During the year many countries in the EU and Southeast Europe experienced an unprecedented wave of migration from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, consisting of a mix of asylum seekers/potential refugees, economic migrants, and trafficking victims, among others. For simplicity, this report will refer to these populations as ‘migrants and asylum seekers’ if more specific information is not available.
According to the government, Serbia was a transit country through which a very large, mixed flow of migrants and asylum seekers traveled to Western Europe.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to refugees. The asylum office within the Ministry of the Interior is responsible for implementing the system but lacked capacity, resources, and trained staff to do so effectively.
While the law is broadly in accordance with international standards, failures and delays in the implementation of its provisions deny asylum-seekers a prompt and effective individual assessment of their protection needs. In the majority of cases, asylum applications were discontinued or suspended because applicants left the country.
According to UNHCR the primary reasons for asylum seekers to leave the country were their lack of interest in living in Serbia, and the lengthy government procedure for deciding applications. As of year’s end, although 577,995 individuals had expressed an intention to seek asylum in the country, most had departed, only 30 were interviewed, and authorities made only 14 positive refugee status determinations and no subsidiary protection determinations.
According to the Ministry of Interior and UNHCR, as of October, on average, 5,000 (and up to 10,000) migrants and asylum seekers were entering and exiting the country daily. In response the government opened two reception centers in southern Serbia, with the capacity to register and process 6,000 migrants per day and provide accommodations for up to 40 women and children. The government also opened a reception center in Kanjiza, near the border with Hungary, which could accommodate 1,000 persons.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: UNHCR raised concerns about the government’s interpretation and use of the concept of safe third country, which was not in line with international standards. It was government policy to issue blanket denials of asylum to applicants from a “safe country of origin.” UNHCR claimed that this policy and the list of “safe third countries” was nonsensical because the Ministry of Foreign Affairs determined them based solely on Serbia’s relations and affiliations with those countries and not on their actual safety with regard to humanitarian and human rights conditions. As a result all neighboring states recognized by Serbia were on its list of “safe third countries.” UNHCR’s implementing partners petitioned the Constitutional Court to abolish the list, but the court declared that making such a decision did not fall within its competency.
Refoulement: UNHCR noted that Serbia lacked the resources and expertise to provide sufficient protection against refoulement, but has in principle agreed to refrain from refoulement.
Refugee Abuse: NGOs have periodically reported police mistreatment of migrants and asylum-seekers after the large influx of migrants and asylum-seekers began. In July, Amnesty International reported that several migrants or refugees interviewed while passing through the country on the way to Western Europe alleged that law enforcement officers had mistreated them or had exploited them financially. Serbian media reported that at least two police officers were disciplined for financial exploitation of migrants and asylum seekers.
Employment: Asylum seekers do not have the right to employment. Employment was available only once an applicant has been recognized as a refugee at the end of the country’s refugee determination process. The SCRM remained in charge of local integration of refugees but did not provide support, as all refugees with asylum-seeker status or seeking subsidiary protection departed Serbia.
Durable Solutions: The government provided some support for the resettlement and integration of refugees, mostly on an ad hoc basis. Refugees from the former Yugoslavia enjoyed the same rights as Serbian nationals except the right to vote and had access to simplified naturalization in the country. According to official SCRM statistics, 25,962 refugees from Croatia and 9,287 from Bosnia and Herzegovina resided in the country, while the government estimated that approximately 200,000 to 400,000 former refugees were naturalized but not socially and economically integrated into the country. Approximately 230 refugees lived in 10 collective centers throughout the country. The government provided housing for 297 persons and employment opportunities for 272 persons.
Together with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Montenegro, the country participated in the Regional Housing Project (RHP) to provide housing for approximately 16,000 vulnerable refugee families who decided to integrate in the country. An international donors’ conference in 2012 gathered 260 million euros ($286 million) in commitments for the RHP, about half of the requested five-year budget. The RHP assembly of donors approved five project proposals to provide housing for 4,153 refugee families living in Serbia. The total value of the five projects was 87 million euros ($96 million). After initial delays, largely attributable to the international implementing partner chosen by the donors, the government continued implementing the projects.
The government also provided some support for the return of refugees to their home countries.