Like in other countries, in Serbia most of the migrants are imprisoned for “illegal” border crossing or residence. When you are charged for illegal border crossing or residence, you are always brought to court and „fined“ for „illegal border crossing or residence“ (around 50 Euros).
If you cannot pay the court fine, you will be put into prison for around 5 days (10 euros fine equals a day in prison, for those who have no means to pay the fine). You will be put into “normal” district prison (okružni zatvor), not into a detention facility reserved for migrants. There are over 10 such prisons in the country, and you will be imprisoned in the closest one (usually most migrants are detained in prisons close to the border, but this depends on where you were arrested).
However, according to the law, asylum seekers are excused from the “offense” of “illegal” border crossing. If you are caught in “illegal” border crossing, you have the right to seek asylum (at any point in Serbia and during every interaction with the police or the authorities, so even in court), this would exempt you from the fine/prison. Nevertheless, people are often in practice denied the right to seek asylum and in this case, you have the right to contact a lawyer (+381 63 704-7080).
Serbia does not practice detention of asylum seekers and there is only one detention center, which function as a deportation center (i.e. therein are detained migrants, awaiting deportation). Officially this detention centre is called ”Reception centre for foreigners” (Prihvatilište za Strance) and it is located in Padinska Skela near to the capital Belgrade. The maximum detention time in the deportation centre is up to 90 days. This can be prolonged, in case the identity of the person has not been ascertained, the person intentionally „prevent“ his/her own deportation. The total duration of detention should not be longer than 180 days.
You have the right to seek asylum in prison, which is your best short at being released (otherwise you are likely to stay there until a deportation to your country, or most often a neighbouring country, is organised). Unfortunately there is no legal aid provided to asylum seekers in these prisons. You have to call the lawyer (+381 63 704-7080) and tell him your data in case you want to seek asylum. You have the right for a phone call! Important is that you do it yourself: nobody can call the lawyer for you!
Information for anyone who is supporting someone detained in Padinska skela:
While the detained persons themselves need to express an intention to seek asylum by calling the lawyer, and while detainees are often refused the right to a phone call, it might be worthwhile for anyone supporting detainees on the outside to both call the lawyer on the number above, as well as try to put pressure on the centre, by calling them to the official number +381 11 887-1485 (note, however, that whenever we tried, nobody answered to it) or to try to visit the centre, to show that the detainees have someone on the outside, who is monitoring their access to rights.