Romania’s odd-one-out stance on refugees


Picture of Magdalena Ulceluse
Magdalena Ulceluse

Magdalena Ulceluse is a Marie Curie Fellow at Central European University

The surge in right-wing and anti-immigrant movements sweeping central and Eastern Europe doesn’t seem to have caught on in Romania, with the country following its tendency to align its interests with those of the EU’s older member states.

As a relatively new member state, Romania appears to have held on to its optimism for the European project. It falls behind the EU’s decisions even when it doesn’t agree with them. A case in point is the acceptance of the refugee reallocation quotas. It initially voted against the quotas, but decided – unlike Hungary and Slovakia – not to seek a judicial review. In the end, Romania promised to take in 6,205 refugees over the next two years.

And Romania is in a good position to do this. Not being a member of the Schengen area, and located away from the main migratory channels, refuges generally do not treat Romania as a transit or destination country. The most recent Eurostat data points to only 1,260 asylum applications in Romania in 2015, compared with 177,000 in Hungary and 12,000 in Poland. Romania can, therefore, afford to take its time in figuring out how to best manage its allotted refugee intake.

But one of the reasons behind these statistics is the relatively low standard of living compared to other member states, and the perception that Romanians are hostile to immigrants (and refugees in
particular). That perception is not entirely unfounded: immigrants make up only 1.1% of the country’s population, more than half of whom come from the culturally and linguistically akin Republic of Moldova. The local population isn’t used to foreigners, and the s ignificant cultural differences of refugees have given rise to fear and distrust.

But while recent national polls have revealed that three-quarters of Romania’s population is against the EU’s policy of reallocating refugees, most individuals surveyed agreed that refugees are a vulnerable population that must be helped. What’s more, while some political parties – the Popular Movement Party in particular – have taken an anti-refugee stance in an effort to broaden their electorate base, the largely welcoming National Liberal Party and Social Democratic Party are leading the polls ahead of December’s general election. These main political parties aren’t catering to the still feeble anti-immigration voices of some segments of the population and a handful of scholars.

It remains to be seen what strategy Romania’s next government will adopt, but as things stand today, we should expect continuous support for the EU’s measures and a relatively positive stance on refugee resettlement.

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