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Between closed borders 2020-21: Joint agency paper on refugees and migrants in Serbia 2020 and 2021

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Years 2020 and 2021 were marked by new challenges that affected migration and refugee protection system not only in Serbia, but on a much larger scale. Outbreak of COVID-19 influenced health, economic, social, psychological and other aspects of every-day life of both host and population of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants.

All the European countries including Serbia closed their borders in March 2020 to prevent spread of the virus onto their territory. According to a UNHCR assessment, 167 countries worldwide closed their borders in April 2020.1 Despite European Commission’s recommendations that any restrictions in the “field of asylum, return and resettlement must be proportional, implemented in a non-discriminatory way and must take into account the principle of non-refoulement and obligations under international law”,2 57 countries extended movement restriction to asylum seekers as well.3 Having in mind that migration flow continued in larger numbers after the spring 2020 and throughout 2021, countries all over the world that were receiving displaced populations had to readjust relevant procedures and introduce new modalities for registering and processing asylum applications (including remote work, digital access to services, teleworking and similar).

Furthermore, after the events in Afghanistan in August 2021, the EU and other countries, including Serbia, faced a possible increase in the arrivals of Afghan refugees.4 Consequently, in September 2021, Afghan nationals lodged more than 17,000 asylum applications in the EU+ countries.