Last Updated: Monday, 18 December 2017, 09:48 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2007 - Serbia

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 11 July 2007
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2007 - Serbia, 11 July 2007, available at: [accessed 18 December 2017]
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.

Refoulement/Physical Protection

There were no reports of refoulement during 2006, 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 15,300 people that Serbia turned away at these posts. They included about 3,800 Romanians, 3,300 Bosnians, 2,900 Bulgarians, 1,000 Turks, 500 Croats, and 500 Ukrainians. It also turned back 77 people it caught trying to enter the country at places other than border posts.

Serbia was party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, by succession from the former Serbia and Montenegro, with no reservations. A new Constitution passed by referendum in November included a right to asylum and protection from refoulement and provided that foreigners should enjoy all of its rights except those expressly reserved to citizens. Serbia had no general refugee law, however, and UNHCR handled all refugee status determinations. Refugees from the former Yugoslav republics were the exception, as they received 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). UNMIK included a procedure for determining asylum in its declaration on entry to and exit from Kosovo and granted refugee status to two asylum seekers during 2006.

Most refugees in the country were either ethnic Serbian Croats or Bosnians but many of those officials counted had already naturalized as Serbians. UNHCR helped more than 400 Croatians repatriate and more than 3,300 returned on their own. UNHCR submitted the cases of 11 refugees (six from the former Yugoslavia) to Canada for resettlement. Sixteen refugees (eight from the former Yugoslavia) submitted in 2005 left for resettlement in third countries in 2006. Asylum seekers filed no requests for voluntary return in 2006, but two Moldovans and two Ethiopians left Serbia before UNHCR processed their claims, likely to move on to Western Europe.

Detention/Access to Courts

Serbia routinely detained refugees and asylum seekers for 30 days for entry without proper documents along with illegal migrants. After 30 days, authorities transferred those who sought asylum to the Padinska Skela Reception Center for Aliens in the Belgrade County Prison, where they detained them administratively until they could establish their identity for repatriation or UNHCR resolved their asylum claim. From Padinska Skela, applicants could contact UNHCR to seek asylum, if the Ministry of Interior cleared it. In most cases, UNHCR was able get them released to other accommodations in Belgrade until it determined their status but when they could not prove their identity or nationality, applicants remained in detention until status determination was complete. Women and children family members of applicants and unaccompanied minors seeking asylum were generally exempt from this detention and, after police screening, authorities transferred them to UNHCR housing centers.

Serbia referred seven detained asylum seekers to UNHCR during 2006. In July, authorities reported to UNHCR a Somali asylum seeker, whom they had denied entry and detained at the Belgrade airport for 70 days, when he developed severe health problems requiring urgent treatment. In March 2007, UNHCR learned of a Senegalese asylum seeker the authorities had been holding at Padinska Skela for four months.

Serbia allowed no independent monitoring of detention facilities, but, in May, the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture reported on a 2004 visit to Padinska Skela – finding no evidence of ill-treatment of detainees, but that the facility was overcrowded and generally in poor condition. Serbia allowed UNHCR access to detained asylum seekers at Padinska Skela and Belgrade International Airport if the Ministry of Interior referred their cases to UNHCR or if they received the Ministry's permission to contact UNHCR directly. Authorities displayed UNHCR posters informing detainees of their right to seek asylum in Padinska Skela.

UNHCR issued identity cards to refugees it recognized and certificates to asylum seekers. While the UNHCR documents did not formally legalize refugees' and asylum seekers' stay in Serbia, authorities generally respected them. The Government issued new refugee cards to refugees from the former Yugoslavia if were not already citizens or had permanent status. Some 10,000 appealed negative decisions, but the process was not transparent.

While refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina had access to courts to vindicate other rights, asylum seekers and mandate refugees did not because Serbia did not grant them a formal legal status. In Kosovo, UNMIK provided legal assistance to refugees.

The Constitution extended to all its rights against arbitrary deprivation of liberty, to human treatment in detention, and to judicial protection of their 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 the 30-day sentence for illegal entry, with no exception for refugees and asylum seekers.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

The number of refugees and internally displaced Serbs from Kosovo residing in internationally and state-funded collective centers continued its six-year decline, dropping to fewer than 7,600, about 2,500 of them refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia. Serbia provided material assistance only to those refugees living in the official centers.

Refugees recognized by UNHCR and asylum seekers not in detention were free to choose their places of residence, though the restrictions on their right to work meant most lived in housing sponsored by UNHCR. All refugees were free to move about the country as they chose, regardless of their residence.

Serbia did not issue any international 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.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

Serbia allowed refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to work and practice professions with rights generally on par with nationals but did not extend these rights to other refugees. 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 hometowns had been destroyed.

Refugees from the former Yugoslavia could purchase property and open bank accounts, but other refugees were not able to do so.

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 only applied 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." Similarly, Serbian labor laws protected Croatian and Bosnian refugees, but not other refugees, on par with nationals.

Public Relief and Education

The Government granted former Yugoslavian refugees, but not other refugees, public relief and medical services on par with Serbian nationals. UNHCR provided medical services and other assistance to the refugees it recognized.

While refugees from the former Yugoslavia were eligible for unemployment insurance in Serbia, local bureaucracies sometimes made it difficult for them to obtain it.

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 aid.

The Constitution extended to all its rights of 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.

Serbia had a 2002 National Strategy for Resolving the Problems of Refugees, Expellees and Displaced Persons, and its 2004 Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) prepared by the then-Union of Serbia and Montenegro for the International Monetary Fund and other donors included some 309 references to refugees. It noted that poverty rates among refugees and IDPs were twice as high as among the general population and addressed their needs in health, education, housing, water and sanitation, and general aid. It also called for more focused monitoring of their conditions with nongovernmental organization and civil society involvement and analyzed the special needs of refugee women and children. Most notable, however, was its emphasis on rights essential to their integration into Serbian society, especially those related to work, movement, and property:

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. Consequently, their problems can only be resolved through comprehensive measures, providing a legal status that would eliminate obstacles in their ability to exercise their guaranteed human rights and providing compensation and stimulating recovery of all the above mentioned resources.

The PRSP set forth four "strategic options": 1) basic human rights, especially the resolution of refugees' legal status; 2) closing down the collective centers, which it found "intensifies social isolation ... and significantly contributes to the development and maintenance of a culture of poverty and inertness"; 3) education programs; and 4) targeted transfers making programs equally accessible to refugees and nationals. In April 2006, Serbia submitted its first progress report on the PRSP's implementation in 2005, noting modest improvements in aid delivery and the conversion of six former collective centers for refugees into homes for the elderly.

These programs applied only to refugees the Government recognized from the former Yugoslavia and not to refugees of other nationalities UNHCR recognized under its mandate. Nevertheless, it serves as a model for what a PRSP that treated refugees as rights-bearing fellow human beings might look like.

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