Serbia should end degrading reception conditions for asylum seekers

Letter to the Prime Minister of Serbia

Strasbourg 12/12/2013
Commissioner's visit to Bogovadja Commissioner's visit to Bogovadja

"Serbia needs to strengthen its asylum system and reception capacities in order to cope with the ever increasing number of arrivals, in particular from war-torn Syria. I could witness signs of the current strains on the Serbian asylum system during my November visit in the reception centre of Bogovadja, one of the two asylum centres in the country. Additional efforts are needed in order to ensure that the human rights of every person in need of international protection are fully respected and protected" said today Nis Muižnieks, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, releasing a letter addressed to  Prime Minister Dačić.

During his visit in Bogovadja, the Commissioner witnessed that all 160 places were full and, as a consequence, about 230 asylum seekers were living in the nearby forest, in basic shelters such as wooden shacks or tents, with no access to sanitation services. He stresses in his letter that this situation is very serious and requires urgent action by the Serbian authorities. "A first step is to ensure that every asylum seekers in Serbia is accommodated in a place which meets international standards."

The Commissioner notes that Serbian law establishes that registration of asylum seekers should be done in one of the existing two asylum centres. However, a number of persons do not get registered, notably due to these centres' inadequate reception capacity. The Commissioner also observes with particular concern that even registered asylum seekers who submit their application have almost no prospect of being granted refugee status or subsidiary protection. "With only three persons recognised as refugees since 2008, the recognition rate is close to zero in Serbia."

While welcoming efforts made, the Commissioner adds that "in order to ensure a more effective asylum system,  compliant with international standards, the Serbian authorities should in particular increase the capacity of accommodation centres; establish a protection-sensitive screening mechanism able to cope with the needs of asylum seekers; improve the functioning of the Asylum Office as an independent unit within the Ministry of the Interior; and improve alignment of the processing of asylum claims with the management of accommodation."

The Commissioner finally states that he intends to urge international donors, such as the European Union, to provide Serbia with assistance in asylum matters. "However, the Serbian authorities must take the lead and demonstrate resolve in ensuring proper reception and effective protection of the human rights of all asylum seekers."