Today, more than one year after the so-called closure of the Balkan Road and the EU-Turkey Deal, Serbia remains one of the main hubs for people wishing to enter the European Union from the east and travel onwards to western and northern Europe. Whilst providing primary and mental health care to refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, Médecins Sans Frontières medical teams based in Belgrade continue to treat the injuries, both psychological and physical, of those crossing towards the Schengen Zone. Whether they are living in unsafe and precarious conditions at Serbia’s borders with Hungary and Croatia, or recently arrived from Bulgaria, the injured and distressed are mostly young men and boys aged between 15 and 25 years of age. Over and over again, they are violently pushed back from EU borders nursing wounds allegedly perpetrated by EU member state border forces in an endless cycle of border crossings they have dubbed “The Game”. Regardless of their reasons for being in Serbia in the first place, they are left extremely vulnerable while waiting in camps, detention centres and informal settlements where they are repeatedly brutalised and neglected and ultimately made invisible by migration policies that push them onto more and more dangerous routes.
Refugees and migrants taking the long, hazardous journey to the European Union offered unique personal insights into their lives in transit as they made their way across Serbia.
The Secretary General’s Special Representative on Migration and Refugees carried out a fact-finding mission to Serbia and two transit zones in Hungary from 12 to 16 June 2017. In Serbia he visited asylum and reception centres in Adaševci, Principovac, Krnjača, Subotica, Sombor, Bogovađa and Obrenovac and met with representatives of the government, the authorities responsible for asylum and migration-related matters, intergovernmental organisations, the European Union as well as civil society. In Hungary he visited the transit zones of Röszke and Tompa and met with the regional representatives of the asylum authority, as well as with the UNHCR and one NGO.
Serbia has experienced a massive influx of migrants and refugees travelling along the so-called Western Balkans migration route during 2015 and at the beginning of 2016. After the closure of this route in 2016, more than 7 000 refugees and migrants, among whom around 1 000 unaccompanied children, remained in Serbia. The arrival of such a high number of migrants and refugees has presented significant challenges for the Serbian authorities. It is to the credit of their enormous efforts that migrants and refugees have been provided with accommodation, food and other forms of support. Serbia’s approach to respect the right to liberty and freedom of movement of migrants and refugees should also be commended.
However, access to the asylum procedure remains problematic. At times migrants and refugees are pushed back from Serbia to its neighbouring countries without being given a real opportunity to claim asylum. In many cases migrants and refugees lack basic information about the possibility of obtaining international protection in Serbia and encounter difficulties in contacting the asylum authorities. Most of those who are currently in Serbia have been certified by the competent authorities as having expressed an intention to seek asylum but have not lodged asylum applications as their end-goal is to reach other European countries. Consequently, the large majority of migrants and refugees are stranded in Serbia for several months without an official legal status, waiting for an opportunity to cross the borders with Hungary or Croatia. The flow of migration from Serbia to Hungary is managed through a waiting list which is compiled in an informal and non-transparent way, raising suspicion that corruption could be involved.
As migrants and refugees’ prospects of reaching their destination countries are uncertain they might, over the course of their stay in Serbia, decide to seek international protection in Serbia. Therefore, it is important that they are provided with information on asylum in a systematic way and that they have real opportunities to access the asylum procedure. A strategic approach is also needed to address the precarious legal status of those who cannot be expelled from Serbia although they have not lodged asylum applications and to identify sustainable solutions regarding their social and economic rights.
Due to the high number of migrants and refugees all asylum and reception centres in Serbia operate beyond capacity. This has had an impact on the reception conditions, in particular the standards of accommodation and services provided, which potentially raise issues under Article 3 of the ECHR. The age of unaccompanied children is often determined haphazardly, leading in certain cases to the accommodation of boys under 18 years together with adult men. This raises serious concerns regarding children’s exposure to risks of violence and sexual abuse and sexual exploitation. The presence of a high number of unaccompanied children in some reception centres poses challenges to the provision of guardianship, which in turn results in lack of support for unaccompanied children in processes affecting them. Educational provision for children in asylum and reception centres is rather scarce.
