Conditions in reception facilities

Serbia

Country Report: Conditions in reception facilities Last updated: 23/03/21

Author

Nikola Kovačević

Overcrowding, lack of privacy and poor hygiene are just some of the reported issues. These deficiencies were also highlighted in the 2017 report of the Council of Europe Special Representative of the Secretary General on migration and refugees who highlighted that standards of accommodation in both Asylum and Reception Centres could potentially raise issues under Article 3 ECHR.[1]

Conditions in asylum centres

 

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 beginning the COVID-19 lockdown, all Asylum Centres except for AC Banja Koviljača were overcrowded, with a lack of privacy and poor hygienic conditions.[2]

All the Asylum Centres are open, but for the “night quiet” when they are locked for security reasons and no activities outside the rooms are allowed in line with the House Rules. The centres in Banja Koviljača and Krnjača are the only centres to have a Ministry of Interior official present at all times for recording incoming asylum seekers.

Banja Koviljača was established in 2008 as the first Asylum Centre in Serbia and is located in an urban area in the vicinity of Loznica town. The closest public services, primary school and police are approximately 1 km away from the AC, which represents an example of good practice. With a capacity of 120 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 prioritised in terms of accommodation, with single women residing in separate rooms from single men. Asylum seekers accommodated there usually do not have many negative remarks concerning the reception conditions.

The centre in Banja Koviljača has three floors with eleven rooms each, and there are eight showers and eight toilets on each of the floors. The centre has a TV room and a children corner where various creative workshops and activities are organised every day. Care is taken of preservation of family unity and of ethnic affiliation on reception and placement of persons. This means that members of different ethnic communities are placed on different floors or that selection is made on the basis of the language the beneficiaries speak. Also, the AC has eight indoor cameras inside the facility, and eight outdoor cameras, and the AC gate is locked during the night. The AC has own heating system and it does not depend on the external heat supply. Asylum seekers are provided meals three times a day, and the meals are specially adjusted to their religious and health needs.

An auxiliary building within the Asylum Centre was adapted for provision medical services with a view to securing permanent presence of medical staff.

A room has been designated for legal counsel and associations providing legal counselling to asylum-seekers. Translators are present on a daily basis, while legal aid is provided by APC, BCHR and HCIT. Asylum procedure is regularly conducted by the Asylum Office and all foreigners are registered in line with the Asylum Act.

One doctor and one medical technician are present four hours on each workday. Ever since, only a medical technician is present in the centre. The practice remained unchanged in as far as specialist examinations are concerned, meaning that asylum seekers in need of such examinations are referred to the hospital in town of Loznica in the company of the Asylum Centre staff. The health-care assistance is supported by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). Medical check-ups are available on all working days, and the GP can intervene in urgent cases 24/7 as she herself stays at the AC. PIN and Group 484 provide psycho-social counselling on a regular basis.

AC Banja Koviljača was the only AC which was not overcrowded during the COVID-19 lockdown if we take in consideration its official capacity (120). However, since the capacities of all accommodation facilities are measured in relation to available beds, it is safe to assume that realistic capacities of this Centre are at least couple of dozens less. On 10 January 2020, AC accommodated 54 asylum seekers which means that living conditions and regime of life provided the respect for human dignity of all asylum seekers. It can be safely argued that AC Banja Koviljača is the best accommodation facility for asylum seekers in Serbia and CRM should strive to keep the number of asylum seekers below 80 in the future.

Bogovađa is a Red Cross facility that has been used for the accommodation of asylum seekers since 2011 with an overall capacity of 200. It is located 70 km from Belgrade, while the closest public services are 11 km away. The AC itself is not located in an urban area, i.e., it is located in a weekend village surrounded by forest. This makes it difficult for the asylum seekers to use all the services they need, with the exception of attending the primary school. The nearest shop is 2–3 kilometres away. This also why many of them are dissatisfied when referred to this AC and why the fluctuations of foreigners are very intensive.

The capacity can be extended up to maximum 280 beds. During 2018, around 110 persons on the average were residing in the centre. Families from Afghanistan and Iran represented the majority of residents in 2019, as well as the women travelling alone were accommodated in dormitories with other single women. In 2020, AC Bogovađa was designated for UASC and the capacities were almost always full. However, in December 2020, an incident between the children and employees occurred,[3] and almost half of its population was transferred to RC Preševo, even though this facility is not designated for UASC. The conflict between employees and UASC who were praying arose after on the employees accidentally stepped on the praying rogue. This has led to the protest of UASC and the situation in which a CRM employee was forced to kiss the praying rouge. Even though this kind of behaviour was unacceptable, the fact that dozens of UASC were transferred to RC Preševo gives serious reasons for concern, especially if we take in consideration that, during 2020, CRM and MoI were frequently resorting to ‘disciplinary measure’ which implies that ‘problematic’ foreigners are transferred to reception centres where living conditions can be even described as inhumane and degrading.[4] This kind of measure was applied at several dozen of UASC and this act was praised by the Ombudsman,[5] which gives another reason for concern because informal forms of punishment which imply transferring of children to poor living conditions is in clear contradiction with the best interest of a child principle.

