News 22 Jul 16

Serbia Braces For Rise in Refugee Numbers

Serbian authorities are expanding capacities in refugee camps following reports that the number of migrants and refugees could rise.

Milivoje Pantovic
Refugees in one of the Belgrade parks. Photo: BIRN/Milivoje Pantovic

The number of refugees in Serbia has been increasing steadily since Hungary tightened security on its border with Serbia early in July.

A group of refugees in a park near the bus station in Belgrade started a hunger strike on Friday morning over their worsening situation, which they claim is a result of the developments on the Hungarian border, growing fear of deportation, and that there is a lack of food for them.

“We are trying to increase the number of beds for refugees. We are now planning to open a couple of new centres for accepting refugees," Ivan Miskovic, from the Commissariat for Refugees and Migration, told BIRN on Thursday.

He did not specify exactly how many centres will now open, or their capacity.

However, BIRN has learned that the government is opening four more centres in the towns of Vranje, Dimitrovgrad, Pirot and Kikinda, all close to Bulgaria - except Kikinda - which is where the majority of refugees reaching Serbia come from.

On Sunday, Serbia set up a joint police and military force to patrol the border with Bulgaria and Macedonia and prevent illegal movements into Serbia and the smuggling of refugees.

Miskovic also said that in the last couple of days the government had implemented new rules on migrants and refugees.

“Only people who register as refugees and apply for asylum can go to the permanent camps. In the transit camps for refugees, the rules are not so strict,” Miskovic said, adding that  Serbian camps hold about 1,500 refugees as of now.

He said the camp near Belgrade in Krnjaca was almost empty since most of the people there had moved to different camps inside Serbia in the last couple of days.

However, a large number of refugees are not “visible to the authorities” and are outside the camps, sleeping rough in parks in Belgrade.

City officials have tried to put a stop to that by fencing off one of the two parks near the main railway and bus station where the refugees sleep.

Plowing the park where refugees were sleeping. Photo: BIRN/Milivoje Pantovic

Rados Djurovic, director of the Belgrade NGO Asylum Protection Center, said the real number of refugees was far higher than the number registered by the authorities, but no one knew the exact figure.

“Since the Serbian authorities introduced the rule that only those who legally seek asylum can enter, the number of asylum seekers has rising. That is a new situation because Serbia used to be only a transit country for refugees,” Djurovic told BIRN.

According to officials, around 500 refugees enter Serbia each day but none of them appear to be moving on since the border with Hungary was tightened.

During the refugee crisis in 2015, more than a million people crossed Serbia to EU countries. In first six months of this year, an estimated 100,000 refugees crossed Serbia on the same path.

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