World Refugee Survey 2009: Serbia
Serbia recognized some 96,500 refugees, including 69,300 from Croatia and 27,100 from Bosnia and Herzegovina, and granted temporary protection to another 43 of other nationalities that the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recognized under its mandate.
2008 Events Summary
There were no reports of refoulement or physical danger to refugees in 2008 but there was also no mechanism to monitor the borders.
In April, the Government assumed responsibility for refugee status determination from UNHCR. Fifty-two persons applied during the remainder of the year and the Government made six decisions, all negative.
In December, the Commissariat for Refugees took over management of the sole asylum center from UNHCR with a 90-person capacity.
Law and Policy
Serbia is 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 includes a right to asylum and protection against refoulement and provided that foreigners should enjoy all rights within except those expressly reserved to citizens.
In April, Serbia implemented its 2007 asylum law whereby an Asylum Office, which is a part of the Ministry of Interior (MOI) – Border Police Department makes refugee status determinations in the first instance with appeal to an Asylum Commission. Administrative review before the Supreme Court is also available but the Constitutional Court may also intervene through constitutional appeal. The Law includes most of the restrictions allowed the EU asylum system on persons who pass through or come from countries authorities predetermine to be safe or may have internal flight alternative but it does not include the accelerated procedure.
The Government recognizes refugees from former Yugoslav republics, generally ethnic Serbs, prima facie under the 1992 Refugee Law.
Detention/Access to Courts
Serbia administratively detains asylum seekers from countries other than the former Yugoslavia for 30 days for entry without proper documents or whose identity is unclear under the 1980 Yugoslav Law on the Movement and Stay of Foreigners. After 30 days, authorities transfer those who seek asylum to the Padinska Skela Center for Aliens in the Belgrade county prison and detain them indefinitely without judicial review until they establish their identity for repatriation or their asylum cases are resolved. UNHCR monitors the center and has access to asylum seekers detained there. Legal aid providers also have access to them with the Ministry of Interior’s approval. Although there is no legal remedy, monitoring contributes to asylum seekers release.
As of April, UNHCR no longer issues identity cards to refugees and asylum seekers but the Asylum Office does. The police respect UNHCR documents even if they did not formally regularize the bearers’ stay. MOI issues cards to refugees from the former Yugoslavia if they still lack not have permanent status.
The 1992 Refugee Law requires the Government to grant refugees from the former Yugoslavia access to courts to vindicate their rights “in the manner set for its own citizens.” In Kosovo, UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) provides legal assistance to refugees.
The Constitution extends provisions against arbitrary deprivation of liberty, and the rights to humane treatment in detention and judicial protection to all, but reserves to citizens the right to address international bodies for their protection. The 1980 Law on the Movement and Stay of Foreigners mandates 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 that register with the Government are free to choose their places of residence. Asylum seekers must notify the Asylum Office in writing of any change of address within three days but work restrictions compel most to live in the UNHCR-funded center in Banja Koviljaca. Refugees from the former Yugoslavia have unrestricted freedom of movement and choice of residence.
As of June, Serbia had 77 collective centers where some families had lived for over a decade. Serbia provides material assistance only to those refugees from the former Yugoslavia living in the collective centers.
The Government does not yet issue international travel documents to any refugees, but the new asylum law provides for it. Those from the former Yugoslavia can travel to Bosnia and Herzegovina with their refugee cards and many have Croatian or Bosnian passports.
The Constitution extends the right to freedom of movement to all but expressly notes that the law limits the entry and stay of foreigners and allows restrictions on movement for the purposes of conducting criminal proceedings, protecting public order and peace, preventing the spread of disease, and defending the country.
Right to Earn a Livelihood
Serbia allows refugees from the former Yugoslavia with work booklets to work and practice professions with rights generally on par with nationals, except in public institutions. Even some refugees from the former Yugoslavia sometimes are not able to obtain the documents they need to work, especially if they lose their personal identification numbers or if the registries in their home towns is destroyed. In some towns, refugees cannot register with the National Employment Service with refugee identification alone but also need documentation that they are in the process of obtaining citizenship. The new asylum law promises the right to work and property equivalent to that of permanent residents for other recognized refugees but there are none as yet.
Refugees can legally operate businesses and own and transfer movable property on par with citizens but asylum seekers cannot. Refugees from the former Yugoslavia can hold real property on par with citizens but refugees from other countries can do so only on par with other aliens, subject, for example, to reciprocity for Serbs in their source country. The Asylum Law, however, provides for exemption from the reciprocity requirement after three years.
The Constitution extends to all the rights to work, to strike, and to join unions, and its protection of humane working conditions. It also provides expressly for the right of foreigners to engage in markets on par with nationals and to own property. Refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina enjoy the protection of national labor laws.
Public Relief and Education
The Government grants former Yugoslavian refugees medical services on par with Serbian nationals. UNHCR provided medical services and other assistance to asylum seekers and the refugees it recognized. The new Asylum Law entitles asylum seekers and refugees to social assistance on par with nationals and accommodation in the Asylum Center, if necessary.
While refugees from the former Yugoslavia are eligible for unemployment insurance, local bureaucracies sometimes make it difficult to obtain. 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 offers all refugees and asylum seekers free primary and secondary education on par with nationals.
The Constitution extends to all its rights to health services, compensation for temporary unemployment and disability, retirement, free primary and secondary education, and general public relief.
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