Serbia is one of the main transit-countries for migrants on the way to EU-countries. Traditionally it is a country of emigration. It is not used toreceiving immigrants, especially from outside of Europe. Serbia is not part of the Dublin III (follow-up of Dublin II, since January 15th 2014) agreement. This means that you can ask for asylum or have your fingerprints taken in Serbia without problems to ask asylum in another Dublin country after (no danger of a Dublin-deportation).
You will be fingerprinted already when you first express an intention to seek asylum and get a 72-hours-paper at the police station. The fingerprints taken at one police station are put into a national data base, which is shared with all police stations. So if you seek asylum at one police station, get the 72-hours-papers, and then it expires, you will probably not be allowed to seek asylum again, because your fingerprints will come up at the police station.
Under pressure from the European Union, Serbia strongly monitors its borders, whether to enter the country or to enter Hungary or Croatia. There is a lack of provisions for persons who have obtained a refugee or a subsidiary protection status. Because the Integration Act or Strategy is not really good, people do not really get any support in learning the language, finding housing, job or be helped in any way by the authorities. As a result, most people who have been granted a refugee status or subsidiary protection leave Serbia. Those very few who stay, remain often in the accommodation of the reception centre for asylum seekers in absence of any other housing (more info see under Serbia living).
Please note that when you seek asylum at the police station, your asylum procedure has not officially started. You were only given the so called 72-hours-paper (potvrda o izraženoj nameri za traženje azila: expression of an intention to seek asylum) , which gives you 72 hours to get to one of the centres for asylum seekers, where you are registered what is the condition for starting the real asylum-procedure. When seeking asylum at the police station, the police will write (in Serbian only) which centre you are supposed to go to — you do not have the chance to choose to which centre you will be sent to. You need to reach the centre by yourself, with your own transport and with your own money.
Having the 72-hours-paper does not only give you the right to go to one of the asylum centres, but also gives you the right to be accommodated legally in any youth hostel (and demand the same price as everyone else), get medical care (beyond just the emergency life-saving health care interventions reserved for undocumented migrants), take public transport without the drivers demanding higher price for not calling the police etc. In effect, getting the 72-hours-paper gives you more mobility in the country and increases your rights, even if you do not intend to go to one of the centres and start your asylum procedure. Please note: A big problem for the most refugees and migrants passing through Serbia is how to get a sleeping place. In Belgrade, e.g., taxi-drivers are cheating migrants asking a big amount of money just to get to the police-station. You’ll find the police-station yourself following this link.
There are right now 5 asylum centres and 14 reception and transit centres where asylum seekers. This is still not enough to accommodate the increasing numbers of asylum seekers in Serbia. That’s why refugees also often stay in “jungles” around the camps or in the border area. It is also possible to be accommodated privately. There is a detention centre in the Belgrade area called “Padinska Skela”. Last but not least: The issue of the increasing number of migrants stuck in Serbia, has received very little adequate support and solidarity from the civil society.
Short History about migration in Serbia
Since the 1960s, Serbia has been primarily the country of emigration: like hundreds of thousands citizens of ex-Yugoslavia, Serbians migrated to the countries of Western Europe, as temporary or “guest” workers (gastarbeiter).
During the conflicts following the break-down of Yugoslavia, there were both many people who sought safety in Serbia and many Serbians who left to go to the countries of Western Europe. The term “refugee” (izbeglica) is now used to refer to people, most often of Serbian ethnicity, who fled Bosnia and Croatia and sought refuge in Serbia. It is estimated that there are around 86 000 Bosnian and Croatian refugees, as well as 206 000 internally-displaced persons who fled the armed conflicts in Kosovo, living in Serbia, many of whom still live in so called collective centers they were accommodated in when they first arrived, and face obstacles in their integration with the rest of the society. They remain most the visible and represented group of “migrants” in Serbia.
While Serbia has been a country of transit for migrants from Asia and Africa, the number of non-ex-Yugoslav migrants stuck in Serbia has been increasing in the recent years, due to the increasing pressures from the EU for Serbia to harmonies its policies with the EU migration policies. Since the 1st of March 2012, Serbia is officially a candidate to join the EU.
Under the pressure to harmonies its legislation with the EU standards, as a condition to become an EU candidate state, Serbia has passed the Law on Foreigners in 2008. This law regulates the entry, movement and residence of foreigners and largely harmonies it with the legislation of EU countries. Serbia has also taken steps to harmonies its border control legislation with the EU standards through the adoption of the Law on State Border Protection in 2008.
Besides these laws, Serbia has adopted strategies such as the Migration Management Strategy in July 2009 and two related strategies: Strategy for the Reintegration of Returnees following the Readmission Agreement in February 2009 and Strategy to Fight Illegal Migration in the 2009-2014 period in March 2009.