Category Archives: Reports

ARD: Tod auf der Balkanroute – Ein Vater und ein Grab in Südserbien (+ Audio)

Etwa eine Million Menschen passierten auf ihrer Flucht vor Krieg und Elend im Nah- und Mittleren Osten meine Heimat Serbien. Wegen der Lage vor den Toren der EU ist diese für die meisten so etwas wie ein „Sprungbrett“ für den letzten und entscheidenden Schritt – die legale oder illegale Überquerung der ungarischen oder kroatischen Grenze. Nicht alle schafften aber diesen Weg in die bessere Zukunft, das Schicksal wollte es einfach nicht. Sie ertranken nicht zu Hunderten und Tausenden, so wie im Mittelmeer, aber sie starben auch und das in unserer unmittelbaren Nähe. Gerade deswegen möchten wir, vom ARD-Team Südosteuropa, diesen Opfern des Schicksals ein Gesicht geben und ihre Geschichte erzählen.

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New Report: A DANGEROUS ‘GAME’ – The pushback of migrants, including refugees, at Europe’s borders

In 2015 and 2016, more than a million people arrived in Europe after crossing the sea from Turkey to Greece and continuing their journey along the so-called Western Balkan route. In response, European Union Member States and other European countries hastily erected fences on their borders. In March 2016, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia shut their borders and left thousands
of people stuck in limbo, many in inadequate or unsafe accommodation.

At present, there are about 7,800 displaced people in Serbia, and 350 people in Macedonia. Many of these people have come from conflict affected countries seeking protection, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria. Roughly 1,100 of those in Serbia and over 200 in Macedonia are not housed in government-run facilities and are forced to sleep rough.

Rather than being places of safety, countries on the Western Balkan route have failed to offer protection or due process to many new arrivals and instead have pushed them back to their previous country of transit or even another country, without giving them a chance to claim asylum.

Pushbacks are happening in different ways. Hungary and Croatia – both EU member states – have used brutal tactics, such as attack dogs and forcing people to strip naked in freezing temperatures. The Serbian authorities have generated a climate of fear and uncertainty amongst migrants by expelling groups of people who have been legally registered and were expecting to receive their right to an individual hearing. This
practice meant that in mid-winter, in freezing temperatures of -20oC, people were afraid to stay in government centres for fear of being pushed back to Macedonia or Bulgaria. Interviewees also accused Bulgarian authorities of treating people in such a brutal manner that they are afraid to return.

The people who are moving through the Balkans, with cynical humour, call their efforts to continue their dangerous journey the ‘game’, a cruel ‘game’ where safety and protection are replaced with violence and intimidation from people in authority. As they attempt to move to a place of safety, people are forced to take enormous risks and suffer abuse at the hands of people smugglers, brave freezing temperatures in winter
and negotiate unknown and dangerous terrain, including forests and fast-flowing rivers. This is an often terrifying situation where beatings, dog attacks and robbery are rife, leading to serious injuries and even death. No one, regardless of their reason for moving via the Western Balkans route, should experience the violence and aggression which is being used by authorities. For refugees and others who have the right to
international protection from persecution and serious human rights violations, pushbacks stand in the way of seeking protection and enjoying their right to an individual assessment of their claims. Brutality, intimidation and devious tactics by authorities also engender a climate of fear and mistrust amongst people on the move. This report aims to firmly
put the spotlight on the acts of abuse being perpetrated by state authorities, and the failure of European countries to uphold people’s rights. We are calling for the responsible governments to immediately change their practises and hold perpetrators accountable.

Oxfam and its partners, the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Macedonian Young Lawyers Association (MYLA), are providing support to migrants, including refugees, in Serbia and Macedonia. Together, we call on the governments of Serbia, Macedonia, Croatia, Hungary and Bulgaria to:

• Immediately review all procedures at their borders to ensure that they are in compliance with Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), i.e. the prohibition on inhumane and degrading treatment, and Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 to the ECHR, i.e. the principle of non-refoulement and the prohibition of collective expulsions. Also, ensure that the quality and outcome of these procedures can be scrutinized before a national authority, including by providing access to an effective remedy, in compliance with Article 13 of the ECHR.

• Conduct an independent and rigorous assessment of each individual’s claim for international protection in order to ensure that they have access to an individual asylum determination procedure, with full rights to representation and interpreter services and with the right to appeal the decision, with any deportation proceedings suspended pending the outcome of the appeal.

