Bosnia and Herzegovina is party to the 1951 Refugee Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees and the Government has the responsibility to process asylum claims and to decide whether somebody can be granted refugee status in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Who is a refugee and what is asylum?
A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country of origin (or country of previous residence in case of statelessness) because he or she is in danger of suffering serious harm for reasons related to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group or has fled war, torture, or inhumane and degrading treatment. The full definition of a refugee can be found in the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.
No longer able to depend on the protection of their own country, a refugee can solicit the protection of the country in which they find themselves – in this case, Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is also known as asylum. If this applies to you, you can apply for asylum with the authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Subsidiary protection is granted in case you are not eligible for refugee status, but you cannot return to your country of origin or habitual residence if there are serious reasons for believing that you would face a real risk of severe violation of human rights and freedoms, such as the death penalty or execution, torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, or severe and individual threat to your life or physical integrity due to indiscriminate violence in situations of international or national armed conflict.
The authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina will examine your application and will make a decision in accordance with the law in Bosnia and Herzegovina. You can also apply for asylum on behalf of your spouse and your children under 18 years old, or your children older than 18 years of age who suffer from a mental or physical disability and are unable to submit an application on their own, if they are also in Bosnia and Herzegovina with you.
During the asylum procedure you have to stay in Bosnia and Herzegovina. If you leave without permission to another country while your asylum application is still pending in Bosnia and Herzegovina your asylum procedure in BiH will be terminated.
When and how do I apply for asylum in Bosnia and Herzegovina?
You can ask for asylum immediately at your first contact with the Border Police or with the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs. Applying for asylum in Bosnia and Herzegovina is a process that consists of a series of steps. You have a right to interpretation and free legal assistance at all stages of the asylum procedure.
Step 1: Expression of intent to seek asylum
Registration of your intent to seek asylum and issuance of an Attestation on Expressed Intent to Seek Asylum
You can ask for asylum immediately at your first contact with the Border Police or with the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs. If you initially express intent to seek asylum with the Border Police, they will refer you to the relevant unit of the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs. The Service for Foreigners’ Affairs will issue you with an ‘Attestation of Expressed Intent to Seek Asylum’ (also known as the ‘white paper’), with a validity of up to 14 days. You should keep this document with you at all times. Currently, if you are in Sarajevo, you can only express intention to seek asylum and obtain the related attestation with the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs at the Ušivak Temporary Reception centre in Hadžići, near Sarajevo between 10:00 and 14:00 on weekdays – this is subject to change at short notice.
N.B. Except for the Ušivak Temporary Reception Centre, please do not independently go to one of these facilities. You need referral from the SFA to be accommodated.
Asylum seekers may also choose to reside in private accommodation. If you choose to reside in private accommodation you must find a place of residence within the validity of the Attestation of Expressed Intent to Seek Asylum and then register the address with the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs within three days. In order to register a private address, the owner of the property must accompany you to the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs. After registering your address, the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs will issue you another document that proves your registered address (also known as the ‘white card’). In order to formally submit your asylum application, you must then submit the ‘white card’ of registered address to Sector for Asylum of the Ministry of Security as contact address for the first asylum registration interview (covered in point 2, below). Asylum lawyers from Vaša Prava (UNHCR’s free legal aid partner) can help you with this process, either at the closest Vaša Prava (UNHCR’s free legal aid partner) office or at UNHCR’s Information Centre.
You must then wait for the Sector for Asylum of the Ministry of Security to contact you, either at one of the aforementioned reception facilities or at your registered private address, to arrange for your asylum registration interview.
Step 2: First interview
Registration of your asylum application with the Asylum Sector of the Ministry of Security and issuance of an Asylum-Seeker’s Card (also known as the ‘yellow card’)
Following your expression of intent to seek asylum, a registration officer of the Sector for Asylum of the Ministry of Security will contact you, either at one of the aforementioned reception facilities or at your registered private address, for an appointment for the registration interview. The Sector for Asylum of tthe Ministry of Security will briefly ask you questions related to your asylum claim and fill in your asylum application form for formal submission. You are entitled to request presence of a legal representative, such as a Vaša Prava (UNHCR’s free legal aid partner) lawyer, at the time of the interview. If you are in possession of a travel document when you are registered, it will be temporarily confiscated by the Sector for Asylum of the Ministry of Security, pending a final decision on your application.
After the registration interview, the Sector for Asylum of the Ministry of Security will issue an Asylum-Seeker’s Card (the ‘yellow card’), normally within three days of the registration interview date, which is valid for three months. You should keep this document with you at all times. The Sector for Asylum of the Ministry of Security will contact you when it is ready. Registered asylum seekers have the right to reside in the country until a final decision on the asylum claim is made and have a number of rights and obligations, as described here.
Step 3: Second interview
Refugee status determination
The Sector for Asylum of the Ministry of Security will invite you for a second interview, this time with a refugee status determination officer, who will examine your case and decide on your application within a six-month period. In exceptional cases, this period can be extended up to 18 months. In particular cases, the Sector for Asylum of the Ministry of Security may reject the application in an accelerated procedure (within 30 days). You are entitled to stay in Bosnia and Herzegovina while a decision is made and you have the right to ask for an interpreter and free legal aid from the beginning of the asylum procedure.
If you meet the conditions under the Law on Asylum, you can be granted refugee status or subsidiary protection status. If your asylum application is rejected, you have the right to appeal. The deadline for filing this appeal is eight days in an accelerated procedure and 15 days in a regular procedure.
Once status as a refugee has been determined or you are granted subsidiary protection status, the Ministry for Human Rights and Refugees is responsible for taking care of the rights and concerns of refugees in Bosnia and Herzegovina.