The Year of the Refugee

December 30, 2015

The advancement of Islamists in Iraq and Syria alongside unceasing clashes between government and rebel forces, the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan wherein the highest number of civilian casualties in the last 15 years was recorded, as well as the expansion of territories under control of ethnic and religious rebels in Libya and Yemen, and further deterioration of countries in sub-Saharan Africa led to hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing to Europe since May 2015.

The number of asylum seekers in Serbia began increasing rapidly since June 2015, while the total number of expressed intentions in 2014 had already been exceeded in the first five months of 2015. In September and October alone that number was several times greater than it had been in the previous seven years, that is to say since the asylum system was established. By the end of 2015, 577,995 individuals expressed the intent to seek asylum in Serbia, which is an increase of 3500% when compared to 2014. The majority of asylum seekers were from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran. Despite the fact that, in accordance with the provisions of the Law on Asylum, only 662 individuals were registered by the Office for Asylum, 583 individuals applied and accessed the next phase in the procedure, while 465 applications were suspended mostly due to the fact that those individuals left Serbia in the meantime.

A total of 30 requests for asylum were adopted in 2015, which is a relative improvement considering that a total of 48 asylums were granted since the Law on Asylum was put into practical effect in 2008. Among the individuals who were granted asylum in the previous year are citizens of Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, Sudan, South Sudan, Lebanon and Libya.

The previous year has been especially arduous for countries that are located along the “Western-Balkan” route of refugees and migrants. Despite the fact that these countries, including Serbia, did provide a certain humanitarian response to the refugee situation, long term solutions for refugees in “transit” countries are absent. Serbia is yet to fundamentally reform its asylum system and adopt an integration plan for individuals who were granted international protection within it.

A smudge in the record of mostly positive practice of Western Balkan countries towards refugees can definitely be said to have been the decision of November 2015 that limited entry to countries and asylum procedures to all save citizens of Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Any individual who wants to prove that they fulfill the conditions for asylum through the asylum procedure or via any available legal means in any of these countries must be given equally fair access and opportunity. Nobody, regardless of their country of origin, may be denied a priori on the basis of being an “economic migrant”. The existing practice of Western Balkans countries, including Serbia, is not in accordance with provisions of international law.