|Name in English||Number of staff||Ministry responsible||Is there any political interference possible by the responsible Minister with the decision making in individual cases by the determining authority?|
|Asylum Office||19||Ministry of Interior||No|
The Asylum Office is responsible for examining applications for international protection and competent to take decisions at first instance. In line with the Rulebook on the internal organisation and systematisation of positions in the MoI, which established the Asylum Office on 14 January 2015, there should be 29 positions within the Asylum Office.
As of the end of March 2022, there were a total of 19 staff, of which:
|Asylum Office staff: 2021|
|Head of the Asylum Office||1|
|Head of the RSDP Department||0|
|Head of the Country of Origin Information Department||1|
|Country of Origin Information Officers||2|
|Registration Officers (Krnjača)||1|
|Translators for English language||2|
Only 7 out of 12 asylum officers were in charge of the asylum procedure and for deciding on applications for international protection in 2021. Two asylum officers were on a maternity leave, while two other officers were not active in RSDP. All of them have at least 5 years of experience. In March 2022, two asylum officers left the Asylum Office, leaving this body with only 5 operational officers.
Asylum officers are in charge of organizing of lodging of asylum applications in person, asylum hearings and rendering decisions in the first instance. In the decision-making process, they are assisted by the CoI Department, which provides information on specific issues which were raised during the asylum hearing. The Head of the Asylum Office must further confirm the decision of asylum officers.
The decrease in the capacity of the first instance body was one of the reasons why the number of asylum applications taken in person and the number of hearings sharply dropped in 2021. The same can be said for the total number of decisions rendered in 2021. Moreover, an average length of the first instance asylum procedure was between 10 and 14 months, which is an increase in comparison to 2020, when an average length was 8 to 12 months. Low capacities are one of the reasons why asylum procedure is in 90% of the cases conducted only for asylum seekers accommodated in Belgrade (in AC Krnjača) or who reside on private address. However, there were several instances in which Asylum Office visited AC in Banja Koviljača and AC in Bogovađa. As for the other asylum and reception centres, asylum seekers have to wait to be transferred to AC in Krnjača.
There were several changes in the office in the past few years. In September 2020, the Head of the Asylum Office was transferred to another position, and the new Head, without any prior experience was appointed. Moreover, the Deputy of the Head of the Asylum Office was transferred to another Department of the MoI. In December 2020, the newly appointed Head of the Asylum Office was transferred again, leaving the Country-of-Origin Information Officer as an acting Head and an acting Deputy of the Head of the Asylum Office. At the beginning of 2021, the former Head of the Asylum Office was reinstated, which was a positive development given the person’s experience in the asylum field.
There is no quality assurance control in place and the practice of the Asylum Office is not subject to a public assessment. Thus, there are no personal records of asylum officers available to the public or upon explicit request which can provide information on the decision-making process such as the number and type of decisions issued, the length of the asylum procedure and the overall quality of the decision-making process. Still, MoI has agreed with UNHCR to gradually introduce external control mechanisms, which implies occasional presence of UNHCR officers at the asylum hearings. This is the first step in establishing the quality assurance control in partnership with the UNHCR. In April 2022, the UNCHR office in Serbia intends to hire a Quality Assurance Officer. Based on that, a group of state officials from asylum authorities, Commissariat for Refugees and Migration (CRM) and other relevant institutions took part in the study visit to Italian asylum authorities facilitated by the UNHCR office in Serbia.
The MoI has stopped providing data regarding asylum and migration issues in 2018, and the only available data can be extracted from legal representatives in asylum procedure and publicly available reports published by other State institutions such as the Ombudsman or the CRM.
The Asylum Commission decides on appeals against decisions of the Asylum Office as the second instance body. It is comprised of the Chairperson and eight members, appointed by the Government for a four-year term. To be appointed Chairperson or member of the Asylum Commission a person must be a citizen of Serbia and must have a university degree in law and minimum five years of working experience and must have an ‘understanding’ of the human rights legislation. The Asylum Commission shall operate independently and shall pass decisions with a majority of the entire membership votes.
The specialisation and knowledge of the 9-member Asylum Commission can still be considered inadequate for their role, since none of the current members has a strong background in refugee and international human rights law. The fact that not a single applicant was granted asylum in 2021 by the Asylum Commission confirms this statement. In history of Serbian asylum procedure, since 2008, this body rendered only 3 decisions granting asylum to 4 persons. In its 2021 Concluding Observations, the UN Committee against Torture (CAT) recommended that Serbia should abolish Asylum Commission and introduce judicial review by the Administrative Court at the second instance.
The final decisions of the Asylum Commission may be challenged before the administrative Court. The Administrative Court judges still lack adequate resources to assess complaints lodged by asylum seekers and their legal representatives and none of the judges is specialised in asylum and migration issues. The length of procedure before the Administrative Court can sometimes be counted in years, meaning that there were instances in which asylum procedure lasted for more than 4 years.
The lack of quality assurance control and comprehensive analysis can be considered as one of the main reasons for contradicting decisions in the practice of Asylum Office, Asylum Commission and Administrative Court. However, it is fair to say that the Administrative Court has been the most transparent authority, always providing its judgments to CSOs and individual practitioners. From the judgments, it is also possible to analyse the practice of Asylum Office and Asylum Commission.
Asylum Act explicitly envisages that the asylum authorities should cooperate with the UNHCR when undertaking the activities related to its mandate and the UNHCR should have free access to all persons who might be in need of international protection.
At the request of UNHCR, the competent authorities shall provide:
- General information concerning the applicants, refugees or persons who have been granted subsidiary or temporary protection in Serbia, including statistical data, and specific information on individual cases, provided that the person to whom the asylum procedure refers has given his/her consent in the manner and under the conditions prescribed by the law governing the protection of personal data;
- Information regarding the interpretation of the 1951 Convention and other international instruments relating to refugee protection and their application in the context of this Law.
However, it is clear that only Asylum Office provides regular statistical data to the UNHCR. Asylum Commission only provides roughly processed data on its practice. The Commission, but also the Asylum Office, are of the opinion that sharing copies of decisions with legal practitioners and researchers would violate privacy of applicants.
The MoI and CRM have established the second roadmap for cooperation between Serbia and European Asylum Support Office (EASO, now European Union Asylum Agency (EUAA)) 2020-2022. The main focus with regards to refugee status determination procedure will be on country of origin information (CoI). EUAA representatives held a meeting with relevant CSOs recognized as main providers of free legal aid in Serbia in October 2021. In addition, representatives of asylum authorities have attended numerous seminars and trainings outside Serbia.
 Article 20 Asylum Act.
 AIDA, Country Report Serbia, 2020 Update, March 2021, p. 13.
 UNHCR, UNHCR: Authorities of Italy and Serbia exchange experiences related to refugee protection, 26 November 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3HXnuzD.
 Article 21 Asylum Act.
 CAT, Concluding observations on the third periodic report of Serbia, 20 December 2021, CAT/C/SRB/CO/3, available at: https://bit.ly/3vd0s4r, para. 34 (b).
 Article 22 Asylum Act.
 Administrative Court, Judgment U 12638/18, 20 July 2021; this judgment was rendered with regards to Iraqi applicant who lodged his asylum application in 2017.
 Article 5 (1) and (2) Asylum Act.
 Article 5 (3) Asylum Act.
 European Commission, Serbia 2021 Report, 19 October 2021, SWD(2021) 288 final, available at: https://bit.ly/3Byi8IQ, 52.
 The author of this report attended the meeting.