Serbia waiting: between trapped migrants and EU enclosures

A detailed article written by Allessandra Sciurba, a post-doc researcher and activist from the University of Palermo.

“As in the game where, when music stops, you must sit faster that other participants”, Commissioner Cucić tells me, “in this moment, we are the one left standing. Tomorrow it can be another one, if we also close the borders”. It seems that at the present juncture, the Serbian authorities are asking themselves first and foremost how the European Union wants Serbia to act. Are the standards to join EU based on the respect of human rights, or simply on the length and efficacy of border fences?

Everyone, in Serbia, seems now to be waiting for something.”

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AIDA Country Report: Serbia

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Zusammenfassung:

Overview of the main changes since the first report. The first report was last published in March 2016:

  • Asylum  reform: The  adoption  of  the  new  Asylum  Act,  initially  foreseen  for  2016,  has  been postponed. The draft of the new Asylum Act has been shared with civil society representatives for comments, and was also received positively by the European Commission. The new law will introduce both accelerated and border procedures. Bearing in mind that the Asylum Office is understaffed even in light of the single existing procedure, it is reasonable to assume that additional personnel will be required to implement the additional proceedings. It is otherwise difficult to envision adequate implementation of the new law in reality.

Asylum procedure

  • Access to the territory: In July 2016, the Serbian Government adopted a decision to form mixed patrols of the army and police to strengthen the border with FYROM and Bulgaria. The Ministry of Defence reported in December 2016 that more than 18,000 migrants had been prevented from illegally  crossing  the  border  from  Bulgaria. Between  September  and  December  2016,  the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights received 13 complaints concerning collective expulsions or push-backs to FYROM that involved approximately 750 persons. Those removed included people who had predominantly been residing in the reception centre in Preševo, as well as persons who had been intercepted by patrols of the police or army at the border, or mixed patrols deeper within the territory of Serbia.

Reception conditions

  • Accommodation:  By the end of 2016, more than 7,000 people were residing in Serbia, the vast majority of whom (around 82%) were accommodated in camps along the border where they were waiting for their turn to be admitted into Hungary. The remainder stayed in the streets of Belgrade and border areas with Hungary.

  • The Ministry of Interior opened additional temporary reception centres to respond to the increase in refugees and migrants.

Content of protection

  • Integration  assistance: In December 2016, a Decree on the Manner of Involving Persons Recognized  as Refugees in Social, Cultural and Economic Life (“Integration  Decree”)  was enacted and entered into force in January 2017. The Decree foresees assistance various areas crucial to integration such as access to the labour market and education, including assistance in recognition of qualification and language courses. The Decree only refers to recognised refugees and does not explicitly cover subsidiary protection beneficiaries. However, due to its entry into force in January 2017, it remains to be seen how it will be implemented in practice.

Another refugee life lost on EU’s borders

In the night between February 2 and 3, Afghani national Rahmat Ullah Hanife (22) drowned in the Tisa River on the Serbian-Hungarian border. This was announced on Monday by Info Park – a refugee support network jointly launched by Fund B92 and Trag Foundation in Serbia. According to Info Park, Rahmat Ullah tried to cross the frozen river with the group of 15 refugees and migrants who were organized by a smuggler from Pakistan, charging 2,000 EUR each for this extremely risky attempt to reach the European Union.  The group also included six minors, aged 10-17. The smuggler divided them into groups and lead them to the river where he encouraged them to walk across ice towards village Horgos in Hungary. Rahmat Ullah was second in line when the ice broke under their feet.

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Restrictions for migrants in Belgrade

The migrants who reside in reception center in Obrenovac, a municipality in the City of Belgrade, would be allowed to go out from it only with the appropriate permits, minister Aleksandar Vulin announced today. According to Radio-television of Serbia (RTS), Vulin refereed to “Incident, when the group of migrants attacked a woman in Obrenovac”, saying that tougher checks have been introduced; he said “adequate restrictions on migrants movement were applied to improve the security of both migrants and local population”. The number of deployed policemen has been increased while “the situation” in the reception center is “calm”, according to RTS. “The migrants would be allowed to leave the center and come back at a defined time only with adequate permits”, Vulin said. “Of course, they should get legitimation that could be accepted also by other institutions”, he went on. Vulin acknowledged that, since this morning, a special bus started to work. Namely, it will directly transfer migrants from Obrenovac reception center to Belgrade reception center “without meddling with the local population”, the minister said.

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ARD: Das Geschäft mit den Schleppern boomt

Die Flüchtlinge in den Baracken sind gut sichtbar von einem der Bahnsteige des Belgrader Bahnhofs. Trotzdem waren sie bis vor wenigen Wochen ein blinder Fleck für die serbische Bevölkerung. „Niemand wusste von diesem Ort“, erzählt Goran. „Ich kam nach Hause nach Novi Sad und erzählte von meiner Arbeit und den 2.000 Menschen, die hier leben. Aber niemand zuhause wusste davon, es war nicht in den Nachrichten“, erklärte er. Die Medien seien von der Regierung gesteuert, die wenig Aufmerksamkeit auf das Thema lenken wollte, ist er überzeugt. Doch seit wenigen Wochen tummeln sich internationale Fernsehteams um die Flüchtlinge.

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Interview with UNHCR on conditions of migrants in Serbia

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Currently, there are some 7,300 refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants in the country. Of them, over 6,200 (85%) are accommodated in 17 government centres and the rest are still sleeping rough in the Belgrade city centre. Some 49% are from Afghanistan, 19% from Iraq, 10% each from Syria and Pakistan, 5% from Iran and 7% from other countries. 46% are children, 39% adult men and 15% adult women.

The authorities, supported by UNHCR and partners, arranged additional temporary emergency shelter by refurbishing a facility in Obrenovac near Belgrade, for voluntary relocation of refugees and migrants from Belgrade city centre. In support of the authorities’ efforts to put the facility into use as quickly as possible, UNHCR  contributed all new clothing, blankets, bed sets and hygiene kits, cleaning services, and other items. To date, some 300 men and boys were moved from the city centre to Obrenovac. The authorities, UNHCR and partners continue working towards further expansion of shelter capacities there and to ensure that all necessary protection and other services, particularly to support the unaccompanied minors, will be provided to all current and future residents of the new centre.

In the North, the authorities offered asylum seekers near the border with Hungary to move to the Transit Centre in Subotica. As a result only around 20 asylum seekers remained outside the “transit zone” in Horgos and “transit zone” of Kelebija, waiting admission to Hungary.

According to the Ministry of Interior, 12,821 persons registered their intent to seek asylum in Serbia in 2016 while 574 submitted an official asylum application. In 2016, the authorities granted refugee status to 19 and subsidiary protection to 23 persons. 40 asylum applications were rejected.

critical reports and analysis about serbia as a country of transit and origin