At the end of March 2021, important legislative changes were adopted regarding the International Protection Act (IPA) and the Foreigners Act. While some relevant information is provided on the latter at different occasions, this report does not cover these recent amendments.
- Access to the territory: Access to the territory continues to be a serious matter of concern. In 2020, 14,592 persons were apprehended for illegally crossing the border and 10,025 of them were returned to neighbouring countries based on readmission agreements. The large majority, i.e. 9,950 persons, were returned to Croatia. These readmission agreements enable to return migrants through informal and truncated procedures without a return decision and with no access to legal assistance nor the possibility to appeal. Individual circumstances, protection needs and the non-refoulement principle are not assed in practice by the national authorities. In 2020, the Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN) and PIC further identified cases of individuals who were unable to apply for asylum after several attempts. In 2020, the Administrative Court also concluded that the Slovenian authorities had violated the non-refoulment principle, the prohibition of collective expulsion and the applicant’s right to access the asylum procedure. The Ministry of the Interior appealed the decision and the case is currently pending before the Supreme Court. Moreover, cases of summary returns to Slovenia from Italy and for the first time since 2015 from Austria were also reported. These are also based on readmission agreements. The Slovenian authorities returned most of the individuals who were readmitted to Slovenia from Italy or Austria to Croatia.
- Impact of COVID-19 on the asylum procedure: While asylum related activities such as registration were suspended for a month in April 2020,COVID-19 did not significantly impact the asylum process. It was resumed in May 2020, interview practices did not change and persons had access to in-person services where relevant. Dublin transfers were de facto suspended, although no official decision on the suspension was made.
- Lack of legal assistance: The AMIF project, that entitled all asylum seekers to free advice and representation in the asylum procedure came to an end in late April 2020. The organisation that implemented the project continued providing legal advice and representation, but only to a limited number, i.e. not to all asylum seekers. This resulted in a lower recognition rate for some nationalities such as Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. It also severly impacted the ability of individuals to access refugee counsellors in order to appeal detention orders or decisions on asylum, thereby hindering their right to a legal remedy.
- Inadequate interpretation: Interpretation continues to be reported as an important issue throughout the asylum procedure. Interpreters for some languages are not available in Slovenia, or may not be available at the given time, or the provided interpretation is of poor quality. This negatively impacts the access to the asylum procedure as well as the credibility assessment in the preliminary procedure, and further hinders the right to information of applicants. Interpreters seem to be employed based on their low fees rather than on their competence and there is no monitoring on the matter. The Ombudsman also confirmed that this issued persisted in 2020 and further raised doubts as to whether individuals are properly informed by police authorities on their right to apply for asylum.
- Increase of accelerated procedures: The number of applications processed in the accelerated procedure and rejected as manifestly unfounded doubled from 60 in 2019 to 122 in 2020. This large increase is due to the fact that applicants were detained again from May to August 2020, as accelerating the procedure would thus facilitate the return of those refused asylum while in detention. Cases of rejected asylum seekers in the accelerated porcedure, who were subsequently returned to Croatia based on the readmission agreement, were also identified.
- Impact of COVID-19 on reception: During the suspension of asylum related activities in April 2020, individuals were de facto detained in the premises of the asylum home waiting to lodge an application for international protection. Moreover, on account of the pandemic, individuals had to be in quarantine 10-14 days prior to lodging an application.
Detention of asylum seekers
- No grounds for detention: In 2020 the authorities detained asylum seekers again from May to August 2020 although the provisions of the IPA were not amended in order to define the risk of absconding – which is a legal prerequisite in EU law as pointed out by the Supreme Court in 2019. Detained asylum seekers had their applications processed in the accelerated procedure, if possible, in order to facilitate their return afterwards. This practice ended in August as most of the detention orders were succesfully chalenged as unlawful before the Administrative Court. The latter ordered the immidiate release of the detained asylum seekers. The number of asylum seekers from Algeria and Morocco significantly decreased due to the practice, which was one of the reasons it was established in the first place.
- Inadequate detention conditions: Due to the high number of detained asylum seekers and the lack of detention capacity, detention conditions worsened. Migrants including asylum seekers were detained outside the Aliens detention centre in containers with limited privacy, inadequate temperatures, low hygienic standards and no outdoor activities. The deteriorating conditions as largely reported in the media, which further resulted in hunger strikes and incidents of self harm, encouraged the Slovenian Ombudsman to visit the Aliens Centre twice in 2020. It concluded that the reception conditions outside containers were not in accordance with the Reception Conditions Directive. The Administrative Court also concluded a violation of Article 4 of the EU Charter (prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment), as detained asylum seekers were not provided with one-hour outdoor activities.
Content of international protection
- Family reunification: While family reunification was not suspended during the pandemic, individuals had to present negative COVID-19 tests at the border and some difficulties resulted from travel restrictions. Moreover, the authorities continued to impose strict evidentiary requirements on identity and family links. This is a particular issue for citizens of countries where the acquisition of official or notarised documents is difficult or nearly impossible. Sending Slovenian documents to countries without IOM, UNHCR and Slovenian embassies also presented difficulties in the cases of Syrian, Afghan and Palestinian nationals.
- Access to the labour market and education: Due to COVID-19-related restrictions, a general lockdown and the prohibition of certain activities, beneficiaries of international protection faced additional challenges on the labour market. Cases of individuals who became unemployed or could not obtain employment were detected by NGOs, although they were entitled to the government relief measures related to COVID-19 under the same conditions as Slovenian citizens. As regards education, it was mostly conducted remotely, which represented an additional logistical obstacle in practice. The situation was especially difficult for children in elementary schools since a large portion of school work required the help and cooperation of parents, who face language and educational barriers.