Over the past few weeks, the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) has been receiving more calls from foreign nationals, primarily Cuban nationals, denied entry into Serbia and held in the transit zone of Belgrade Airport Nikola Tesla. Dozens of them have been planning on expressing the intention to seek asylum and applying for asylum in Serbia and asked the BCHR to extend them legal aid. Most of the aliens who contacted BCHR said that the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) officers deployed at the Airport had not responded to either their oral or written requests to apply for asylum in Serbia and had seized the telephones of some of them, thus precluding them from seeking legal aid.
One of the fundamental rights enshrined in the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, which Serbia has ratified, is the right of everyone fleeing war or fearing persecution in their country of origin to access the territory of the state they are seeking international protection from. Serbia is also a signatory of the UN Convention against Torture, which prohibits expulsion and refoulement of people to a territory where they are at risk of torture.
Under the national Asylum and Temporary Protection Act, the provisions of which are interpreted in accordance with the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, aliens may express their intention to seek asylum to the relevant MIA officer, either orally or in writing, during a border check when entering the Republic of Serbia or inside its territory. Aliens who express such an intention are registered and referred to an asylum centre or another facility designated for the accommodation of asylum seekers.
Aliens denied entry at the Airport are usually held in the transit zone for days. In its report on its visit to the Belgrade Border Police Station and Nikola Tesla Airport of 25 February 2020, the National Preventive Mechanism of the Protector of Citizens found that the rooms in which aliens not fulfilling the requirements to enter Serbia were being held were unsuitable for longer stays.
In BCHR’s experience, aliens seeking asylum at Nikola Tesla Airport are allowed to enter Serbia and access the asylum procedure only after the lawyers intervene and insist that the Border Police comply with the relevant national and international regulations.
To recall, the Serbian MIA is under the obligation to respect and apply the Asylum and Temporary Protection Act in respect of all aliens who notify police officers that they want to seek asylum in Serbia. The relevant institutions are under the duty to examine the existence of the risk of persecution, torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of each asylum seeker. The BCHR also alerts to the fact that asylum seeking women and children are also being held in inadequate conditions at Nikola Tesla Airport.
 The NPM Report is available in Serbian at:https://npm.rs/attachments/article/966/izvestaj.pdf.