Refugees for Refugees – BCHR’s pilot project activity

March 29, 2021

Izbeglice za izbeglice 2-01Refugees for Refugees – R4R is a pilot project activity that the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights has been implementing within the project Support to Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Serbia in an executive partnership with the UNHCR Office in Serbia. R4R involves the exchange of experiences between integrated refugees and refugees and asylum seekers who need additional support in integrating in Serbian society.

The integration process is a complex and long road which each refugee has to take in a new environment. However, where there is adequate support and motivation, familiarisation with the local culture and acceptance of the new social environment can yield great mutual benefits.

BCHR recognised the need for additional support to this specific group in the form of refugee assistants, who have themselves gone through the asylum procedure and the integration process and are keen to help people in a similar situation integrate and inform themselves about their rights and obligations in the most efficient way.

Logo BCHR UNHCRWith their experience and advice, refugee assistants can familiarise interested clients both during the asylum procedure and after they are granted asylum, in a friendly and simple way with their rights and obligations, regarding employment, education, health care, easier navigation through new system of social rules and values, as well as high-quality and meaningful leisure activities. Assistants help empower other refugees by sharing with them their personal experience and a variety of skills and knowledge they need to cope better and communicate in Serbia.

R4R has been launched with the ultimate goal of helping refugees and asylum seekers to live in dignity in Serbia.

The Comfort of Togetherness – The Young and the Old Have Similar Needs – They Need Attention, Respect, Conversation, Exchange, Contact

March 26, 2021

Sofa Udovnost zajednistva 1The three-hour online event “Comfort of Togetherness – a Step towards Intergenerational Cooperation,”organised by BCHR’s Youth Programme on Thursday, 25 March 2021, provided young people and people over 65 participating in our Solidarity First Aid (SOFA) Programme with another opportunity to share their insights and experiences with a view to establishing new models of intergenerational cooperation and fostering community solidarity.

“Intergenerational cooperation is a fundamental social contract without which humankind cannot survive,” said Equality Commissioner Brankica Janković, who participated in the event. Assistant Representative and Head of Office at United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Borka Jeremić said that the COVID-19 crisis exacerbated the intergenerational communication gap. 

Sofa Udovnost zajednistva 3“This is why we embraced the opportunity to creatively support the exchange of knowledge and information between youth and the elderly,” she said in her remarks about the SOFA Programme implemented by UNFPA and BCHR’s Youth Programme since last October.

Youth Programme Coordinator Nevena Nikolić said that the SOFA Programme was a new challenge prompting the team to leave its comfort zone in work with youth and that, thanks to its spontaneity, intuition and commitment to the needs of both the young and the old, it demonstrated that we could hear and understand each other regardless of our age.

Sofa Udovnost zajednistva 2“Understanding each other is very important, we need to hear the elderly, their knowledge and experience,” said youth activist Živkica Milojković, who has been volunteering for years, because, in her opinion, volunteering is “learning for solidarity contributing to both personal and social progress.” National Association of Youth Workers (NAPOR) Programme Coordinator Nemanja Obradović discussed the importance of open intergenerational cooperation free of prejudice. 

“Youth are primarily depicted as a problem rather than as a resource, and we need to change such perceptions," said Obradović, prompting Miloš Grabundžija, the Chairman of the Nezavisnost association of pensioners, to remark that the lack of space and a budget for both the youth and the elderly did the most harm and was the greatest danger to our society because both generations needed to be much more visible.

Sofa Udovnost zajednistva 4The three-hour ZOOM event was moderated by youth activists Demir Mekić and Ivana Antonijević. In addition to the main part, over 60 participants took part in virtual Working Groups that explored various aspects of intergenerational cooperation: the needs of youth and the elderly and the ideas, methods and techniques that would genuinely contribute to intergenerational cooperation and understanding.

“I feel that both the young and the elderly have similar needs but different capacities and that we need to bring them together. Both generations need attention, respect, conversation, exchange, contact…,” said Vesna Petrović, a facilitator of the first Working Group. She went on to describe some good practice examples in the local communities. For instance, the youth in Dimitrovgrad are constantly in touch with the residents of the local old people’s home; the youth and the elderly in Kula stage performances and celebrate their birthdays together and the elderly teach the youth to write letters and the youth teach the elderly digital literacy; in Novi Sad, hiking and walking tours are organised for people of all generations.

