Who is a refugee?
Refugees are persons forced to flee their countries of origin because of persecution, conflict or generalised violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group.
Refugees are defined in and protected under international law. The legal principles of refugee protection are enshrined in numerous international, regional, and national legal instruments. One of the key principles laid down in international law is that refugees should not be expelled or returned to situations where their lives and freedom would be under threat.
States bear the primary responsibility to provide refugees with safety from being returned to the dangers they have fled; access to fair and efficient asylum procedures; measures to ensure that their basic human rights are respected and so to allow them to live in dignity and safety while helping them to find a longer-term solution. To this end, UNHCR works closely with governments, and offers advice and support to them as needed to fulfil their obligations.
When and how do I apply for asylum in the Republic of Serbia?
You may apply for asylum immediately at your first contact with the Border Police. The procedure for seeking asylum in Serbia is as follows:
- a foreigner may “express the intention to seek asylum in Serbia” within Serbian territory or at border crossings (including the Nikola Tesla Airport in Belgrade);
- once your intention to seek asylum in Serbia is recorded by the officials of the Ministry of the Interior you will be given a certificate of having done so;
- the asylum-seeker is then expected to go to his/ her designated asylum centre, or to notify the Asylum Office should he/she wish to stay in private accommodation;
- upon arrival at the centre or private accommodation, the asylum-seeker files an asylum application with the Asylum Office which then issues a personal identity document to the asylum-seeker;
- the Asylum Office must decide on the application within 3 months of its submission, during which time one or more hearings are held to establish all of the facts and circumstances relevant to rendering a decision. This deadline may be extended to up to 9 months.
For more information about the asylum procedure see: link.
Airport / border crossing
The Law on Asylum and Temporary Protection introduces the possibility for the entire asylum procedure to be conducted at a border crossing or in the transit area of airports and inland ports, complying with the main principles defined in the Law itself. The representatives of the organizations providing legal aid to the asylum-seekers have access to asylum-seekers while they are in the restricted area of the Airport. If you apply for asylum at Serbian Airports, look for the posters advertising legal aid and call for a lawyer’s presence and assistance.
Access to the Asylum Procedure in the Shelter for Foreigners
One of the measures of restricting movement of asylum-seekers provided for in the Law on Asylum and Temporary Protection is their accommodation in the Shelter for Foreigners as per decision of the Asylum Office. If you are temporarily placed in the Shelter for foreigners, make sure you stay in contact with your lawyer assisting you in the asylum process. If you did not apply for asylum and you wish to do so in the Shelter, you may express your intention to apply for asylum to any of the police officers in the Shelter. Make sure you give a call to organizations providing legal aid to asylum-seekers (contacts available at the Shelter) and, if you wish, to UNHCR.
Free Legal Assistance
The Belgrade Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), a partner of the UNHCR since 2012, provides free legal aid to the asylum-seekers in Serbia. Lawyers of the BCHR explain asylum-seekers their rights and obligations and represent them before appropriate authorities or courts.
Unaccompanied and Separated Children
Child protection is a very important component of the broader UNHCR protection mandate. In cooperation and coordination with the government-run system and non-governmental actors, UNHCR strives to ensure that children of concern have access to national child protection systems.
The Law on Asylum and Temporary Protection defines an unaccompanied minor as a foreigner who has not reached 18 years of age and who, at the time of entering Serbia, does not have, or has upon arrival lost the company of parents or guardians.
Children under 18, who are not accompanied by their parents, and not being cared for by adults who by law or custom have responsibility to do so, are assigned a temporary guardian immediately after it has been established that the child is unaccompanied/separated and no later than prior to the submission of his/her asylum application.
A temporary guardian should accompany the unaccompanied and separated children (UASC) in all the procedures before the state authorities and to represent his/her interests until the moment a durable solution is identified. The guardian assists UASC with: accommodation, medical and psychological care, school, tracing his/her family, etc. Regarding accommodation, unaccompanied children may be placed in five specialized social protection institutions run by the state or NGOs, or in asylum centres.
All UASC must be enrolled in primary education regardless of their status and possession of school certificates, diplomas and other proof of previous education.
In cooperation with the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs of the Republic of Serbia and the NGO IDEAS, UNHCR initiated a project of capacity building of guardianship authorities in Belgrade, primarily through funding the work of a certain number of professional guardians. These guardians are employed by the guardianship authority, and their work is governed by the Family Law and the accompanying by-laws.
Asylum procedure for unaccompanied and separated children
In asylum procedures, as in all other procedures involving children, attention must be paid to several important issues. Above all, compliance with the key principles enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child ratified by the Republic of Serbia must be ensured: prohibition of discrimination, respect of the best interest of the child, right to life, survival and development and the right of the child to freely express his/her views.
The best interest of the child is at the heart of all activities involving children provided for in the Law on Asylum and Temporary Protection . The Convention on the Rights of the Child provides an unambiguous obligation of the State to ensure that the child’s best interests are appropriately integrated and consistently applied in every action which directly or indirectly impacts children taken by administrative, judicial, public or private institutions.
In practice, asylum procedures on applications submitted by children are no different than for those submitted by adults. The Law states that their specific situation will be considered by providing appropriate assistance and ensuring special procedural and reception guarantees. Special procedural guarantees ensure “appropriate assistance to the applicant who, due to his/her personal circumstances, is not able to benefit from the rights and obligations under this Law without appropriate assistance”.
After submitting the asylum application, the child is assigned a legal representative who manages the case, and in cooperation with the child’s legal guardian, prepares the child for the interview with the Asylum Office. Final decisions in the asylum procedure may be positive or negative.