• Urgently investigate and take action against all perpetrators of crimes against migrants, including all forms of inhuman or degrading treatment by law enforcement officers, physical violence, and robbery

• Introduce preventive measures against future violations, including a rigorous hiring process for law enforcement officers before deployment, incorporation of improved technical equipment such as body-worn cameras, and mandatory training on European and international human rights and refugee law. A high level of applicants to the Hungarian police force did not pass a psychological test in 2016. Therefore all officers hired in 2015 – at the peak of the crisis in Hungary – should also be required to undertake a psychological test
and any who do not pass must be removed from the force
immediately.

• Allow Ombudsman offices (in charge of existing National Preventive Mechanisms) and relevant civil society to have full and unimpeded access to border areas in all the countries concerned as a matter of urgency as outlined in Article 3 and 4 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

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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.

Evictions start in Belgrade: enforced mass transfers from Belgrade to Preševo

On November the 10th in the middle of the night, a big police operation took place behind the main bus station in Belgrade and the parking lot near the so-called “Afghan Park”. 109 people were put into buses and brought to the closed camp in Preševo near the Macedonian border. From here, people are being pushed back on a constant basis. Behind the bus station at the moment more than 700 refugees remain in empty warehouses and around 30 people are currently sleeping in the parking where night temperatures are at an average of 1 degree. During the whole operation, although the people were very scared, they stayed remarkably calm and peaceful. Police did not use actual physical force, but were sometimes deceitful towards the migrants by threatening them and lying over the buses’ destination in order to get them to move from the city.

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Serbia’s South: Reception centre in Bujanovac, update Preševo Camp

Until March this year, the camp in Preševo was the entry point for thousands of people from Macedonia into Serbia on their way North. Now, it turned into the opposite: the last stop in Serbia before people are pushed back south, to Macedonia. For several weeks now, the Serbian police has been bringing people on the move to the now closed reception centre in Preševo. These are people that have been staying in camps in the North before, for example in Subotica and Sid as well as in Belgrade. Many people have launched their asylm process in Serbia. Nonetheless, they are pushed-back by the Serbian authorities. It is reported that the Serbian authorities destroies their asylum papers in order to destroy all prove that these people have been in Serbia before. The push-backs are against the all international conventions and violate the asylum right of these people. The push-backs appear to happen in large numbers to make space in the reception centres, as Serbia has not enough spaces in reception centres for all the people currently stranded in Serbia. Except for few unaccompanied minors and families all people who are brought to Preševo camp are subsequently pushed-back to Macedonia. Those vulnerable families and minors have been transferred to a new camp in Bujanovac, 20km north from Preševo.

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Recent Repression on People on the Move in Serbia

Since the 15th of July, the day that prime minister Aleksandar Vučić held a speech [1] about the problems Serbia is facing at the moment, the situation in Serbia for people on the move has become more and more tense. The speech was an awaited response to the legal changes made in Hungary on July 5th (“8 kilometer” push-back law [2]) which set a legal frame for the Hungarian authorities to push back thousands of people to Serbian territory.

Among other points, Vučić mentioned in his speech that migrants are one of the biggest problems Serbia is facing at this time and that more repressive measures will be taken in order to gain control over the irregular movement of people. One of the measures put into practice has been a “joint venture” of police and military in order to guard the southern borders towards Macedonia and Bulgaria. As of August 30, 4,428 people have been kept from entering Serbia by military and police units, while within the same operation 673 who were encountered on Serbian territory have been brought to official reception centers[3]. The military officials don’t use the word ‘push-back’ or mention any direct contact with the groups, rather they state that people “gave up” when they saw the Serbian forces. Thereby, Serbia maintains its humanitarian vocabulary used to distinguish itself from other Balkan countries like Hungary and Macedonia who boast with numbers of people they successfully pushed back. Which methods were used to deter people and why these 4,428 people did not apply for asylum in Serbia but instead went back is not mentioned. Probably the mere sight of a police officer is not enough to stop people from moving on, yet their stories and voices remain silent and invisible.

On the one hand, this increasingly repressive policy changes can be seen as a national answer to the reality that was created by the northern neighbour Hungary and to the fact that from one day to the other people got stuck in Serbia with no option to move on. On the other hand, these changes can also be seen in the frame of a European Border Regime that consists of more than just the legal closure of European borders. This will be elaborated in the following.

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