News 22 Jan 16

Serbia Fears Becoming Refugee 'Buffer Zone'

After several European countries toughened their policies on asylum seekers, Serbia fears the refugees will pile up in their country, on the edge of the EU.

Sasa Dragojlo, Sinisa Jakov Marusic, Sven Milekic
BIRN
Belgrade
Refugees crossing the Serbian border with Croatia | Photo: Filip Avramovic

After Austria said it will refuse entry to migrants seeking to pass through to Scandinavia, Rados Djurovic, head of the Center for Protection and Help for Asylum seekers in Serbia, told BIRN that NGOs fear Serbia will become a refugee "buffer zone" for EU countries.

“Serbia is in the worst situation of all Balkan states. After Austria announced that it was refusing entry to migrants, which Slovenia and Croatia are now also implementing, Serbia could become a buffer zone for refugees,” Djurovic said.

On Sunday Austria said it will now only accept refugees whose identity can be proven, who are seeking asylum in Austria or Germany and who do not represent a security risk and have no criminal record.

On Wednesday, Slovenia and Croatia did the same.

Serbia then said that in response to Austria's decision it will close its border with Macedonia to refugees not seeking asylum in Austria or Germany.

“Migrants who do not express a request for asylum seeking in the territory of Austria and Germany as of today will not be able to pass through the territory of Serbia,” Aleksandar Vulin, Minister for Labour, Employment, and Social Issues, said on Wednesday.

Serbia's decision prompted Macedonia later that day to close its border with Greece.

Macedonian police confirmed to BIRN that they will let through only refugees from war-torn countries and who have documents from the Greek authorities that clearly state their final destination.

Robert Kozma, a member of the Group 484, an NGO that deals with asylum issues, told BIRN that the situation should not surprise anybody. “We should have seen it coming,” he said.

Since the UNHCR does not recognize Macedonia as a "safe" country and since Hungary built a fence to keep out refugees, Serbian NGOs and officials fear their country could become the main refugee "station" in the region.

“The situation will get more and more complicated. Serbia has a capacity to hold only 6,000 people,” Djurovic said, adding that a new refugee influx is expected in the spring.

“The EU has to create a consensus under which all states must reciprocally accept refugees. That is the only solution,” Djurovic concluded.

In 2015, about 600,000 refugees passed through Serbia, according to Serbia's Commissariat for Refugees and Migration. On average, around 2,500 people enter Serbia every day.

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