Republic of Serbia should immediately provide a system of protection for unaccompanied or separated refugee and migrant children

June 11, 2019

The Belgrade Centre for Human Rights wants to draw the attention of the public to the fact that the existing system of protection of unaccompanied or separated refugee and migrant children is characterized by numerous systemic issues that need to be addressed without delay. In 2017, the Committee on the Rights of the Child stressed that the Republic of Serbia should urgently ensure the full inclusion of unaccompanied or separated children in the existing child protection system, provide accommodation in foster families or other accommodation facilities adequate for their age, gender and needs, in line with best interest assessments conducted on an individual basis. Placing children in separate centres that are provide safe growing environment and are adequate for their needs represent the minimum requirement to reduce the risks of child exposure to persons who might exploit their vulnerability. In light of the Committee’s recommendations to the Republic of Serbia, it is necessary to undertake urgent measures necessary to protect unaccompanied or separated children from smuggling rings.

The latest case of tragically murdered child illustrates that the current state of affairs does not contribute to the reduction of risks to which unaccompanied or separated children are exposed daily. In addition, we are witnessing the several years long practice of all countries on the so-called Balkan mixed-migration route resorting to violence and collective expulsion of refugees and migrants to neighbouring countries. Such situation further creates the lack of trust of unaccompanied or separated migrant and refugee children in existing protection systems.

This case should be observed primarily from the perspective of the rights of the child who escaped the horrors of war, who has been neglected for years and left on his own. The tragically perished child was a victim of arbitrary deprivation of liberty in the Republic of Serbia in January this year. After the Croatian border police returned him to the territory of the Republic of Serbia, his identity and age were wrongly listed in the police and court records. The misdemeanour procedure was initiated and concluded before the Misdemeanour Court in Bačka Palanka in the course of the same day and without the engagement of an interpreter. Moreover, the acting judge stated in the judgement that the child waived the right to appeal, subsequently leading to a decision replacing the fine with a ten-day long imprisonment.

The case also indicated that the security in the asylum centres is not at a satisfactory level, that children are almost completely unprotected from the contact with smugglers and that this tragic case should be a serious warning to the competent authorities in the Republic of Serbia to establish a special child-friendly accommodation capacities that could fully meet the needs of unaccompanied or separated migrant and refugee children.

The Belgrade Centre for Human Rights expresses hope that this tragic case will urge the Republic of Serbia to undertake all measures without delay with the aim of reducing the risks of repetition of such incidents. A shift in this regard can only be achieved through coordinated actions and cooperation between the Ministry of Interior, the Commissariat for Refugees and Migration and the Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veterans’ and Social Affairs.