SEEKING a place where he could feel safe Abdi, a young Somali refugee, was smuggled last year to territory near the Slovak-Ukraine border where, exhausted from crossing mountains for three days, he was caught by Slovakia’s border police.
Fleeing from a country stricken with war is one of the ways to avoid being a casualty of war. According to the 2010 Global Trends report prepared by the UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency, 43.7 million people across the globe are now displaced due to violent conflicts. Somalis were among the top 10 nationalities making up refugees at both the start and end of the last decade.
Based on the latest statistics provided by Slovakia’s Foreigners and Border Police, 516 people in total and 46 Somalis, had illegally crossed the borders of Slovakia in 2010.
Journey from Somalia
Abdi’s journey started when he was a student of the University of Somalia and actively and publicly advocated for human rights and criticised the extremism in his country which was suffering from 20 years of civil war. Threatened by execution for his activism, he made a painful decision and agreed to pay $2,700 for human smugglers to take him to one of the EU countries. Seeking a place with safety and peace, he made the difficult decision to leave his family behind.
Abdi faced a long journey using different means of transport, including travelling by car with three other Somalis.
”We could not see what countries we passed, Abdi said. “We were moved like a box of items, with no access to the outside world.”
The IOM, the International Organisation for Migration, in its study Identification of Victims of Trafficking among Migrants in Slovakia reported that in addition to being subjected to serious dangers during transport, it is not unusual for smuggled migrants to be physically, sexually or psychologically exploited. Not only was Abdi treated violently throughout his exhausting journey but he was also forced to overpay the smugglers.
Slovak asylum trends
The Migration Office of Slovakia’s Interior Ministry is the government body responsible for reviewing asylum applications and making decisions about asylum procedures and applications. According to its annual reports the number of asylum applications has been declining since 2004 when it reached the peak, 11,395 applicants. In 2010 the office received only 541 asylum applications. In aggregate terms, only 580 people were granted this form of protection out of 56,160 asylum applications submitted between 1993 and May 2011.
Better protection of the Slovak border, the absence of large communities of foreigners in Slovakia and an overall decline in the number of asylum seekers in most EU countries were among the factors that caused the fall in asylum applications, according to an IOM study entitled Annual Statistical Report on Migration and International Protection in the Slovak Republic.
“Slovakia is a conservative country with strict migration and asylum policies, said Laco Oravec, a programme director from the Milan Šimečka Foundation (MŠF), speaking at a Migrants in the Spotlight discussion in May 2011. “Asylum seekers have to prove a 100-percent threat that they face in their country of origin and this is very difficult since these people often leave the country in hurry and without any documents.”
“Given the instability and fragile situation in Somalia due to its ongoing civil war and my cooperation with migration staff, I was confident that my claim for asylum would be approved,” Abdi said.
Despite his hopefulness, Abdi was not granted asylum but rather was granted ‘subsidiary protection’, a lower form of international protection. Subsidiary protection was introduced by the EU and implemented into Slovak law in January 2007. The ministry’s Migration Office is supposed to grant subsidiary protection to applicants to whom it did not grant asylum if there are good reasons to believe that these applicants would face a real risk of serious harm if they returned to their country of origin.
Subsidiary protection is granted for one year but can be repeatedly renewed one year at a time. It entitles its holder to receive a temporary residence permit for the duration of the subsidiary protection. If the situation in the applicant’s home country improves, Slovakia can order the person to be sent home. In 2010 the Migration Office granted subsidiary protection status to 57 individuals, 17 of which were Somalis.
According to a recent field study conducted by The Human Rights League entitled ‘The State of Integration of Foreigners with Subsidiary Protection into Society’ many of those granted subsidiary protection reported negative feelings about the programme. The biggest concern cited was the short and uncertain duration of the programme, which made it difficult for the migrants to find long-term employment.
“The idea of working under a permit that clearly indicates your temporary status, and being housed with people of the same or similar status on the outskirts of Bratislava, creates a feeling of segregation rather than integration,” said Abdi.
A role of non-profits
“We should never forget that these people came to Slovakia to seek help,” stressed Milada Šimunková, who works for the Slovak Humanitarian Council (SHC). She met Abdi in December 2010 when she became his social worker after he arrived from the Migration Office’s asylum facility in Rohovce. SHC is a national volunteer centre which assists socially-disadvantaged clients with housing, financial assistance, social and legal counselling as well as training in the Slovak language.
Individuals with subsidiary protection receive €120 monthly to cover food and pocket money. Their housing is provided free.
“Some motivated clients move out of the provided accommodation within six months, find a job and do not require any further housing help,” Šimunková said, “but others are still with us after a year.”
Working to integrate
Abdi’s attendance at a seminar in Košice where he helped answer students’ questions about refugees, his cooperation in running a Week of New Minorities festival, and his enrolment at Comenius University to earn a degree in international relations confirm his determination to succeed.
When IOM, in partnership with MŠF, advertised an internship opportunity as a part of its Migrants in the Spotlight project to raise public awareness, reduce prejudices and stereotypes, and create an opportunity for better integration of migrants, Abdi applied. He met all requirements and is currently finishing his internship at MŠF.
“Through this project we have provided a platform for migrants to demonstrate their potential,” said Oravec of MŠF. “A job is crucial in the process of integration. The internship has helped Abdi to enhance his existing work and social skills which will enable him to succeed in the labour market.”
Oravec felt that providing an internship opportunity for Abdi was their obligation and responsibility. “It should never be forgotten that many Slovak political refugees fled from Slovakia during communism to save themselves from prosecution by the system,” he said, adding that western countries had provided them with opportunities to begin a new life and supported them throughout that process. “By providing job and social opportunities for refugees in Slovakia we repay our historic debt.”
Because of his skills and experience, Abdi has succeeded. He was recently hired at one of the largest international IT and consulting services company in Bratislava. He says that he cannot wait to integrate himself into the community.
“Only now am I starting to feel a part of this society,” Abdi said.
The author wrote this story an intern at IOM, the International Organization for Migration, at its office in Slovakia.
15. Aug 2011 at 11:00 | Zuzana Poprendová