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UNHCR Serbia Monthly Update, August 2020

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In more than 110 field visits and remotely, UNHCR and partners counselled over 400 foreigners on seeking asylum in Serbia, provided information to over 2,000 new arrivals and supported the integration of 129 asylum seekers and refugees. Two new asylum-seekers gave UNHCR project lawyers power of attorney to represent them in substantive asylum procedures. Partner Belgrade Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) obtained 17 ID cards and 11 work permits for asylum-seekers.

BCHR published a periodic report Right to Asylum in the Republic of Serbia in January-June 2020. The Report provides analysis of access to the asylum procedure which has been negatively impacted by Covid-19 related state of emergency and border closures and a comprehensive overview of public discourse on refugees/migrants in the first six months of 2020.

According to Serbian Commissariat for Refugees and Migration (SCRM), only four cases of Coronavirus infection have been confirmed among the refugee/migrant population since the beginning of the pandemic, and all successfully recovered.

Another four casualties amongst the mixed migration flow were unfortunately recorded in August: three men drowned while attempting to cross irregular into Hungary over Tisza river using boats, and one received fatal stabbing wounds in a brawl with other migrant men in downtown Belgrade. The number of reported casualties since the beginning of 2020 amounts to 12 (of which 11 drownings).

Six hundred and eighty-one intentions to seek asylum were registered in August (compared to 253 in July) and 16 persons applied for asylum. The Asylum Office (AO) adjudicated on 11 asylum applications in the first instance, granting refugee status to one, subsidiary protection to two persons and rejecting eight asylum applications. By end-August, AO granted international protection in Serbia to 16 persons (nine were granted asylum and seven subsidiary protection) in 2020.

The number of foreigners that newly arrived in Serbia and were profiled by UNHCR rose by 26% to 4,044 (from 3,203 in July); 88% arrived from North Macedonia, 6% from Bulgaria and 5% from Albania (through Kosovo1 ), etc.
The number of residents in Asylum (AC) or Reception/Transit Centres (RTC), slightly increased from 4,233 at the beginning to 4,325 at the end of the month. They comprised 1,577 citizens of Afghanistan, 1,190 of Syria, 318 of Pakistan, 276 of Bangladesh, 183 of Iran, 119 of Iraq, and 662 from 47 other countries. 3,641 are adult men, 217 adult women and 467 children, including 141 UASC. The number of foreigners observed staying rough outside centres increased by 100 to 920, mainly in Belgrade and border areas. Five reception/transit centres accommodating mainly single men remain overcrowded.

The number of recorded collective expulsions from neighbouring countries decreased by 20% counting 2,213 in August (comp. to 2,754 in July): 1,409 from Romania, 568 from Hungary, 138 from Croatia and 98 from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Many victims alleged denial of access to asylum procedures or mistreatment by officials of these countries.

Following several months of restrictions, as of 22 August the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs allowed visits to homes for unaccompanied and separated children (UASC), under strict rules for distancing, monitoring and hygiene.

UNHCR partners IDEAS, Crisis Response and Policy Centre (CRPC) and Danish Refugee Council (DRC) established a Coalition for protection of refugee and migrant children from abuse and neglect. The work of the Coalition will be focused on improvement of identification of child survivors and provision of legal protection as well as capacity building of frontline workers. Partner BCHR submitted a criminal complaint against a security staffer in Bogovađa AC who allegedly slapped an UASC accommodated in the Centre and informed the Ombudsperson of the incident.
UNHCR kept regular contact with 113 refugees and asylum-seekers in private accommodation, of whom 73 qualified for financial support, including 45 who had lost their income due to the COVID-19 situation.