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News 18 Sep 17

Asylum Seekers in Serbia Face Rejection From Landlords

Asylum-seekers in Serbia are facing a new problem as many landlords are refusing to rent them apartments, says an NGO that helps asylum-seekers find homes.

Filip Rudic
BIRN
Belgrade
Children at Krnjaca asylum centre. Photo: Beta/Ministry of Defense/Goran Stankovic

Registered asylum seekers in Serbia with legal permission to find their own accommodation are being turned down by "hundreds" of landlords, making the search for new homes difficult, says the NGO Crisis Response and Policy Centre, which mediates between landlords and asylum seekers.

"We make hundreds of phone calls, and maybe four or five out of a hundred [landlords] agree to show us the apartment, then some change their minds again when we arrive," says Branislava Pokusevski Kumalakanta, project coordinator at the Centre.

She told BIRN that the landlords answer negatively "in 90 per cent of cases, maybe more", as soon as they hear that the apartment is for a foreign citizen seeking asylum.

The number of asylum-seekers looking for apartments is not big. Serbia is slow to process asylum-seeker’s applications, mostly due to understaffing of the National Office for Asylum, and the vast majority of processed applications are rejected.

According to the National Office for Asylum statistics, not a single request was granted out of 151 filed in the first six months of 2017, while 28 people were denied asylum. In 2016, 105 applicants were denied and only 19 were accepted.

Of the small number of approved applicants, an even smaller number also applies for permit to take care of their own accommodation, so that they can move out of asylum centres.

According to the UNHCR in Serbia, the National Office for Asylum issued 15 such permits since the start of 2017.

"If you have money and can afford to rent, [the Office] does not have a problem with that. They are very forthcoming," the UNHCR told BIRN.

The UNHCR further explained that the address is known to the authorities so they can always contact the asylum-seekers as the procedure for granting asylum continues.

Pokusevski Kumalakanta says the Crisis Response and Policy Centre has been helping six or seven individuals and families to find a home in just under a year. Finding one apartment could take up to two months of "intense search".

"I had answers like ‘I don’t want that in my house’. When we came to one apartment to have a look, the [landlord] just pointed us to the door and kicked us out," she says.

Legal councillor Ana Stefanovic, also at the Crisis Response and Policy Centre, says the landlords are renting their own private property and thus have the right to turn down whoever they choose.

"However, the law is not very precise and this needs to be checked with the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality," Stefanovic said.

She added that the Centre also saw positive examples of landlords reducing the price of rent for asylum-seekers.

"Usually they raise the price, drastically. In one Belgrade suburb, a man who advertised [the apartment] for 180 euros told us that for ‘them’ the price is 300," says Pokusevski Kumalakanta.

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