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UNHCR Serbia Monthly Update, June 2020

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UNHCR and partners informed and counselled over 1,600 foreigners on access to asylum, health care and other rights and services and supported the integration of 115 asylum seekers and refugees. UNHCR partners also supported authorities with over 1,000 interpretation and cultural mediation services.

No refugee or asylum seeker tested positive for COVID-19 infection. UNHCR and its eleven partners remained fully operational, carefully calibrating office and field presence in line with infection-prevention protocols, while continuing comprehensive riskcommunication in all languages of refugees and asylum seekers, online, on phone and in person.

The Asylum Office of the Ministry of Interior resumed activities. It conducted three refugee status determination interviews, granted asylum to one applicant and subsidiary protection to four, rejected six claims and suspended procedures in ten. Five new asylum seekers provided UNHCR project lawyers with powers of attorney to represent them in substantive asylum procedures.

UNHCR and partners turned to the public to mark World Refugee Day. Major TV stations and dailies featured refugee stories, interviews, and UNHCR’s Global Trends Report. Global and national video clips were broadcast on social media and TV, as well as on public squares in Belgrade and Nis. Partner INDIGO organised World Refugee Day activities with women and children in Bujanovac, Preševo and Vranje Reception Centres and partner Psychosocial Innovation Network (PIN) a gathering of refugee teachers and local students. Partner Belgrade Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) brought refugee and local youth together to form a buddy system which conducted a first joint workshop on equality, gender and GBV.

The number of foreigners that newly arrived in Serbia and were profiled by UNHCR more than tripled to 1,973. 88% entered from North Macedonia and 10% from Albania.

Occupancy of governmental Asylum (AC), Reception (RC) and Transit Centres (TC) shrank from 5,802 at the beginning to 5,121 at the end of the month. Over 66% of residents originated from so-called refugee producing countries and would likely be recognised as in need of international protection once subject to fair and efficient asylum procedures. At end June, residents comprised 4,383 adult men, 278 adult women and 521 children, including 167 unaccompanied or separated children (UASC). 1,980 were citizens of Afghanistan, 884 of Syria, 728 of Bangladesh, 482 of Pakistan, 285 of Iran, 206 of Iraq, and 556 of 39 other countries.

Authorities closed for renovation the RCs of Pirot and Bujanovac, transferring their residents to the RCs of Preševo, Divljana or Vranje. Six TCs in Vojvodina, accommodating unregistered migrant men, remained overcrowded.

The number of asylum seekers and migrants observed outside centres rose from 502 at the beginning to 740 at the end of the month. The number of recorded collective expulsions from neighbouring countries tripled to 2,208: 1,132 from Romania, 579 from Hungary, 253 from Croatia and 156 from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Many victims alleged denial of access to asylum procedures or mistreatment by officials of these countries.

UNHCR kept regular contact with 115 refugees and asylum-seekers in private accommodation, of whom 84 qualified for financial support, including 38 who had lost their income due to the COVID-19 situation. Resuming field visits to all centres and other sites, partners BCHR and the Humanitarian Centre for Integration and Tolerance (HCIT) provided free legal aid to 332 asylum seekers or refugees. BCHR also assisted 22 to obtain ID cards, ten ENF and seven work permits.

As public schools remained closed, cultural mediators of partner Crisis Response and Policy Centre (CRPC) supported the home schooling of five refugee children in private accommodation and of 70 UASC in five specialised UASC homes. CRPC started Serbian language classes for UASC in Bogovađa AC, while partner Sigma Plus continued teaching Serbian in RCs and partner Danish Refugee Council (DRC) in Banja Koviljača AC. Partner PIN supported 169 asylum seekers and refugees with psychological and integration services, while partner DRC continued to identify and support survivors of GBV.