Sofa Udovnost zajednistva 7The second Working Group highlighted the importance of ensuring that both the elderly and the youth have access to all institutions and information relevant to the realisation of their rights. However, “the greatest problem is that there are not too many places where youth and the elderly can get together, either in urban or rural communities,” said Jasmina Ristić, the Working Group facilitator. She alerted to the importance of providing more physical and media space and quality initiatives linking generations. 

The event ended with the presentation of guidelines and ideas for continuing intergenerational rapport and turning the SOFA Programme into a concept of cooperation and understanding among all generations.

The Comfort of Togetherness event was organised within the SOFA Programme. This Programme, encouraging intergenerational solidarity and exchange, has been implemented since end October 2020 by the BCHR with UNFPA’s support.

The event is available on BCHR’ s YouTube channel:

BCHR Presents its 2020 Annual Human Rights Report

March 5, 2021

The Belgrade Centre for Human Rights presented its annual Human Rights in Serbia 2020 report on 4 March 2021. 

Capture Izvestaj ljp 2The Report was presented on ZOOM by the Report editors Vesna Petrović and Dušan Pokuševski and one of its authors, journalist Ivan Protić. Head of the UN Human Rights Team in Serbia Milan Marković provided an overview of respect for human rights in Serbia from the UN’s perspective, while Daniel Mohseni, the Political Officer at the German Embassy in Belgrade, spoke about the EU accession process, notably Chapters 23 and 24. Vida Petrović Škero, the former President of the Supreme Court and chair of CEPRIS, CRTA’s Tamara Branković, Dragan Popović from the Policy Centre and Sanja Radivojević from the BCHR took part in the debate that followed, focusing on rule of law and the judiciary, parliamentary elections, the status of civil society and the July protests in Belgrade and Novi Sad.

Capture Izvestaj ljp engThe Human Rights in Serbia 2020 report provides a comprehensive overview and analysis of the human rights situation in Serbia in the year marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has given rise to numerous challenges and resulted in restrictions of human rights and freedoms. The threat coronavirus posed to the life and health of Serbia’s population apparently overwhelmed the Serbian authorities, which often failed to respond adequately to the challenges.

The Report is available HERE.

The Belgrade Centre for Human Rights has for years now been alerting not only to the serious problems in realising and protecting human rights, but also to the threat to the fundamental principles the Republic of Serbia is based on – rule of law, social justice, civil democracy and commitment to European principles and values. Economic difficulties, widespread crime and corruption, populist rhetoric lying at the heart of political activity have all turned Serbia into a deeply polarised community of widespread prejudice and stereotypes and great social distance towards specific groups of the population, and resulted in a deluge of hate speech in public discourse. 

DSC_0143The research, translation and publication of the Report Human Rights in Serbia 2020 were supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Germany through the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Belgrade and by the United Nations Human Rights Team in Serbia. The Report does not necessarily reflect the official position of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Germany or the views of the United Nations.

Watch the presentation of the Report HERE:

BCHR Presents Its Right to Asylum in the Republic of Serbia 2020 Report

February 25, 2021

Capture Izvestaj azil 2The Belgrade Centre for Human Rights presented its annual report “Right to Asylum in the Republic of Serbia 2020” on Wednesday, 24 February 2021. 

The 2020 Asylum Report was informed by the experience of the BCHR’s legal and integration team in extending free legal aid to asylum seekers and persons granted asylum. It provides an overview of statistical data, as well as an analysis of the implementation of national law on asylum and other regulations relevant to the status of asylum seekers and refugees and their integration in Serbian society in 2020.

A total of 2,830 people expressed the intention to seek asylum in 2020, whereas 12,937 expressed such an intention in 2019. The drastic difference can be ascribed to the fact that the Ministry of Internal Affairs did not perform the registration of people intending to seek asylum
as it would have ordinarily, mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, rather than to a decrease in the number of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.

Capture Izveštaj azil naslovna ENGIn 2020, 144 people applied for asylum with the Asylum Office, which upheld 29 applications. The number of applications it received in 2020 was also much lower than in 2019. Health protection measures introduced in response to COVID-19 led to substantial restrictions of the fundamental human rights of refugees and migrants living in Serbia. 

Migration was one of the main topics on the public agenda in 2020. The change in narrative led the BCHR team to analyse public discourse, including public opinion, and the proliferation of unverified theories and fake news, as well as widespread hate speech against migrants and refugees.

