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Is Romania ready to deal with its rising migrant numbers?

Migrants have been crossing the Black Sea to Romania in increasing numbers.

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Is Romania ready to deal with its rising migrant numbers?

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On Tuesday night a small boat carrying 157 migrants from Iraq and Iran was found off the Romanian coast.

Three days before, the coast guard had intercepted a rickety boat with 97 migrants on board, 36 of them children.

On September 3rd another fishing boat carrying 87 migrants was stopped by the border police.

These are just the latest in a series of search and rescue missions, which saw over the last month 480 migrants reaching the Romanian shoreline.

Migrants took the 200-km-long journey across the perilous Black Sea, igniting fears that Turkish smugglers are opening up a new route for illegal entry into the European Union.

The route has been used modesty in the past – just one person in 2016 according to statistics from the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex).

Migrants entering Romania by boat are taken to a hosting area and held for up to 48 hours in order to verify their identity. If they don’t request political asylum, those caught at sea are returned to Turkey. Once the background check is completed, the immigration office steps in, sending asylum seekers to various centres across the country.

Besides receiving basic amenities, asylum seekers get three euros per day for food and almost 40 euros annually for clothing.

The average waiting time for an asylum application to be resolve is about 10 months and asylum decisions are open to lawsuits.

In the first seven months of this year, 2,800 people were caught illegally crossing the border, up from 1,624 for the whole of 2016, according to the Romanian Border Police.

A spokesperson for the force told Euronews the increase is limited in comparison to other parts of Europe but that authorities had scaled up efforts to better secure and monitor the frontiers.

The rising number of people trying to illegally enter Romania could signal a shift in the routes migrants use to get into the EU.

Romania isn’t part of the Schengen Area making it harder for migrants to move westwards.

But that could all change. Jean Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, used his State of the Union address this week to call for Romania and Bulgaria to be part of Schengen.

So far, Romania has been unscathed by the refugee crisis affecting other European countries, acting more as a transit passage for migrants trying to reach Western Europe.

Pressured by the EU, Romania has recently agreed to receive 2,000 refugees from Greece and Italy.

“This comes on top of the 700 refugees already relocated here,” added Romania’s Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Despite the political move, questions remain over the country’s readiness to welcome refugees and brave a possible influx of migrants.

Speaking to Euronews, a representative of the Immigration Office, put the total capacity of Romania’s six asylum centers at around 1,330, with the possibility of adding additional bed facilities.

The news site Digi 24 went to a Bucharest receiving centre currently housing 200 refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Egypt and reported on the living conditions found there.

The worn-out linoleum flooring and damp patches on interior walls, leave room for improvement, it reported.

But this asylum facility, as well as the remaining five scattered across Romania, will quickly become overcrowded if a refugee surge were to happen.

Putting up tents in the courtyards of asylum centers as a way of doubling housing capabilities is the authorities’ only response so far.

By Cristian Gherasim