SLOVAKIA may not be the first destination some refugees have mind when looking for a safe haven. Even though there are only dozens of refugees staying in the country at any given time, the international World Refugee Day was nevertheless marked in the streets of some Slovak cities.
Under the agreement between the Slovak government, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) on humanitarian transfer of refugees, which the cabinet approved on June 19, Slovakia will accept 150 refugees and people under protection for six months from the time they enter Slovakia.
However, there cannot be more than 50 refugees at any given time on Slovak territory, and after six months, the refugees will travel to other safe-haven countries. The Slovak government will pay expenses for 100 refugees and the remaining 50 will be covered by the UNHCR. The agreement is effective as of June 24, 2013 and will remain in force for 15 months, the TASR newswire reported.
The cabinet made its decision one day prior to World Refugee Day, which the international community marks on June 20 every year. In Slovakia, the events culminated in the Umbrella March, which was organised on that day simultaneously in Bratislava and in Košice.
Apart from that, several cultural events took place, including one organised in the Nekapri InnArt in Bratislava on June 17 by the non-governmental Marginal civic association and the Slovak Humanitarian Council, in cooperation with the UN Information Service (UNIS) Vienna and the UNHCR for Central Europe. Visitors could see a photo exhibition showing refugees living in Slovakia, and hear their stories during a discussion with refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Syria, the UNIS Vienna consultant in Slovakia, Jana Hönschová, told The Slovak Spectator. Hönschová also participated in the programme by giving a presentation about some of the outreach activities of UNIS Vienna on the theme of refugees.
Refugee numbers up, asylum applications down
By devoting June 20 to refugees, the international community wants to attract people’s attention to the living conditions and problems of refugees around the world.
There are now more than 45 million refugees and internally displaced people, and their number continues to rise, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrote in his Message for World Refugee Day on June 20.
“Last year alone, someone was forced to abandon their home every four seconds,” Ban Ki-moon wrote, adding that war is the dominant cause for displacement, with more than half of all refugees listed in a new report by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees coming from just five war-affected countries: Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Syria and Sudan.
“Every day, conflict tears apart the lives of thousands of families,” Ban Ki-moon wrote. Nearly half of all the refugees are under 18.
About 68,000 foreigners were living in Slovakia in 2012. Of the approximately 730 people who applied for asylum in that year, 32 were given asylum and around 100 were granted some form of protection, according to Tomáš Bauer of Marginal, working on a UNHCR Refugee Integration Project.
This year, the number of asylum seekers in Slovakia has continued to decline. From the start of 2013 until May 31, a total of 184 foreigners sought asylum, most of them from Somalia, Eritrea, Georgia, Pakistan, Ukraine, Afghanistan, China, Iran, Syria and Vietnam, the Interior Ministry, which administers asylum requests, reported. The declining trend has been recorded in recent years. For instance, in 2012 there were 732 asylum applications compared with around 11,500 in 2004, according to the ministry.
1. Jul 2013 at 0:00 | Michaela Terenzani