Moldova as a “Safe Country” and The European Migration Quandary

, by Chiara Bachels, Lucas Shiller, Martina Bianco, Rob Somogyi

Moldova as a “Safe Country” and The European Migration Quandary
Passport control in the European Union Foto: Unsplash / Daniel Schludi / Unsplash Lizenz

In the year 2000, Europe ushered in the new millennium by passing the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. In Article 1, it proclaims that “Human dignity is inviolable. It must be respected and protected.” This declaration was given pride of place, ensuring, at least aspirationally, all people (not just Europeans) have a right to a dignified life. Almost 25 years later the EU is now, according to some, on the verge of seriously undermining one of its core values, particularly in the area of migration.

With the recent passage of the Pact on Asylum and Migration, the EU is being accused of appeasing right wing anxieties while exposing migrants and asylum seekers to a more difficult road into the continent. They are increasingly facing tougher challenges to live and remain in Europe. In this text we will examine how new developments at the city level in Berlin, on the national level in Germany, and in the EU at large have affected Roma migrants, who often flee from countries to the East like Moldova.

Is Germany Shirking its Responsibilities?

Moldova in recent years has been a steadfast partner to the EU and its member countries. Soliciting an EU membership in March 2022, in December 2023 negotiations for its accession began. But these proceedings may have had an adverse effect on Moldovan migrants to Germany. Following accession negotiations, the German government added Moldova to its list of countries safe enough to send migrants back to. Safety, however, is not enjoyed equally by all: the ethnic minority of Romani experience discrimination in their everyday lives, facing segregation and limited access to health and educational services. Because of these difficulties in Moldova, Roma were promised protection by the former state government of Berlin consisting of a coalition of Socialists, Leftists, and Greens. They even announced that Berlin would campaign for a right to stay for Roma at the federal level. However, since the new Conservative-Socialist coalition came into office in 2023, migrants from Moldova have experienced an increasing number of deportations, disproportionately affecting Romani people. According to the Moldavian census of 2014 there were 9000 Roma in the country, however a report by the UN Development Programme from 2009 estimates much higher numbers, up to 250,000. The huge difference between population numbers is explained “by reluctance to self-identity as Roma, given the stigma attached to Roma identity in Moldovan society”.

Whereas in 2022, 309 Moldovans were deported in Berlin, the new government has, in the time since its inauguration, deported 640 people, more than double the previous year. Among them, Roma are particularly affected. Furthermore, the new local government canceled the prior coalition’s plans for a right to stay, wholly striking this topic from the agenda.

Elif Eralp, Spokesperson for Migration, Participation and Anti-Discrimination for the Left Party parliamentary group in the Berlin House of Representatives, calls the deportations an “inhumane procedure” and went on to emphasize that, especially because of Germany’s historical responsibility, the country should set out to protect this historically vulnerable ethnic minority rather than exposing them to new dangers in their countries of origin.

Whereas the German federal government declares its support for Jewish communities within its borders because of the horrors perpetrated against the Jews during the Second World War, the Sinti and Roma minorities, who were likewise affected, seem to be denied the same consideration.

Moldova as a “safe” country

On the 8th of April, International Roma Day, the Romani flag, blue and green with a red sixteen-spoked chakra in the center, was raised in Berlin districts “to make a clear statement of respect and equality, combating exclusion”, in the words of representatives of the municipality of Steglitz-Zehlendorf. This gesture, however, appears in a purely symbolic and cynical light when seen against the background of last year’s resolution facilitating the deportation of Moldovans in Berlin.

Yet, on the national level, the federal government has declared Moldova a “safe country”. This allows asylum requests to be processed faster, leading to accelerated rejections. According to the 1993 definition of “safe countries”, only countries in which 1) no citizens are persecuted by the state and 2) the state simultaneously can protect its citizens from persecution are recognized as “safe”. In this respect, declaring the Eastern European country “safe” disregards the reality of most Moldovans belonging to vulnerable minorities, like the Romani. And there’s more to the problem: If a rejected asylum applicant wishes to appeal, they must first prove that their home country is actually dangerous and that they have reason to flee - a reversal of the burden of proof in typical asylum procedures. The human rights group Pro Asyl and Leftist politician Eralp object that Moldova’s new classification makes obtaining asylum much harder for the Romani population than it is for applicants of “non-safe countries”. Eralp adds: “Simply being a Roma, or being discriminated against, is not enough justification for the courts.”

