Operations in Central Europe
In recent years, the economic situation in Central Europe has worsened due to the global economic downturn. GDP is shrinking and unemployment is on the rise.
As a result, governments tend to give a higher priority to economic issues than asylum and migration questions, including their obligations to provide assistance to refugees and asylum-seekers.
A focus by governments on strict border controls and combating irregular migration, has overshadowed the need to improve reception conditions for asylum-seekers and provide targeted integration support to recognized refugees.
Although most Central European countries have treated asylum-seekers and refugees well, minority groups, in particular ethnic-Roma people, tend to face discrimination, and are often targeted by hate groups. Recently, xenophobia and racism against foreigners is also on the rise in some countries.
One challenge for the UNHCR Central Europe is to help shape attitudes and awareness among the public of the plight of refugees and migrants, and to discourage xenophobia.
The number of stateless people in this region is relatively small by global standards, and so the issue is not given the attention it deserves by politicians and NGOs.
Strategy and activities
UNHCR is involved in numerous activities in Central Europe, including:
- Cooperating with governments and partners in monitoring the borders of the EU to ensure that all asylum-seekers have effective access to the Union, and its asylum procedures.
- Assisting governments in improving the decision-making process for granting refugee status, and developing an internal review mechanism to ensure the integrity and quality of these decisions.
- Monitoring conditions in reception centres and detention facilities, and drawing attention to how reception conditions can impact on the subsequent integration of refugees.
- Conducting regular participatory assessments of reception and refugee facilities to identify protection gaps particularly for those with specific needs.
- Working to establish a refugee advisory or consultative forum in every reception facility.
- Encouraging countries to offer programs, which enable asylum-seekers to achieve self-reliance and later integration. (The agency also encourages governments to amend education, health, social welfare and employment laws to better respond to the needs of displaced people, and ensure that these people have the same access to basic services as citizens. UNHCR also reviews laws combating sexual and gender-based violence, and it encourages governments to adopt policies that will make it possible for refugees, separated from families, to reunite with spouses and children.)
- Promoting the establishment of small-scale resettlement programmes and giving advice on best practices.
- Working with the governments of Romania and Slovakia in the operation of two Emergency Transit Centres or ETCs, which provide a safe haven for refugees evacuated from dangerous circumstances while they prepare to be resettled to other host countries around the world. The UNHCR helps fund these centres, offers expert advice on their management, and closely monitors how refugees are resettled.
- Lobbying countries to pass legislation on the rights of stateless people, and implement administrative systems to address this issue, which is now an important part of UNHCR mandate. (The agency urges governments to accept one or both UN Conventions on Statelessness; it monitors how countries identify stateless people and whether these individuals have access to public services; and it works to develop regional strategies to protect stateless people and encourage governments to improve protection laws.)
- Working to minimize the detention of asylum-seekers, monitoring the well-being of those detained, and helping to ensure that these people have access to free legal assistance.
- Engaging in advocacy and public information programmes.