The Asylum Act explicitly envisages that, in the course of the asylum procedure the specific circumstances of certain categories requiring special procedural or reception guarantees will be taken into consideration. This category includes minors, unaccompanied minors, persons with disabilities, elderly persons, pregnant women, single parents with minor children, victims of trafficking, severely ill persons, persons with mental disorders, and persons who were subjected to torture, rape, or other serious forms of psychological, physical or sexual violence, such as women who were victims of female genital mutilation.
Screening of vulnerability
Article 17 of the Asylum Act envisages that the procedure for identifying the personal circumstances of a person is carried out by the competent authorities on a continuous basis and at the earliest reasonable time after the initiation of the asylum procedure, or the expression of the intention to submit an asylum application at the border or in the transit zone.
However, it is still not clear in which form the Asylum Office, Asylum Commission or Administrative Court determine that an asylum seeker is in need of special procedural or reception guarantees, i.e. whether this will be a separate decision, or this fact will be indicated during the asylum interview. Thus, in 2019, not a single decision or any other act from which it can be concluded that the above-mentioned authorities have flagged a vulnerability of the certain individual was recorded.
However, it is reasonable to assume that certain types of vulnerabilities should be identified by other state institutions, while asylum authorities should take these in consideration during the decision-making process. For instance, the best interest determination assessment is conducted by the Social Welfare Centres (SWCs), mental health assessment by psychiatric clinics, human trafficking assessment by the Government’s Centre for Human Trafficking Victims' Protection (CHTV), etc.
Regardless of the type of vulnerability, the common feature of all kind of screening mechanisms is that they largely depend on the work of different CSOs. Thus, the State support system can be described as ineffective and dependant to limited resources of CSOs who assist USAC, victims of trafficking in human beings, persons with health and mental issues, torture victims, etc. It should be also born in mind that the capacities of CSOs are very limited and not always of the highest quality. For that reason, it is safe to say that only small number of vulnerable persons that might be in need of international protection receive the comprehensive support.
In practice, UASC who have a genuine desire to apply for asylum in Serbia undergo a detailed vulnerability and needs assessment, which in the best-case scenario is concluded with the best interest determination assessment (BID). It is not clear how many USAC resided on Serbian territory in 2019, but according to UNHCR the number exceeded 3,000. On the other hand, the Centre for Research and Social Development (IDEAS) indicated that temporary legal guardians worked with 1,358 children who received urgent assistance. Out of that number, 416 received a more detailed support, while only 130 underwent best interest assessments (BIA). Thus, substantial support was provided to around 5% of totally recorded USAC.
The screening of USAC vulnerability is conducted by the temporary legal guardians of IDEAS – an implementing partner of UNHCR. However, this is not done in line with Article 17 of the Asylum Act, but in line with the Family Act and social care professional standards. The Asylum Office submitted the request for BID 20 times in 2019.
Also, CHTV can be considered as an authority that can contribute to the effective implementation of Article 17 of the Asylum Act. Namely, CHTV identified 15 children as potential victims of trafficking in human beings. Also, two boys from Afghanistan obtained the status of a victim of trafficking in human beings. Still, in the vast majority of cases, CSOs are those who report alleged cases of human trafficking. According to Astra, CSO specialized in providing assistance to the victims, Serbia does not have an official procedure for the victim’s identification.
The psychological assessment is conducted by the Psychosocial Innovation Network (PIN), also implementing partner of UNHCR. In the period 2017-2019, PIN’s psychologists performed 45 psychological assessments for the purpose of asylum procedure (21 in 2019). Out of them, only 4 had been explicitly requested by the Asylum Office, while the rest were conducted upon request from legal representatives. Several asylum seekers were examined by the psychiatrist. The reports were then submitted to the Asylum Office with the aim to indicate vulnerabilities.
Accordingly, CSOs who provide legal and other assistance to asylum seekers are the ones who usually provide care to vulnerable applicants in terms of accommodation, medical care, psychological or other needs. Also, the fact that asylum authorities have recognised asylum seeker’s vulnerability (age, state of health or other vulnerability) can only be found in positive decisions of the Asylum Office, while the decisions rejecting their asylum applications usually disregard the vulnerabilities of the minor applicants put forward by their legal representatives.
Identification and Age assessment of unaccompanied children
Serbia considers as an unaccompanied child “a foreigner who has not yet reached eighteen years of age and who, at the time of entry into the Republic of Serbia or upon having entered it, is not accompanied by their parents or guardians.”
Although the Asylum Act prescribes that children for whom it can be determined reliably and unambiguously to be under 14 years of age shall not be fingerprinted at registration, it is not prescribed how the age would be established, leaving it up to the competent authorities to arbitrarily ascertain the age of persons lacking personal documents form the country of origin.
There is no proper or developed method for ascertaining the asylum seekers’ age, meaning that the asylum seeker’s word and the official’s personal observations are the only criteria for identifying minors in the greatest number of cases. On 4 April 2018, the Ministry of Labour, Employment, veteran and Social Affairs adopted the Instruction on Procedures of Social Work Centres which envisages that the field social worker is in charge for identifying and coordinating support to USAC as long as the child is not put under the jurisdiction of professional social worker.
Still, the identification of unaccompanied minors continues to be done on the spot by officials (most often police officers) and CSO employees, establishing first contact with potential asylum seekers The SWC are understaffed and they usually react when the MoI or CSO inform them on a USAC’s presence at the territory of Serbia. Thus, it is clear that a large number of children residing in Serbia have never been recorded and that the numbers published by different state authorities, but also non-state entities (CSOs, UNHCR, IOM) significantly differ. The Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Human Rights Committee underlined these problems as well.
An additional problem the authorities face in identifying USAC lies in the fact that minors often travel in groups together with adults, making it difficult for the police to ascertain whether or not they are travelling together with their parents or legal guardians.
Over the course of 2019, the asylum authorities of Serbia recognised a total of 823 asylum seekers as UASC out of a total of 2,939 underage asylum seekers. The rest of the children were travelling with their family members and relatives. However, bearing in mind the above-mentioned challenges in identifying unaccompanied children, their real number is without any doubt far greater.
 Article 17(1) and (2) Asylum Act.
 Article 17(3) Asylum Act.
 Only 20 in 2019, and for the purpose of asylum procedure.
 Urgent assistance covers the most basic needs such as food, water, clothes
 The difference between BIA and BID can be found in UNHCR, Guidelines on Assessing and Determining the Best Interests of the Child, November 2018, available at: https://bit.ly/2WaByiA, p. 30 and 44-45.
 All the information was obtained from IDEAS.
 All the information was obtained from PIN.
 Article 2 Asylum Act.
 Article 35(6) Asylum Act.
 There is no record that an age assessment procedure has ever been conducted in line with the Family Act.
 Instruction on Procedures of Social Work Centres – Guardianship Authorities for the Accommodation
of Unaccompanied Migrant/Refugee Children, Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs, No. 019–00–19/2018–05.
 Section II, para. 2 of the Instruction on Procedure of Social Work Centres.
 BCHR, Right to Asylum in the Republic of Serbia 2019, 97-98.
 CRC, Concluding observations on the combined second and third periodic reports of Serbia, 7 March 2017, CRC/C/SRB/CO/2-3, 56-57.
 HRC, Concluding observations on the third periodic report of Serbia, 10 April 2017, CCPR/C/SRB/CO/3, para. 32-33.