The determination of migrants and refugees to reach other European countries will continue to create demand for smugglers in Serbia. Eventually smuggling could become a complex criminal activity for which Serbian authorities need to be prepared with know-how on how to prevent and fight it, while engaging in effective co-operation with law enforcement authorities in other countries. The Council of Europe can facilitate meetings with technical experts and law enforcement authorities from other countries, including source, transit and destination countries, in order to exchange experiences, develop strategies and set common priorities to prevent and fight smuggling.
Overall, Serbia should develop a strategy which looks beyond the emergency phase and goes further than the provision of humanitarian assistance to migrants and refugees. The ongoing legislative reform of the law on asylum and foreigners provides opportunities for developing such a strategy as well as for co-operation between the Serbian authorities and the Council of Europe to address the issues identified with due regard for the human rights standards of the Organisation.
Seitdem der Seeweg Richtung Sizilien weitgehend unterbrochen wurde, versuchen Flüchtlinge wieder über die Westbalkan-Route nach Norden zu gelangen. Tausende von ihnen sitzen in Belgrad fest – unter elenden Bedingungen. Viele bereuen ihre Entscheidung zur Flucht.
Eine Schlepperbande versuchte, illegale Migranten mit zwei Autos von Serbien nach Rumänien zu schleusen. An einer Polizeisperre hinter der Grenze schossen die Polizisten auf die Fahrzeuge – es gab mehrere Verletzte.
The story of a 10-years old boy from Afghanistan who is residing since last winter with his family in Krnjaca AC* in Serbia and remarkably talented with portraying and drawing fascinated media and people not only in Serbia, but made headlines in whole Europe. After he had an exhibit last week (09.08.) in a café in Belgrade to raise money for a Serbian child’s post-cancer therapy, last Wednesday (16.08.) he and his family were invited by Serbia’s President and Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic. Personally Vucic promised a scholarship for Farhad and offered the whole family the Serbian citizenship in case they decide to stay in Serbia which would be a great honor for his country. As well he praised Serbia as a nation that would “sincere welcome” Asylum seekers and underlined the perspectives for the family to built up a great future in Serbia.¹
Volunteers working with Serbian NGO’s report that their organizations get pressured by representatives to spread the news of Vucic’s offer and publish pictures of the meeting on their social media platforms and web sides if “they want to stay in good terms with [the Serbian authorities]”.
In the fringe area of Sombor, a charming Serbian town with around 60.000 habitants, less than 20km to the Croatian and less then 40km distance to the Hungarian border, a temporary refugee camp (Transit Center*) opened in the beginning of November 2016 as one of nine temporary shelters built up from autumn 2016 until spring 2017 in order to accommodate the increasing number of refugees in Serbia at this time.
Since several weeks people staying in Sombor TC feel more and more stress triggered by enforced relocations to the closed camp Presovo, the presence of fascists & racist violations from locals and pressure from the camp’s authority.
Serbia’s asylum office has accepted just two applications this year, with hundreds more pending due to understaffing, although some NGOs also blame a lack of political will to approve asylum claims.
As a result of the arrival of large numbers of people into southern Europe that accelerated two years ago this month, there are 7,600 refugees in Serbia, according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR). Most live in 18 state-run asylum centres that provide basic necessities. Many are starting to prepare for the long haul.
Die zwei patrouillierenden Polizisten sind in einem Zivilauto unterwegs. Sie tragen Uniform, aber keine mazedonische. Das ist im Prinzip nicht ungewöhnlich, denn entlang der mazedonisch-griechischen Grenze unterstützen insgesamt 120 Beamte aus Ländern entlang der sogenannten Balkanroute die mazedonische Polizei, zum Beispiel aus Kroatien. In Mazedonien gibt es zur Zeit noch drei staatliche Unterkünfte für Menschen auf der Flucht, doch nur rund 40 Menschen sind dort untergebracht. Oft sind das Menschen ohne Geld oder Familie in Deutschland oder Österreich und Mütter mit Kindern. Nichtregierungsorganisationen schätzen aber, das rund 500 Menschen in Mazedonien auf der Straße oder in den Wäldern leben.