In addition to all of this, the short processing time of just one week for the asylum application leaves “hardly any realistic opportunity to prepare adequately for the asylum procedure, or even to seek legal assistance”, states Pro Asyl in a complaint about the decision. Nancy Faeser, Germany’s Federal Minister of the Interior, claims faster Asylum procedures are “another important step towards limiting irregular migration”, but as a direct consequence of the acceleration, Roma can be deported to their country of origin within a single week. This swiftness can lead to absurd outcomes, as Pro Asyl explains: In between one third and one quarter of asylum cases from a “safe country”, the applicant’s appeal is ultimately successful and they are granted asylum in Germany only after returning to the country they fled.

Why would Germany expose vulnerable migrants to such lengthy, complicated and unfair procedures? Pro Asyl describes it as “a clear instrument to prevent migrants fleeing to Germany from certain countries of origin”. By doing this, the state gains the appearance of control over a situation that is increasingly coming apart at the seams. Pro Asyl continued: “Over the past year, refugees have repeatedly been made scapegoats for overburdened structures and social problems.” Increased deportations and limiting migration were promoted as the solution to these complicated issues by the government, explains Elif Eralp. This political discourse has not only deprived refugees of their rights but also fuelled xenophobia and the rise of right-wing ideology. This problem exists, however, not just at the national level.

Beyond Germany: Similar decisions on the EU level

In the scheme of European politics many countries are experiencing a shift to the political right while at the same time trying to cope with an increasing number of refugees. While the European Union sees tackling the influx of migrants as a joint challenge, its solutions do not seem up to the task. In early April, the European Parliament passed the Pact on Asylum and Migration by a vote of 322 to 266, with 31 abstentions. This along with the recent German reforms has led to European migration policy coming under fire from human rights activists.

While Germany declared states as “safe home countries” in order to limit the migration influx, the EU is taking on similar measures with their rule on “safe third countries”:

With the approval of the New Pact, it will become easier for the respective authorities to send migrants whose asylum application has been rejected, not back to their country of origin, but to a “safe” third country. Third countries are non-EU states that have been designated safe enough for the migrants who have applied for international protection. With the passage of the New Asylum Pact not even the entire third third country must be safe, simply having safe areas qualifies a country for the “safe” label.

Furthermore, the EU intends to establish agreements with such third countries, effectively facilitating deportations. One example is the agreement with Egypt–finished in March–which has been highly criticized by human rights groups and strategists alike: Egypt has a checkered history of human rights abuses that make it often unsafe for migrants to go there. For minorities in particular, the North African country would be no safer than Moldova is for the Romani minority.

As a consequence of these measures asylum seekers can be pushed back to different countries without an inquiry into their reasons for fleeing. This resolution in the EU Asylum Pact seems as arbitrary as the German choice of “safe countries”.

“Democracy is our common project”

In the case of many Roma in Germany, the new classification of Moldova comes with clear consequences. Even if discrimination might not be sufficient reason for them to attain asylum anymore, it still remains a risk factor after their return to Moldova. To make things worse, discrimination against Roma is on the rise, even in Germany where they paradoxically seek shelter. The question even arises as to what extent growing anti-ziganism is linked to discriminatory policies. Pro Asyl is concerned how anti-democratic, right-wing voices are influencing the political discourse.

For the entire situation in the EU to improve, Elif Eralp demands that the narrative around migration in media and politics must shift: “Democracy is our common project. The discourse must be changed so that migration is not more or less than a fact. We need to ask ourselves: How can this project be organised positively with equal rights?”

For Moldovan Roma and refugees from other “safe” countries, Pro Asyl demands serious individual hearings, in order that new arrivals have the chance to explain their reasons for fleeing. Elif Eralp goes a step further: She demands a right to stay for Roma, thereby upholding Europe’s core values.

This article is part of the project "Newsroom Europe" which trains young Europeans from three EU Member States (Belgium, Germany and Hungary) in critical and open-minded media reporting and on the functioning of European decision-making. The project is carried out jointly by the Europäische Akademie Berlin e.V., the Center for Independent Journalism, and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, and is also co-financed by the European Union. Treffpunkteuropa.de is media partner of the project.

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