News 10 Aug 17

Serbia Struggles to Process Refugees’ Asylum Claims

Serbia's asylum office has accepted just two applications this year, with hundreds more pending due to understaffing, although some NGOs also blame a lack of political will to approve asylum claims.

Filip Rudic
BIRN
Belgrade
Children at one of Serbian refugee centres in Presevo. Photo: Beta/Sasa Djordjevic.

Serbia has granted only two asylum requests out of more than 150 applications submitted in 2017, and the National Office for Asylum is backed up with hundreds more cases, mostly due to lack of staff.

"The number [of requests] they processed is extremely small compared to last year. They did much fewer because they are backed up," said Nikola Kovacevic from the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights.

Kovacevic told BIRN that one Afghan and one Syrian citizen were granted asylum in July and August, respectively.

According to the National Office for Asylum’s statistics, obtained by the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights, not a single asylum request was granted out of 151 filed in the first six months of 2017, while 28 people were denied asylum.

In 2016, the total number of applications was 574, of which 105 were denied and only 19 were accepted.

The other 450 cases from last year haven't been processed yet.

Kovacevic said that only a handful of people are working to process hundreds of applications, which is the reason why work has been slow.

The National Office for Asylum, which is part of the Interior Ministry, did not respond to BIRN’s request for a comment by the time of publication.

The director of the NGO Crisis Response and Policy Centre, Vladimir Sjekloca, also blamed poor state policy for the slow processing of applications.

"The system for seeking asylum is undeveloped, and it is not in [the state’s] interest to develop it, because more people might perceive our country as their destination," Sjekloca told BIRN.

He added that many applications are denied because refugees had previously registered in Bulgaria, which he considers to be wrong because Bulgaria is not a safe third country for them.

While recognising that the Office for Asylum is understaffed, Sjekloca said that there is also no political will on behalf of the state to change the situation.

He quoted former Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, who is now president, as saying that Serbia cannot be a "parking lot for Afghanis and Pakistanis who other countries don’t wish to see, let alone accept".

"When you have statements like that, it is perfectly clear what the policy of the Office for Asylum will be, since most applicants come from Afghanistan," Sjekloca claimed.

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