The Report was developed within the project “Support to Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Serbia”, which BCHR has been implementing with the support of the UNHCR Office in Serbia. As UNHCR’s implementing partner, BCHR has been providing legal aid to asylum seekers and persons granted international protection in Serbia since 2012.

The “Right to Asylum in the Republic of Serbia 2020” is available HERE.

The Report was presented by UNHCR Representative in Serbia Ms. Francesca Bonelli, BCHR Executive Director Ms. Sonja Tošković, the Report Editor Ms. Ana Trifunović, and the authors of the Report, Asylum and Migration Programme Legal Team Coordinator Mr. Marko Štambuk and Asylum and Migration Programme Coordinator Ms. Anja Stefanović. 

The presentation of the Report is available here:


BCHR Holds Panel Discussion “Challenges in Refugee Integration in Serbia and Presentation of the Austrian Integration Model”

December 17, 2020

Capture webinar 17 decWith the support of UNHCR in Serbia, the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) on 15 December held an online panel discussion entitled “Challenges in Refugee Integration in Serbia and Presentation of the Austrian Integration Model”. The BCHR has traditionally been holding events on refugee integration in Serbia’s society at the end of the year. This event was an opportunity to discuss the integration of refugees in Serbia, present the successful practices of other countries, exchange experiences and map problems.

In her opening remarks, BCHR Executive Director Sonja Tošković discussed the importance of refugee integration and BCHR’s years-long efforts to improve the national asylum system. BCHR’s Senior Refugee Integration Adviser Jelena Ilić presented the identified problems in refugee integration and BCHR’s experience in assisting refugees in the integration process. 

Mirela Memić, the Head of the Values and Orientation Department of the Austrian Integration Fund (Österreichische Integrationsfonds – ÖIF), presented the ÖIF, its role in refugee integration and successful Austrian integration models. The Fund manages local integration centres across Austria, extending integration assistance to refugees through counselling, integration and language courses and provision of services by mobile teams.

Capture webinar 17 dec 2Since it opened in 1961, the ÖIF has set the foundations for the successful integration of refugees, from those who fled the former Yugoslavia to the ones who arrived during the ongoing refugee crisis. The following three pillars are key in the work of ÖIF:
– Orientation and counselling at nine integration centres and 30 mobile centres across the country;
– German language courses;
– Media visibility of the Fund and publications it issues, as well as mentoring similar institutions abroad and the integration barometer with plans and recommendations for the next period. 

Mirela Memić said that the success of refugee integration in Austria lay in the structured and carefully designed courses implemented for clearly defined groups – women, children, parents, etc. on topics related to the prevention of xenophobia and anti-Semitism, and specially designed courses to prevent violence against women. The goodwill ambassadors rallied round the ÖIF are an important element of its work. Goodwill ambassadors are former refugees who have successfully integrated in Austrian society, successful professionals who support the ÖIF and promote it in the media, giving motivational speeches in schools on multiculturalism and the role of refugees in creating a better and more colourful Austrian society.

The panellists discussed the problems in practice and the 2021 integration-related plans aiming to strategically improve the process. The event was attended by 49 representatives of state institutions, the Commissariat for Refugees and Migration, the National Employment Service, the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Veteran and Social Issues, the UNHCR Office in Belgrade, international organisations and CSOs. The event provided the participants with the opportunity to discuss possibilities of cooperation among the key stakeholders and concerted efforts to improve the integration of refugees. The presented Austrian integration model should motivate us to apply the ideas and lessons learned in Austria in order to help improve the lives of refugees in Serbia.

The panel discussion was organised within the “Support to Refugees and Asylum Seekers” project BCHR has been conducting with UNHCR’s support.

Memorial Lecture Devoted to Prof Dr Vojin Dimitrijević Held

October 6, 2020

The memorial lecture devoted to Prof Dr Vojin Dimitrijević, a law professor, intellectual, co-founder and long-standing Director of the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights, was held on Zoom on 2 October 2020.

The lecture honouring Vojin Dimitrijević was delivered by Prof Dr Žarko Puhovski, Professor Emeritus of the Zagreb University College of Philosophy. Vojin Dimitrijević passed away in Belgrade on 5 October 2012. The participants in the event said that Serbia’s society and public arena have sorely been missing Vojin’s voice, the voice of reason and tolerance,  for eight years now.

The recording of Prof Puhovski’s lecture, entitled “Idiotism of Human Rights” is available on BCHR’s YouTube channel.