Specific measures imposed during the pandemic
IGI-DAI stated that during the state of emergency, visits in the public custody centre were restricted. In order to compensate this measure, detainees were allowed to use their personal phones, in accordance with the house rules. Access to money sent by the relatives was facilitated. Weekly shopping for detainees was not suspended. The premises and cars were disinfected. Staff members and other persons working in the centre were medically screened when entering the facility. In Otopeni medical assistance was ensured 24/7.
In Arad, the newly arrived detainees are placed in quarantine for 14 days in a separate building (building B). The building has 52 places. They are accommodated in rooms with 4 bunk beds, a shower and a toilet. If the foreigners are apprehended together, they will be placed in the same room. They are not allowed to leave their rooms while in quarantine. The food is provided directly in the detainees’ rooms. After the quarantine they are moved in building C, where the rest of foreigners are detained. They are monitored by the medical staff of the centre; they check their temperature.
In Otopeni, the newly arrived detainees are separated from the other detainees for 14 days, in separate rooms. According to the directors they are allowed to leave their rooms. However, 2 of the interviewed detainees, who were isolated in Otopeni, stated the contrary, that they were not allowed to leave the room during these 14 days. One of them described this period of isolation as horrible, because he was alone in the room, he was not allowed to leave the room, he was eating in his room and he was communicating very little with the police; “it is very easy to fall into depression” he said. He also mentioned that in these 14 days he was not informed about his situation, he didn’t know what was the procedure to follow in his case.
The medical doctor reported that in 2020 there were no COVID-19 cases in Otopeni.
Communication, and information provision during a 14 day quarantine is very limited. The director of Arad said that the contact is limited to 15 minutes.
The JRS representative reported that in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic the management of the detention centres implemented the following measures: meals are served in small groups; detainees are taken outside in the courtyard in small groups; access to detention centres is partially restricted for visitors. Only NGO representatives, lawyers and consular officers were allowed to visit the centres. The management of the detention centres reported to JRS that IGI staff received sufficient gloves, masks and hygiene products.
During the author’s interview with the detainees in Arad centre not all the interviewed foreigners had masks. The interviews took place in the dining room. In contrast, in Otopeni all the interviewed detainees had masks and the interviews were held in a room where usually the court hearings take place through videoconference and the table was separated by a plexiglass.
According to an officer working in Arad, the detainees receive masks from CNRR. In Otopeni the masks are provided by IGI and CNRR.
COVID-19 specific measures imposed on return procedures
According to the director of Arad a number of 612 foreigners were returned to Serbia on the base of the readmission agreement. They had to be tested for COVID-19 in order to return them. 8 persons were tested positive, however they were asymptomatic. The first case of COVID-19 was taken to the hospital, but he was released the same day because he was asymptomatic. The rest of the detainees tested positive were isolated in the detention centre. According to the directors of Otopeni, the detainees have to be tested for COVID-19 in order to return them. The PCR tests are performed in specialized clinics or an ambulance from DSP is sent to the detention centre in order to make the test.
Specially designed closed spaces
Before the recast Reception Conditions Directive, Romania only detained foreigners subject to removal. An asylum detention regime was established following the transposition of the Directive, taking the form of a specially designed closed place i.e. locked rooms in each Regional Centre, except Giurgiu.
Detention in a specially designed closed space is ordered in writing, for a period of 30 days, by an order motivated in fact and in law by the designated prosecutor within the Prosecutor’s Office attached to the Court of Appeal territorially competent for the area where the Regional Centre is located, upon a motivated request by IGI. Romania does not apply this form of detention in practice. Since the entry into force of the reform on 20 April 2016 and until today, only one applicant in Bucharest has been subject to asylum detention, as he was considered dangerous for public order. The reasons behind the lack of use of the specially designed closed spaces of the reception centres include lack of staff, as well as unsuitable facilities to meet the standard requirements for detention, especially concerning daily meals.
In 2020 due to the high number of arrivals in Rădăuţi, Şomcuta Mare, Galaţi the specially designed closed spaces were used in order to accommodate asylum seekers.
|Capacity of specially designed closed spaces
Source: IGI-DAI, 16 February 2021.
Public custody centres
The 2015 reform also amended the provisions of the Aliens Ordinance regarding the situation of foreigners who lodge an asylum application from detention. Whereas prior to 2015 the Aliens Ordinance required the release of foreigners from detention as soon as a first application for international protection was lodged, the Aliens Ordinance now prescribes that an asylum seeker is only released when he or she is granted access to the regular procedure in Romania.
The law defines the measure of taking a person into “public custody” as a temporary restriction of the freedom of movement on the territory of Romania, ordered against foreigners in order to accomplish all the necessary steps for removal or transfer under the Dublin Regulation under escort. In practice, however, it constitutes a measure of deprivation of liberty.
There are 2 detention centres, known as Centres for Accommodation of Foreigners Taken into Public Custody (Centrul de Cazare a StrăinilorluaţiînCustodiePublică), located in Otopeni, near Bucharest, and Arad, near Timișoara. The centres are managed by IGI and are specially designed for temporary accommodation of foreigners taken into public custody.
Detention (“public custody”) is ordered in writing by an order, justified in law and in fact by the designated prosecutor within the Prosecutor’s Office attached to the Court of Appeal of Bucharest, upon a motivated request by IGI.
In general asylum seekers are not detained. The main categories of asylum seekers detained are those who applied for asylum from detention and their application was assessed in accelerated procedure.
In 2020, a total of 1,241 foreigners were detained in the public custody centres, compared to 377 in 2019.171 Asylum applications were made from detention, of which 148 in Arad and 23 in Otopeni.
Arad: During the author’s visit to the Public Custody Centre of Arad on 9 February 2021, there were 141 foreigners in detention out of which 5 were asylum seekers. A total of 1,164 persons were detained in Arad in 2020, recording an increase of 435% in comparison with the previous year. Out of the total number of detainees, 499 were Syrian nationals. According to the director of Arad, a total number of 172 asylum applications were made in Arad, out of which 90 were granted access to regular procedure. However, the Director of Timișoara Centre reported that 28 asylum applications were made in 2020 in Arad, out of which only 2 were assessed in the regular procedure, the rest of 26 were assessed in accelerated procedure.
Otopeni: According to the director of Public Custody Centre Otopeni 391 persons were detained in Otopeni in 2020, out of which 19 were asylum seekers and 16 were migrants who lodged a subsequent application.
The law prescribes a deadline of 3 days for IGI-DAI to assess the asylum application of an applicant who is in detention and to issue a motivated decision. Therefore in these cases the procedure is rapidly conducted. Asylum seekers cannot prepare for the personal interview, as they have no time to contact an attorney or a legal counsellor in order to be counselled or assisted at the interview. According to the legal counsellor in Timișoara, personal interviews are rudimentary and the procedure is quickly conducted, also given the mental state of detained asylum seekers.
 Information provided by IGI-DAI, 16 February 2021.
 Article 19^7(1) Asylum Act.
 Article 101(1) Aliens Ordinance.
 Article 103(3) Aliens Ordinance.
 Article 19^14(1) Asylum Act; Article 101(2) Aliens Ordinance.
 Information provided by IGI-DAI, 16 February 2021.
 Article 19^15(1) Asylum Act.