In an email interview with the Reception Center for Asylum Seekers, Brave Phone learned more about the operations of the Center, the experiences of those seeking asylum in Croatia and how children are involved or affected.
There are two reception centers for asylum seekers needing accommodation; both are aimed at accommodating vulnerable groups. The first, in Kutina, has been operating since 2006 while the second, in Zagreb, has been operating since 2011. Currently, there are 538 individuals in the Reception Center in Zagreb and 73 in Kutina, but the number varies on a daily basis. At the moment, there are 30 families with children in the Zagreb Reception Center in a special wing for vulnerable groups.
The Center assured Brave Phone that the accommodation of new arrivals is ‘key to a successful inclusion’ into everyday life at the Center. As soon as they arrive, asylum seekers are given a sanitary package and a meal. The Center provides three meals a day for every asylum seeker; pregnant women, recent mothers and children up to 16 years of age are also provided with an afternoon snack.
When asked about common problems they experience, officials at the Center replied that asylum seekers are people who are forced to leave their homes and seek safety in another country, but they also come from different parts of the world and have different habits, so it can be difficult to reconcile their wishes with the number of people arriving at the Center on a daily basis. One of the biggest issues they experience is changing rooms without the authorization of the Center. They also emphasize that asylum seekers often want their requests to be resolved quicker than can typically be done. The Ministry has hired new employees in response to this to speed up the procedure of international protection and help all asylum seekers integrate into Croatian society.
There are currently 57 staff members in the Reception Center and Asylum department in both Zagreb and Kutina. Among them, 20 staff members have been appointed in the last two months as a result in the rise in number of asylum seekers. There are registration officers, one social worker for minors and one social pedagogue in charge of the cooperation between asylum seekers and the Reception Center. The social pedagogue works with asylum seekers on a daily basis and helps them solve problems they face in their everyday life at the Center. They also act as case workers in a different department, although they remain located at the Center.
On average (90 percent of the time), asylum seekers stay 3 months at the reception centers, more than 3 months in 7 percent of the cases, and 6 to 12 months in 3 percent of the cases. Normally, applicants can be accommodated in the Center until the completion of the procedure and a final decision is taken on the case. If the asylum seeker’s application is denied and must leave the country, the right to receiving reception conditions also ends.
Regarding children, within a month of submitting an asylum application, children are then included in the education system. They begin with obligatory preparation in the Croatian language. Depending on their adjustment to the school system, they are included in classes; most children show an exceptional will to adapt to their new environment and circumstances. In Zagreb, the children go to school in Dugave, in the area where the Reception Center is located. Kutina is a small city, the Reception Center officials say, and the children there go to a nearby school; if there are not enough places available, transportation is arranged to take the children to another school.
Unaccompanied minors are placed in special communities; if they are older than 16 years of age, they can be in the Reception Center, but in a special wing separated from other groups. The Center for Social Welfare appoints special guardians for minors who arrive without a parent or other guardian. Welfare and social development is their main goal, and the Center emphasizes the importance of the protection and safety of all children, and, if possible, family reunification.
Center officials stress their main goal is to make everyday life as comfortable as possible and to help asylum seekers adjust to their new surroundings. One of the ways the Center does this is maintaining the freedom of religion; there is a room in the Center where Muslim asylum seekers can pray. The Center also emphasizes the role of civil society organizations in ensuring these goals are met.
There are many different types of organizations and civil society present who provide a range of activities and psychosocial support, as well as special care for people with mental health difficulties and victims of torture, trauma and abuse.
Among the most active organizations are the Croatian Red Cross and Jesuit Refugee Service. The former provides a wide range of support in the Center with activities like an introduction to Croatian culture, customs and habits; play and educational activities for children; group and individual work with single women, including talks aimed at preventing human trafficking and sexual and gender-based violence; conflict and prevention; sport activities and language courses in Croatian and English. The latter’s mission is to accompany, serve and advocate on behalf of the refugees. The Croatian Law Center is also present and provides legal help for asylum seekers. In addition to civil society support, there is a new medical center in Dugave for asylum seekers, and Medicin du Monde (MDM) will also be present in the Reception Center from September onwards. The Reception Center highly values the organizations and civil society present, as they seek to address the problems of asylum seekers and better their quality of life in the Center.