Equality Commissioner Finds Banca Intesa Discriminated against Refugees and Asylum Seekers

July 12, 2021

Logo englishHaving reviewed the complaint filed by the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality found that Banca Intesa a.d. Belgrade had violated Article 6 of the Anti-Discrimination Act since it had directly discriminated against refugees and asylum seekers in Serbia when it refused to allow them to open bank accounts. The Bank negatively generalised against these people based solely on their nationality and place (country) of birth, whilst failing to assess whether they fulfilled the legal requirements to open accounts in that Bank, said the Equality Commissioner in her Opinion.

The BCHR filed a complaint with the Equality Commissioner in April 2020, after Banca Intesa refused to allow a number of its clients – nationals of Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan granted asylum or subsidiary protection in Serbia or seeking asylum in Serbia – to open accounts with that Bank. The Bank refused to let them open accounts because of their national or ethnic origin, as well as because of their citizenship. In her Opinion, the Commissioner found the Bank in violation of the Anti-Discrimination Act because it had not reviewed whether the applicants fulfilled the legal requirements to open accounts in each individual case. The Equality Commissioner recommended that the Bank: review the fulfilment of the legal requirements by the applicants without making negative generalisations about them based purely on their citizenship or place (country) of birth; make sure it does not violate anti-discrimination law; and, notify her of measures it plans to take in order to implement her recommendations. 

The BCHR applauds the Commissioner’s conclusions and notes, in particular, that banks should explain their suspicions, refrain from indiscriminate and discriminatory assessments, and operate in accordance with Serbian laws, irrespective of their in-house procedures, rules and risk assessments. Our view is corroborated by the opinion voiced by the National Bank of Serbia in response to BCHR’s request. The NBS said that specific banking regulations did not constitute grounds for precluding an entire category of people from the possibility of opening bank accounts on grounds of their nationality or citizenship and referred to national legal provisions prohibiting discrimination. 

BCHR has been UNHCR’s executive partner since 2012 and has been extending legal aid to refugees and asylum seekers, strategically representing them before domestic and international bodies, extending them support in integrating in Serbia’s society and advocating the improvement of the status of all refugees in Serbia.  

The Equality Commissioner Opinion and recommendation is here in serbian.

The National Bank of Serbia response to BCHR’s request is here in serbian.