Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2018, 14:34 GMT

World Refugee Survey 2008 - Serbia

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 19 June 2008
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, World Refugee Survey 2008 - Serbia, 19 June 2008, available at: [accessed 20 February 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

SRB figures


Serbia hosted some 97,800 refugees in 2007, almost all from the former Yugoslav republics of Croatia (70,000) and Bosnia and Herzegovina (27,300), mostly ethnic Serbs who fled the conflicts during those countries' secessions beginning in the mid-1990s. The Government's official count was much higher, but included many who had received Serbian citizenship.

Refoulement/Physical Protection

There were reports of deportation without appeal but the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) did not have access to border posts and could not verify that no asylum seekers were among the thousands of people that Serbia turned away. UNHCR did have an office at the airport to receive asylum seekers, including those who entered through other ports. The Government tolerated persons UNHCR recognized as refugees under its mandate and did not expel them. There were no reports of physical danger to refugees or asylum seekers.

Serbia was party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol with no reservations, by succession from the former Serbia and Montenegro. The 2006 Constitution included a right to asylum and protection against refoulement and provided that foreigners should enjoy all of its rights except those expressly reserved to citizens. In 2006, UNHCR and the European Union (EU) built a reception center for asylum seekers in Banja Koviljaca and gave it to the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) but, as of November 2007, it was not yet operational. In November, Serbia adopted a new asylum law whereby the MOI would handle all legal procedures and the Commissariat for Refugees would manage asylum seekers' centers with help from UNHCR and the EU beginning April 2008. The Government established an Asylum Office within the border police directorate and began to staff it but UNHCR still decided asylum applications, receiving 64 and granting 17 during the year. The Government granted refugees from former Yugoslav republics, generally ethnic Serbs, prima facie status under the 1992 Serbian Refugee Law.

The Serbian province of Kosovo was under the de facto control of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). An UNMIK regulation on the movement of persons into and out of Kosovo provided some protection for refugees. UNHCR decided cases under its mandate in Kosovo.

Detention/Access to Courts

Serbia routinely detained asylum seekers from countries other than the former Yugoslavia for 30 days for entry without proper documents along with illegal migrants without distinction under the 1980 Yugoslav Law on the Movement and Stay of Foreigners. After 30 days, authorities transferred those who sought asylum to the Padinska Skela Reception Center for Aliens in the Belgrade county prison and detained them indefinitely without judicial review until they could establish their identity for repatriation or their asylum cases were resolved. From Padinska Skela, if the MOI cleared it, applicants could contact UNHCR to seek asylum. Where asylum seekers could establish their identity, UNHCR could get them released to other accommodations in Belgrade until it determined their status. Women and children family members of applicants and unaccompanied minors seeking asylum were generally exempt from detention and, after police screening, authorities transferred them to UNHCR housing centers.

Serbia allowed UNHCR access to detained asylum seekers at Padinska Skela and Belgrade international airport if the MOI referred their cases to UNHCR or if they received the MOI's permission to contact UNHCR directly, but allowed no other independent monitoring of detention facilities. There were no reports that the Government detained refugees from the former Yugoslavia.

UNHCR issued identity cards to refugees it recognized and attestation certificates to asylum seekers. While the cards did not formally legalize refugees' and asylum seekers' presence, authorities generally respected them. The MOI issued refugee cards to refugees from the former Yugoslavia if they were not already citizens and did not have permanent status.

The 1992 Refugee Law required the Government to grant refugees from the former Yugoslavia access to courts to vindicate their rights "in the manner set for its own citizens." Asylum seekers, however, lacking legal status, had little to enforce. In Kosovo, UNMIK provided legal assistance to refugees.

The Constitution extended to all its rights against arbitrary deprivation of liberty, to humane treatment in detention, and to judicial protection of rights but reserved to citizens the right to address international bodies for their protection. The 1980 Law on the Movement and Stay of Foreigners mandated a 30-day sentence for illegal entry, with no exception for refugees and asylum seekers.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

Refugees recognized by UNHCR and asylum seekers not in detention were, in practice, free to choose their places of residence, though this was not protected by law, and work restrictions compelled most to live in the UNHCR-funded center in Banja Koviljaca. Refugees from the former Yugoslavia had unrestricted freedom of movement and choice of residence.

