30 May 2014

Serbia’s asylum system and living conditions for refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) must be improved before it can join the EU, according to a report by a coalition of Serbian NGOs called ‘prEUgovor’, which includes ECRE Member Grupa 484.

The coalition is concerned that asylum claims are still being temporarily processed by the Border Police Asylum Unit, because the Asylum Office, which was established by legislation in 2007, is yet to become operational.

The NGO report states that many asylum seekers, sometimes as many as 200, have been seen living in wooded areas without access to basic living conditions such as food and water. The NGOs welcome that three temporary accommodation centres have been opened but regret that they are not located close to where most asylum claims are being processed. A third permanent centre in Mladenovac has not yet been opened due to resistance from the local population and national politicians.

The NGO report is a response to the October 2013 Serbia progress report of the European Commission, which records that there were 3,132 asylum applications in 2011, 2,723 in 2012 and 5,056 applications in 2013. The Commission underlines that no asylum seeker was granted protection in 2011 and that only three people received a positive decision in 2012. 

The NGO report notes that one of the reasons for the low recognition rate is that many asylum seekers abandon their claims at an early stage in the procedure in order to move on to the EU. The Commission progress report highlights that this abandonment is caused by ‘the lack of adequate asylum processing, where applicants are neither referred to nor registered in the asylum procedure as the Asylum Law requires’, as well as a shortage of reception facilities with adequate conditions for asylum seekers.

The NGO coalition is also concerned about the 66,000 refugees and 210,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Serbia. Many are unemployed and live in poverty and IDPs without personal documents are not able to exercise their basic rights. The Commission notes that, in 2013, the number of collective centres was reduced from 24 to 18, providing housing for only 2,438 displaced persons.

Accession negotiations were opened by the European Council in June 2013, and the Commission’s progress report assesses the extent to which Serbia is meeting the requirements for joining the EU.

This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 30 May 2014.
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