurdistan, Irak, Burundi, Nigeria, India, China, Pakistan.


For decades the Romanian government has had excellent diploma- tic relations with Turkey and various Arabic countries. Becau- se Romania is a transit country for many refugees and migrants from these countries, these people are especially threatened by direct or indirect deportation. Romania is 'good' at group- deportations, which are of a military character. An infamous example is the deportation of Tamils to Colombo in '94 on a Tarom flight. Many of these were arrested upon arrival. German embassy personnel was shown to have played a part in this group-deportation, while the UNHCR were excluded.

source: Rum„nien. Vor der Toren der Festung Europa, FFM Heft 2, 1996, Berlin.