The conditions in the asylum centres vary from one to the other, with those in the centres in Banja Koviljača and Bogovađa being arguably of the highest quality. However, at the moment all asylum centres are overcrowded, with a lack of privacy and poor hygienic conditions.
The centre in Banja Koviljača was established in 2008 as the first asylum centre in Serbia. With a capacity for accommodating 100 persons, the overall conditions in the centre are satisfactory. The Centre operates an open regime and the living conditions in it are satisfactory; families with children and persons with special needs are prioritized in terms of accommodation, with single women residing in separate rooms from single men. During 2016, at times of increased arrivals to the centre, the common room was converted into a provisional dormitory, however the centre’s overall capacity generally seems to meet existing needs. Asylum seekers accommodated there usually do not have many negative remarks concerning the reception conditions, apart from those levelled at a chronic lack of footwear and clothing.
The asylum centre in Banja Koviljača is the only centre to have a Ministry of Interior official present at all times for recording incoming asylum seekers. However, the Asylum Office conducts the asylum procedure there exceedingly rarely, having undertaken its last 2016 visit there in October.
The asylum centre in Bogovađa is a Red Cross facility that has been used for the accommodation of asylum seekers since 2011. Following extensions in 2016, the centre has an overall capacity for the accommodation of up to 280 persons. Limited recreational facilities exist and the reception conditions may be described as satisfactory.
The asylum centre in Tutin used to be a sponge plant before becoming a provisional centre for the accomodation of asylum seekers. Reception capacity varies from approximately 80 persons in winter to up to 150 in summer. Persons accommodated at Tutin live in large rooms with 10-14 beds, with some smaller rooms with 6 to 8 beds. In addition to the above, there is a large dining room and living room, although the latter is inadequate for a centre at full capacity, with most residents spending their time in the halls or in their rooms. All in all, the reception conditions in Tutin could not be described as satisfactory, with dormitories and bathrooms in very poor condition, and the situation is made even more grave by the fact that the Asylum Office visits the centre exceedingly rarely, not having gone there since July 2016.
The asylum centre in Sjenica is likewise provisional, having been set up in a leased hotel that can hold up to 200 persons. However, asylum seekers do not reside in the hotel rooms, but rather in an improvised dormitory in the hotel lobby, which is at the same time the restaurant. The dormitory is divided into two parts by a screen, with residents sleeping on bunk beds in one part, and the other half being the dining room. Women and children are occasionally accommodated in one of the guest rooms, which however remain at the disposal of regular guests. Two medical workers have been hired to work at the centre, however current needs greatly exceed their capacity. The conditions in this asylum centre are deplorable.
It should be added that both Sjenica and Tutin lie in some of the coldest regions of Serbia, which makes the situation of asylum seekers accommodated there especially difficult during winter.
The asylum centre in Krnjača, opened in mid-2014 as a provisional centre, lies just outside of Belgrade, in a complex of barracks used to house a number of refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as internally displaced persons from Kosovo; some of these people have been living there since 1993. The centre currently has a capacity for accommodating 350 persons. Although single women and families are housed separately in somewhat better conditions, altogether the state of the premises is very poor, with no proper recreational facilities, kitchen, adequate toilets and bathrooms. The dining room is used both by refugees and internally displaces persons (IDPs) from the former Yugoslavia and the ‘new’ asylum seekers, who take their meals at different times. The facilities in Krnjača are inadequate for long-term stay.
The number of refugees and migrants arriving in Serbia fluctuated throughout 2016. The authorities started opening temporary reception facilities for these persons in order to provide basic accommodation and humanitarian support to persons who are likely in need of international protection, but are not interested in seeking asylum in Serbia. These are not asylum centres and are not meant for long-term stay.
The reception (‘one-stop’) centre in Preševo (1,500 places), close to the border with FYROM, was opened during the summer of 2015. Emergency support was initially provided by Red Cross Serbia and the local municipality, but the Government soon decided to have a local tobacco factory adapted and turned into a registration and accommodation facility. The centre has a reception capacity for several hundred persons at any given moment. There are numerous international and local organisations present in Preševo in order to provide relief to refugees, including UNHCR. Preševo is the only reception centre in Serbia that allows for the recording of asylum seekers and the expression of the intent to seek asylum on its premises. The facilities were expanded in 2016, allowing for almost triple the maximum reception capacity the centre had previously possessed.
It is important to note that the reception centre in Preševo does not allow full freedom of movement to its tenants, who have to apply for daily leave of a maximum of three hours from the reception centre.1
The reception centre in Miratovac (300 places) lies in a village along the border between Serbia and FYROM. It was opened in August 2015 and is the first stop for most refugees and migrants entering Serbia from the south; basic humanitarian and medical support is provided in Miratovac, following which refugees and migrants continue towards Preševo, which lies several miles away.
A reception centre was opened in Bujanovac (250 places) in Southern Serbia in October 2016. The centre was opened in a former automotive battery factory lying along the Belgrade-Skopje highway. Bearing in mind that the facilities have only recently been renovated and that the centre is intended only for short-term stay, the reception conditions may be described as acceptable.
The reception centre in Sombor (120 places) was opened in 2015 in the warehouse of a military complex close to the border with Croatia. It mainly houses families, with meals provided by the Red Cross of Serbia. Additional centres were opened in Principovac (300), Šid (560) and Adaševci (250), Šid municipality, once the refugee and migrant flow had turned towards Croatia.
An additional centre was opened in Kanjiža (55), not far from the border between Serbia and Hungary, Although it had seemingly become unnecessary and vacated after the closure of the border with Hungary in September 2015, starting in early summer 2016, large numbers of refugees and migrants once again sought accommodation in Subotica, and in such numbers as greatly exceeded the centre’s capacity.
In mid-2016, the authorities of Serbia opened an additional three centres in Dimitrovgrad (66), Bosilegrad (50) and Pirot (232) to handle the increasing number of arrivals from Bulgaria. All three centres offer very basic, aging facilities and are inadequate for anything other than very short-term stay.
However, several reports at the end of 2016 and beginning of 2017 have denounced the dire and inhuman conditions facing persons living in makeshift camps in Belgrade.2 From September 2016 to January 2017, between 1,500 and 2,000 people, comping primarily from Afghanistan and Pakistan, were residing in the city centre of Belgrade in derelict buildings. This was not the result of a lack of space in reception facilities, but due to the fact that many refugees and migrants were reluctant to go to the reception centre in Preševo for fear of deprivation of liberty and deportation. Accordingly, some 1,500 persons were residing in makeshift shelter that could not provide sufficient protection from the elements, at temperatures occassionaly droping to -16°C. A number of people could be seen sleeping outside in the snow or next to a campfire. Finally, lice have become a chronic problem for the refugee and migrant population, and providing treatment to those who are not accommodated at reception centres is almost impossible.
- 1. Such was the practice at the reception centre at the time of the BCHR’s visit in December 2016.
- 2. See e.g. UNHCR, ‘Desperate refugees and migrants in Serbia face freezing temperatures’, 25 January 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2kpLcNy; Human Rights Watch, ‘Asylum Seekers Left in the Cold’, 6 January 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2i0dfmj.