Slovak migration policy poisoned by hypocrisy

It is unbelievable that only 646 migrants were granted asylum and 636 afforded subsidiary protection in Slovakia since 1993. That is only 1,282 people out of 58,019 applicants, the equivalent of two full boats. While in one May weekend in 2015, the Italian Coast Guard saved more people than all asylums and subsidiary protections ever granted by Slovakia in 22 years.

Photo: The transparent "Refugees welcome" was hung from the historical building of the Comenius University in Bratislava on 10 June 2015 by local activists..


TAGS:

More than 45,000 migrants risked their lives crossing the Mediterranean to reach Italy and Malta in 2013, and 700 died doing so. Despite the wars in Syria, Iraq, and Lybia, severe repression in Eritrea, and the spiraling instability across much of the Arab world, all contributing to the displacement of around 16.7 million refugees worldwide, a further 33.3 million people are “internally displaced” within their own war-torn countries. This forces many of those to face the “lesser evil” of the Mediterranean in increasingly dangerous ways.

In 2013 European politicians believed that they could discourage migrants from crossing the Mediterranean simply by reducing rescue operations. As a result, more than 170,000 people arrived on Italy’s shores last year 1 and the number of dead rose more than three times  – and these figures were produced by counting only those, whose bodies were recovered. Europe’s immigration policy is turning the Mediterranean into a mass grave.  How many more deaths can we stomach?

In the 22 years of the Slovak Republic’s existence, 58,019 migrants have requested asylum. 2 These numbers are hard to believe. Especially because over the course of just one year, one European country received three times as many arrivals as Slovakia even had in applicants through the course of its history.

Maybe Italy is just unlucky enough to be surrounded by the sea. Is Slovakia more fortunate because so few make it all the way here, where we live inland, pumped up with European money and protected by 98 km of X-ray controlled Slovak-Ukrainian Schengen border? Are we opposed to any responsibility sharing and to accepting refugees on our territory in the current crisis, because we are not the first country they land their feet on? Or do we want to believe another construct: that Slovakia is not their destination country (but for that matter, is Italy?) and so they are not real refugees, because they want to “run away” further to Western Europe?

The scale of unrest in the Middle East, including some countries where migrants initially sought sanctuary, have left them with no options and so they take their desperate chances at the risky Mediterranean passage. Migrants fleeing war, poverty and political instability in Africa and the Middle East hope to secure new lives in Europe, in what has become the largest human migration since the end of World War II, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). 3 Mothers, pregnant women, babies and small children on filthy rubber dinghies, floating and sinking in the open sea are abandoned on ghost ships without crew. Slovakia could grant some form of international protection to a portion of this vulnerable group of refugees and offer them long-term prospects of a new life in peace.

Slovakia has never elected a politician who embraced the topic of migration and integration in favorable terms and put it high in their own political agenda, despite the nation’s international commitments. Apparently, this is not a topic that contributes to winning elections. Until recently, it has only been the Ombudslady, Ms Dubovcova who has expressed her concern over the Ministry of Interior’s treatment of foreigners, 4 followed by Supreme Court judge Berthotyova’s statements 5 and European MP Jana Zitnanska’s calls on Slovakia to help refugees. 6

Precisely because Slovakia has already been a fully-fledged Member of the European Union for 11 years, the present and future governments finally need to realize that European immigration policy should be implemented in our country. The common immigration policy should be characterized by clarity, transparency and fairness and be targeted toward promoting legal immigration. At the foundation of the common immigration policy should be the principles of solidarity, mutual trust, transparency, responsibility and the shared efforts and responsibilities of the EU and Member States.

Some Slovak government representatives seem to forget that in 2013 Lebanon, a country three times smaller than Slovakia, which has approximately 5 million inhabitants, already accepted almost 800,000 Syrian refugees, and currently accommodates over a million; According to the UNHCR, Jordan hosted 531,768, Iraq 190,857, Turkey 492,687 and Egypt 124,373 that same year. How many Syrian refugees has Europe offered a new life to?

Slovakia has been returning Syrian refugees found on our territory back to the overloaded refugee camps in Hungary and Bulgaria where they first applied for international protection through the Dublin procedure. 7 This, after they had spent months in detention facilities in Slovakia for irregular migration, waiting for what their future would hold. The Dublin Regulation gives Member States the option to examine international protection applications lodged by third-country nationals or stateless persons, even if this is not their responsibility under the regulation’s humanitarian and compassionate criteria. 8

Slovakia has not been availing itself of such a possibility so far. On the contrary, there have been cases where asylum seekers were not returned to Slovakia, although it was the country responsible for their asylum applications, because the authorities in another EU country had determined that the conditions in Slovakia upon their return, mainly relating to non-detention and education, housing and living allowance access, would not be adequate. 9

However many Slovak government representatives have repeatedly claimed that asylum seekers leave Slovakia because it is only a transit country. For many, clearly, a first and natural impulse would be to reach the state where their family, relatives, acquaintances or community lives. But we need to ask ourselves the correct questions: Do we want to offer a durable solution to asylum seekers in Slovakia? Do we want to help them integrate and start a new life, so that later they could freely live in their new country or travel to visit or join their families anywhere, just like we do?

