25 September 2015

According to information ECRE collected from 14 to 18 September, asylum seekers travelling across the Western Balkans still face significant challenges to register their intention to claim asylum. Many have been sleeping in the open, in inadequate and unhygienic conditions in the cold and rain. In addition, NGOs and international organisations do not have the capacities to provide sufficient humanitarian and medical assistance. Furthermore, at the doors of Europe, Hungarian police and army attacked refugees with water cannons and tear gas, forcing them back, across the border, to Serbia.

In the past week, more asylum seekers have been able to register their intention to claim asylum in Macedonia, thanks to improved registration capacities. However, due to the large number of arrivals, there is no protection-sensitive system for identifying and registering the most vulnerable asylum seekers. Similarly, the treatment of unaccompanied children remains problematic.

In Serbia, refugees have to wait for days to register their claims for asylum, due to procedural shortcomings. For instance, of the average 3,500 refugees arriving in Serbia every day, only 1,500 are able to get registered.

As a result, many asylum seekers continue on their way to Belgrade, without having expressed the intention to seek asylum. If unregistered, they are not allowed to be accommodated in reception centres and are neither able to receive medical assistance nor move freely within the country. Consequently, groups of asylum seekers have been sleeping in parks and bus stations, with limited access to food, water and sanitation. Many fall sick because of the worsening weather conditions.

NGOs and international organisations continue to highlight they neither have the capacities, nor are responsible, for replacing the role of the State in ensuring assistance and protection for asylum seekers. So far, Macedonian and Serbian authorities have focused efforts on temporary measures, without solving existing shortcomings in the national asylum system.

From 19 June to 16 September, 75,087 people registered their intention to seek asylum in Macedonia. In Serbia, since 1 January to 11 September 2015, about 120,000 asylum seekers have expressed their intention to claim international protection. In both countries, the large majority were Syrians.

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee has argued that, as consequence of new measures approved by the Hungarian government on Wednesday 16 September, asylum seekers have no access to international protection in the Hungarian territory; in breach of international law. Consequently, they have been sent back to Serbia, and forced to stay in transit zones, considered ‘no-man’s land’.

Between 16 and 17 September, thousands of asylum seekers have been trapped at Horgos, on the Serbian side of the border. They had very limited access to water, food and medical assistance. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reported cases of refugees injured by Hungarian police attacks.

UNHCR and Caritas are concerned that if asylum seekers stay longer in Serbia there will be a need for increased humanitarian assistance and supplies, already currently insufficient. UNHCR will launch a fact-finding mission to investigate on further needs.

Meanwhile, Serbian authorities organised buses to bring asylum seekers to Croatia. On Thursday 17 September, more than 11,000 people entered into the country. In response to the large number of arrivals the government closed all crossing points between Serbia and Croatia, except the Belgrade-Zagreb highway.


This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 25 September 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.