The number of refugees residing in internationally and state-funded collective centers continued its seven-year decline, dropping to about 2,400. Serbia provided material assistance only to those refugees from the former Yugoslavia living in the collective centers.

Serbia did not issue international travel documents to any refugees, but those from the former Yugoslavia could travel to Bosnia and Herzegovina with their refugee cards and many had Croatian or Bosnian passports anyway. The new asylum law included a right of refugees to travel documents.

The Constitution extended to all its right to freedom of movement but expressly noted that the law would limit the entry and stay of foreigners and allowed restrictions on movement only to conduct criminal proceedings, protect public order and peace, prevent the spread of disease, or defend the country.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

Serbia allowed refugees from the former Yugoslavia with work booklets to work and practice professions with rights generally on par with nationals, except in public institutions. It did not extend these rights to other refugees, however. Even some refugees from the former Yugoslavia sometimes were not able to obtain the documents they needed to work, especially if they had lost their personal identification numbers or if the registries in their home towns had been destroyed.

Refugees from the former Yugoslavia could legally operate businesses and own and transfer movable property, but other refugees and asylum seekers could not. Refugees from the former Yugoslavia could obtain real property but the Government would not list it in the tax registry. This hindered their ability to register permanent or temporary residence. Banks often required at least permanent residence to open an account, which excluded some refugees from the former Yugoslavia.

The Constitution extended to all its rights to work, to strike, and to join unions, and its protection of working conditions. It also provided expressly for the right of foreigners to engage in markets on par with nationals and to own property. The 1992 Refugee Law, which applied only to refugees from the former Yugoslavia, provided specifically for the protection of "personal property and other rights and freedoms of the refugees, and provide for their protection under international law, in the manner set for its own citizens." Refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina enjoyed the protection of national labor laws but asylum seekers and mandate refugees did not.

Public Relief and Education

The Government granted former Yugoslav refugees medical services on par with Serbian nationals, but not other refugees. UNHCR provided medical services and other assistance to asylum seekers and the refugees it recognized. Only refugees from the former Yugoslavia who resided in the collective centers were eligible for cash aid and rationing.

Officials de-registered some elderly Croatian refugees who had homes rebuilt in Croatia, which made them ineligible for free health services in Serbia because they held Croatian identity cards and registered residences in Croatia. Were they to renounce their Croatian IDs, they would lose reconstruction aid and other rights in Croatia. Rights derived from the right to reside in a certain territory. Without the legal right to own or rent property, refugees could not register permanent or temporary residence and some towns required six months' residence prior to applying for public relief. Compared to municipalities in the south and southeast, municipalities in Vojvodina were supportive.

While refugees from the former Yugoslavia were eligible for unemployment insurance in Serbia, local bureaucracies sometimes made it difficult for them to obtain it. Out of seven basic forms of aid available at social work centers, refugees from the former Yugoslavia could receive institutional accommodation, foster care, and professional/advisory assistance, but not allowances for children or parents, financial aid, and care for other persons."

Serbia gave all refugees and asylum seekers free primary education, and gave refugees from the former Yugoslavia access to secondary and tertiary education on par with nationals. UNHCR helped asylum seekers and refugees under its mandate with school supplies and transportation.

The German humanitarian group, HELP, with over €1.5 million ($2.2 million) for two years from the European Commission and the European Agency for Reconstruction, opened an apartment building for refugees in Petrovac in July and gave a similar building with 23 flats to refugee families in Obrenovac, near Belgrade, and provided some "livelihood enhancement."

The Constitution extended to all its rights to health services, compensation for temporary unemployment and disability, retirement, free primary and secondary education, and general public relief. Serbia did not obstruct UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations from aiding refugees but, aside from UNHCR, none were doing so.

The 2004 Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) prepared by the then-Union of Serbia and Montenegro for international donors included some 309 references to refugees, but only covering those from the former Yugoslavia. It especially emphasized their work, movement, and property rights:

The problem of poverty among these groups must also be considered from the perspective of basic human rights in view of their difficulties in exercising the right to freedom of movement, obtaining necessary documents, having freedom of disposal of their property, access to the formal labour market, adequate health care services, income support, quality education, and so on.

The PRSP proposed closing down the collective centers, saying the system "intensifies social isolation ... and significantly contributes to the development and maintenance of a culture of poverty and inertness." In 2006, Serbia submitted its first progress report on its implementation, noting the conversion of six former collective centers for refugees into homes for the elderly.

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