The most recent (2015) Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) 10 study suggests that Slovakia only minimally applies the EU’s basic standards to the integration of foreigners in the country. It also both points to the insufficient monitoring and evaluation of policies that have an impact on the integration of foreigners, and to missing research about immigrants needs and problems. This lack of support and the unfavorable conditions for employment endangers immigrants’ long-term economic integration. Asylum seekers, for example, can only start working if a decision has not been reached on their asylum application within the first year.

According to the MIPEX, migrants in Slovakia are excluded from work in the public sector and other professions, lack access to public services, and those with temporary resident status do not get unemployment or other benefits. Moreover, the legislation concerning employment of foreigners is disarranged, complicated and fragmented for various types of jobs. The MIPEX study also points to one of Europe’s longest citizenship waiting periods (up to two years), schools’ inadequate integration strategies, problems with the application of foreigners’ basic political rights and efforts to limit foreigners’ right to gather and rejoin their families. 11

Slovakia was one of the last EU Member States to even adopt a “concept” of integration in 2009 and eventually a policy in 2014. The country has not made any major progress in promoting integration, other than strengthening anti-discrimination laws, since 2007. Slovakia’s integration policies raise major doubts about their effectiveness. Integration is weak from the moments the immigrants arrive, with even weaker rights for labor migrants and reuniting families. Authorities can, for example, at any time proclaim that the business activity of a foreigner who has been granted temporary residence for business “does not contribute to the development of the Slovak economy,” and can cancel the migrant’s residence permit.

Family re-unification with a refugee granted asylum in Slovakia can last years; and often, children grow up in the meantime. School and health practitioners receive hardly any guidance when serving Slovakia’s very small immigrant student and patient communities, since education and health are largely missing from Slovakia’s integration strategies. The lowest and most inequitable naturalization rates in Europe keep most non-EU citizens in insecure status. 12 Citizenship can be granted after eight years of permanent residence in Slovakia with proceedings lasting two years, greatly restricting access to it in practice.

So the hypocritical excuse that Slovakia is a transit country for asylum seekers does not hold firm ground. It is because Slovakia does not offer them realistic and fair prospects of a decent life and creates obstacles for them in every sphere starting with work, healthcare and education, so much so that most leave our country.

The current migrant crisis is about two things: compassion and responsibility. We need to save lives, create channels of legal migration, share the burden of resettling groups of vulnerable refugees on our territory and continue to improve our integration and migration policies. Slovakia is a full-fledged member of the European Union. The country needs to get rid of this rampant hypocrisy in its migration policy, which allows the powerful to impart distress on the powerless without getting their hands dirty.

Notes:

  1. IOM data shows in 2014
  2. What is even more disturbing are the figures on separated children – unaccompanied minors granted asylum, which is only 4 on humanitarian grounds (Article 9, Act on Asylum), and 0 on grounds laid down by the Article 8, Act on Asylum.(2) 10 unaccompanied minors received subsidiary protection out of 57 requests for asylum filed and more than 693 separated children discovered on our territory. In addition, 11 children were given tolerated residence permit according to the Act on Residence of Foreigners.
  3. Patrick Kingsley, „Arab spring prompts biggest migrant wave since second world war,“ The Guardian, January 3, 2015.
  4. Matej Dugovič, „Dubovcová preveruje cudzineckých policajtov, vidí nedostatky,“ SME, October 6, 2014.
  5. Eva Mihočková, „Slovensko sa bojí utečencov. Pomôžme im, vyzýva sudkyňa Berthotyová,“ Plus 7 dní, May 2, 2015
  6. European Parliament, „Migrácia: Parlament žiada prijatie okamžitých opatrení na záchranu životov,“ April 24, 2015.
  7. Official Journal of the European Union, L180-31.
  8. Article 17, Dublin III Regulation, Official Journal of the European Union, L180-31.
  9. Human Rights League, 2014.
  10. Migrant Integration Policy Index 2015,The project “Integration policies: Who benefits? The development and use of indicators in integration debates” is led by the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB), and the Migration Policy Group (MPG). The project conducts a complete review of integration outcomes, policies, and beneficiaries in all EU Member States, Australia, Canada, Iceland, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey and the USA.
  11. Migrant Integration Policy Index 2015,The project “Integration policies: Who benefits? The development and use of indicators in integration debates” is led by the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB), and the Migration Policy Group (MPG). The project conducts a complete review of integration outcomes, policies, and beneficiaries in all EU Member States, Australia, Canada, Iceland, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey and the USA.
  12. Migrant Integration Policy Index 2015, The project “Integration policies: Who benefits? The development and use of indicators in integration debates” is led by the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB), and the Migration Policy Group (MPG). The project conducts a complete review of integration outcomes, policies, and beneficiaries in all EU Member States, Australia, Canada, Iceland, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey and the USA.
Alexandra Malangone

Alexandra Malangone

works as a lawyer and researcher in the NGO Human Rights League, which is an implementing partner of UNHCR in the Slovak Republic. She is responsible for projects on monitoring access to asylum procedure in administrative detention facilities for irregular migrants, legal advice to unaccompanied minors and creating a network of lawyers and social workers to provide legal advice and representation to trafficked persons.