Statement concerning the new Amnesty International report on the treatment of refugees in Serbia

July 9, 2015

On 6 July 2015, Amnesty International published a report on the position and treatment of refugees and migrants in Serbia, Macedonia and Hungary. The report contains allegations of unlawful push-backs to Macedonia and ill-treatment by the Serbian police.The Ministry of Interior of the Republic of Serbia made a statement on 7 July concerning the report. This statement includes the following claims:

1) that, over the course of 2014 and 2015, there was not a single complaint filed with regard to acts of police officials;

2) that, during the registration and application of persons who had expressed the intention to seek asylum, representatives of local NGOs were almost always present;

3) that not a single local or international NGO has ever addressed the Ministry with a complaint of ill-treatment.

The Belgrade Centre for Human Rights disagrees with the above-mentioned parts of the Ministry’s statement for the following reasons:

1) allegations of ill-treatment by police officials were made in the Human Rights Watch report of 15 April 2015, the concluding observations on Serbia by the UN Committee against Torture of 12 May 2015, but also in the reports of several civil society organizations in Serbia, including the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights;

2) concerning the presence of civil society in the asylum procedure, organizations providing legal aid to refugees are not present at every moment and with each individual, but engage primarily with those who request their assistance. However, even in such cases, representatives of civil society are usually not present during the initial contact between the authorities and refugees, when refugees express the intention to seek asylum before an authorized official of the Ministry of Interior;

3) legal representatives of refugees in Serbia have, on more than one occassion, used all available legal remedies in order to prevent violations of refugee law and human rights. The European Court of Human Rights has, at the request of the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights and several times during the past two years, indicated interim measures in order to prevent violations of these persons’ rights by the Serbian authorities.

There is certainly no systemic practice of ill-treatment of refugees and migrants in Serbia, but it cannot be denied that individual case continue to arise (including allegations of physical abuse, corruption, etc). The reasons for which the victims of ill-treatment do not approach the authorities in Serbia in such cases are manifold and complex. Their difficult position, the linguistic barrier and previous trauma in their country of origin and other countries through which they have passed on the way to Serbia (Turkey, Greece and Macedonia), prevent potential victims of ill-treatment from filing a complaint.

The Belgrade Centre for Human Rights has been appreciative of good practice by the Ministry of Interior on more than one occasion. However, it is imperative that allegations of violations of refugee rights be taken seriously and that the Ministry take all of the necessary steps in order to absolutely prevent possible future violations.