SLOVAKIA IS IN THE MIDST OF A SPIKE IN ASYLUM SEEKERS THAT PUTS ADDED STRAIN ON AN ALREADY UNDERSTAFFED MIGRATION OFFICE'S ASYLUM COMMISSION

Eastern gateway to the West

AFTER May 1, Slovakia became the main eastern gate to the European Union, which makes the
country even more attractive to asylum seekers and, unfortunately, to human traffickers.
In April, Slovakia registered a record number of asylum applications, warned the Office of the United Nations
High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Bratislava, and more are likely to come.
As many as 1,067 asylum seekers submitted their applications, which is the highest number in Slovakia's history
and the highest number of applicants in central Europe in 2004, the news wire SITA reported.

AFTER May 1, Slovakia became the main eastern gate to the European Union, which makes the country even more attractive to asylum seekers and, unfortunately, to human traffickers.

In April, Slovakia registered a record number of asylum applications, warned the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Bratislava, and more are likely to come.

As many as 1,067 asylum seekers submitted their applications, which is the highest number in Slovakia’s history and the highest number of applicants in central Europe in 2004, the news wire SITA reported.

“The number of asylum seekers is likely to increase if refugees continue to use Slovakia as a transit country from which to head west, only to be turned back due to the Dublin protocol,” Zolo Mikeš, Public Information Officer of the UNHCR Representation in the Slovak Republic told The Slovak Spectator.

“Based on documents that Slovak governmental bodies have prepared, it is assumed that the number of asylum seekers might reach 20,000 at the end of 2004 compared to the 10,352 asylum seekers in 2003,” he added.

The UNHCR has been warning that the country’s asylum system is fragile and might not be effective enough to handle the increasing number of asylum seekers once the Dublin II regulation and Eurodac begin to apply.

Slovakia has been changing from a transit country to one hosting applicants for refugee status. The EU regulations allow EU countries to send applicants back to the border countries where they first requested asylum.

The Slovak Interior Ministry’s Migration Office reported a total of 4,152 asylum applications for the first four months of 2004. The highest number of applicants is from India.

Earlier this year, the UNHCR warned that there has been a sharp increase of applicants in the last three years, particularly from countries that do not normally produce refugees (such as India, China, and Bangladesh).

The UNHCR, together with the Migration Office, the Border Police, the Ministry of Labour, the International Organisation for Migration, the delegation of the European Commission in Slovakia, the embassies of the United States and the Netherlands, and a number of non-governmental organisations, has elaborated a report mapping the state of Slovakia’s asylum system.

“We hope that the findings of the report will be applied in practice and, if they are, we are certain that the asylum system will not collapse,” Mikeš said.

Poland, several times larger than Slovakia, registered only 2,299 applicants this year and Hungary, which has a longer EU border than Slovakia, had 528 people apply for asylum, claims the UNHCR.

Compared to the same period last year, the number of applications has increased by 120 percent. Applications in other European countries have generally been declining.

The developments are making Slovakia a soft spot for human traffickers.

The increasing number of asylum seekers will certainly put more pressure on the state budget as the need for utilities, translators, and other expenses related to the asylum procedure mount.

“If the real number of asylum seekers grows, there will be greater pressure on state coffers. It is up to the state bodies to see that more money is poured into the pocket of the Migration Office. This would result in more officers deciding on asylum requests based on the Geneva convention, which would speed up the process overall and shorten the time asylum seekers spend in the waiting camps. In the end, it would also ease the financial burden on the state budget. The UNHCR believes that the number of these officers should be increased,” Mikeš explained.

The European Fund for Refugees, with a total budget of €39.9 million for 2004, can provide Slovakia with €481,129 to secure applicants asylum procedures, the daily Hospodárske noviny wrote.

In 2003, only 10 of 10,350 asylum seekers in Slovakia received a positive decision on their application.

According to Bernard Piercel, director of the Interior Ministry’s Migration Office, the office has speeded up the process of deciding on asylum requests.

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