“For asylum seekers not coming from former Yugoslavia, in Macedonia the recognition rate of refugee status is zero”
Since 2001, only three people from outside of former Yugoslavia have been granted international protection in FYR Macedonia.
ECRE has talked to the Macedonian Young Lawyers Association (MYLA) about how asylum seekers are treated, why they do not settle in FYR Macedonia, and the impact the country’s candidacy for EU membership has had on its asylum policies. MYLA, a Member of ECRE, provides legal assistance to asylum seekers and monitors and raises awareness about the situation of asylum seekers in the country.
FYR Macedonia is often seen as a transit country, rather than a final destination for many asylum seekers. Does this have any effect on how they are treated?
Macedonia has seen a rapid increase in arrivals of asylum seekers. Whilst in 2010 there were only 180 asylum seekers, in 2013, 1,343 people claimed asylum in the country, including 360 people who had fled the violence in Syria.
Most asylum seekers and leave Macedonia before they receive a final decision on their case. Few wait for the first instance decision which according to the law should be delivered within six months from the day the application was submitted.
Asylum seekers have different motivations and expectations when they leave Macedonia, depending on their country of origin. For example asylum seekers from Syria, tell us that they have family members in some European countries and their final goal is to reunite with them. Most of them stated that they want to go to Sweden, Italy, Germany or France. Some other people believe it will be easier to rebuild their life in Western Europe.
“Macedonia has seen a rapid increase in arrivals of asylum seekers. Whilst in 2010 there were only 180 asylum seekers, 1,200 people claimed asylum in the country in 2013, including 582 people who had fled the violence in Syria”
The average stay of Syrians in the country is very low, less than 10 days after lodging their application for asylum. As soon as they leave the country, the asylum department within the Ministry of interior, which is the body deciding on the asylum applications, issues decisions terminating the procedure due to the applicants’ absence from the scheduled interviews.
In anticipation of the early departure of asylum seekers from the country, the Ministry of Interior is delaying the issuance of IDs and interviews for refugee status determination. Asylum seekers who do not have IDs, have limited freedom of movement and are exposed to threat of deportation by the regular police when they are outside the reception centre.
There are 22 recognized refugees and 725 persons who have been granted subsidiary protection living in Macedonia. All of them are refugees who fled Kosovo following the 1999 conflict. Their integration process is supported by the State. MYLA with support of UNHCR and in cooperation with Ministry of Labour and Social Policy facilitates the process of integration of the eligible persons and assists them with the process of naturalization in the country.
“Asylum seekers from Syria tell us that they have family members in some European countries and their goal is to reunite with them”
How would you describe the reception conditions for the asylum seekers in FYR Macedonia?
All asylum seekers have access to accommodation and basic support provided by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy to cover their basic needs during their stay in the reception centre while they await a final decision on their case. However, not many asylum seekers stay until the final outcome of the procedure.
There is only one reception centre for asylum seekers in the country and it is located in Vizbegovo which is around 3km from the centre of Skopje.
The shelter has capacity for 150 people and it normally hosts 90 people. It offers separate accommodation units for single male or female and families. MYLA believes that the reception conditions need to be improved in order to provide special care arrangements adapted to the needs of women and children, as well as unaccompanied minors within the centre. The number of the employees in the centre is insufficient and their profile is not appropriate to meet the needs of the vulnerable people accommodated there.
Also, access to services is available only through the reception centre. Persons may reside outside the centre, however at their own expense.
Asylum seekers generally lack information on their rights and procedure. They are provided with limited information in English, while most of the written communication is in Macedonian language and there are no interpreters working in the reception centre.
MYLA has an office in the centre and our lawyers provide the asylum seekers with legal aid regarding their rights and duties in the country.
Lojane is a small village on the border between Macedonia and Serbia. It is not only the place from where migrants try to enter Serbia on their way to the EU, it is also the place where migrants are returned back from Serbia to Macedonia.
Numbers of migrants in Lojane fluctuate but there have been periods when they have reached more than 400 people. The local population help the migrants with accommodation and many locals have also started to rent their houses. The police took several actions last year arresting some local people for smuggling of migrants.
“Reception conditions need to be improved in order to provide special care arrangements adapted to the needs of women and children”
Do you consider that asylum seekers have access to effective legal remedy in the country?
Formally, yes. In practice no.
The right of legal remedy is prescribed by national legislation and the appeal suspends the execution of the return decision.
Although the administrative court can decide upon the cases in merits and in specific cases overturn the decision of the first instance authority, in practice, even when the conditions are fulfilled, the administrative court does not decide upon the merits of the case, just annuls the decisions and returns the cases to the first instance authority for further acting. This practice shows that the administrative court decides only on procedural matters.
The Administrative Court should decide on the case within two months from the day of the appeal and after 15 days in an accelerated procedure. In practice the court almost never decides on the cases within the time limit prescribed by law.
The asylum procedures are long, from 8 to 12 months on average. One of the reasons might be because the Administrative court is not a specialized court deciding only in asylum issues but also in four or five other administrative areas. They lack expertise and interpreters.
No case was brought further to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) as asylum seekers are leaving the country and not willing to process their case.
Are asylum seekers and migrants detained?
Only irregular migrants are detained by the police in the transit centre for foreigners. Detainees have the possibility to seek asylum and soon after they are transferred to the reception centre.
What effect has FYR Macedonia’s candidacy for EU membership had on asylum policy and practice? What have been the main difficulties in bringing asylum and migration policies into accord with EU standards?
The candidacy of Republic of Macedonia for EU membership is definitely a driver of positive changes in terms of asylum policy. The Republic of Macedonia has taken further steps for approximation of its national legislation with the EU acquis laying down minimum standards for reception conditions for asylum seekers and on procedures for granting and withdrawing refugee status.
However the implementation of the law in some issues is still weak and requires improvements, in particular regarding access to the asylum procedure and the quality of the decision-making process in the asylum procedure.
People from former Yugoslavia have high chances of being recognised as refugees, but for asylum seekers not coming from former Yugoslavia, the recognition rate of refugee status is zero.
In 2013 one person from Afghanistan was granted subsidiary protection status. Only two other asylum seekers have been granted refugee status since 2001, one Palestinian and one from Afghanistan, who were residing in the country more than 10 years prior to recognition of refugee status.
Every year the European Commission issues a progress report assessing progress by the Republic of Macedonia in several fields including asylum and migration. Some difficulties, such as the lack of interpreters during interviews and delays in issuing IDs, still persist but the general conclusion of this year report is that the country has advanced in this area.
“The access to the asylum procedure and the quality of the decision-making process in the asylum procedure still needs improvement”