The conditions in this Asylum Centre have substantially improved bearing in mind that the main building was renovated in 2018.  The centre has central heating and an adequate number of bathrooms, though they are unisex – for men and women. The meals at this AC are regular, three times a day, and are served in the common dining room.

The AC is not physically fenced off, it has video surveillance, and the security staff are present. Within the AC grounds, there are several separate buildings for different purposes, one of which is used by the AC management, doctors, the Asylum Office inspectors, and the Red Cross staff. The largest building is used for asylum seeker accommodation, and there is also a facility that is used by charity organisations, such as Caritas, to carry out their activities. There is a children’s playground in the courtyard

In the second half of 2020, Asylum Office police officer was deployed to AC Bogovađa for the purpose of registration of UASC who wish to express the intention to seek asylum and issuance of registration certificates and identity cards for asylum seekers. During 2020, the vast majority of children residing in this Centre was unregistered and lodging of asylum application or hearings were not facilitated after the COVID-19 lockdown. One of the main reasons for such state of affairs is the fact that most of UASCs do not want to remain in Serbia. CRPC translator is present on a weekly basis.

A medical team is present in the centre every working day. In case of interventions surpassing the capacities of the centre’s medical team, the asylum seekers are transported to the outpatient clinic in Bogovađa, Health Centre in Lajkovac or the hospital in Valjevo, depending on the specific case. Mandatory medical check-ups are most often conducted several days within arrival and depend on the availability of places at the competent health care centre. Access to healthcare services outside the AC is impeded due to the lack of transportation means and drivers for that purpose. Another obstacle is a lack of interpreters, which causes difficulties for doctors when it comes to the communication with patients. Psychological counselling is provided by PIN and Group 484.

It is important to highlight that AC Bogovađa does not meet the standards for accommodation of UASC. The reason for this mainly lies in the fact that Social Welfare Centre in Lajkovac does not have sufficient capacity to provide adequate support to all UASC, but only to those who had resided in Centre for more than 6 months, and those who wish to apply for asylum (two boys from Afghanistan in 2020). They tend to be then transferred to Belgrade, to a social institution for children.

In June 2020, a video appeared showing members of private security ill-treating children in their rooms. The video shows how one of the security officers is yelling and slapping boys who allegedly did not want to go to sleep. This video became viral and triggered reactions of almost all state institutions and CSOs, and BCHR submitted criminal complaint.[6] The Ombudsman issued a recommendation failing to qualify such acts as at least inhumane and degrading and indicating only that CRM has failed to timely inform MoI and competent public prosecutor[7] This once again showed that the Ombudsman (excluding NPM department) is reluctant to properly assess cases of human rights violations of refugees and migrants.

In comparison to Ombudsman’s reaction on the December incident, when the group of boys forced one of the employees to kiss the praying rug on which she accidentally stepped recorded and published video online, it can be clearly seen that the Ombudsman reacted with different intensity. The difference in reaction was also evident with regard to Public Prosecutor who, in the case of misbehaving boys, ordered pre-trial detention, while in the case of private actors who ill-treated children just opened a pre-investigative procedure.

To conclude, it is evident that the situation in AC Bogovađa is tensed, that children are not satisfied with the accommodation and location of the camp and that this AC should not be used for the accommodation of children.

The incidents in Bogovađa have triggered a reaction from CSOs, and IDEAS decided to form the Coalition which has an aim to combat ill-treatment of UASC in Serbia. The Coalition has 9 members now and will become fully operational in February 2021.[8]

Tutin was opened in January 2014 in a former furniture factory Dalas. It was located there until March 2018 when a new facility for accommodation of asylum seekers was opened in Velje Polje, four kilometres away from downtown Tutin, and 295 km away from Belgrade. Officially, the centre can accommodate 200 persons. The average number of persons in this centre was more than 200 per day in 2020, meaning that even the official capacities suffered from lower overcrowding rate.

As a newly building, the accommodation conditions in this centre have significantly improved compared to earlier years. However, the location of the town of Tutin is problematic, especially during the winter months when access by CSOs and Asylum Office is severely hindered due to unfavourable weather conditions. Namely, the AC in Tutin is located at Pešter weald where winter is long and harsh and snow frequently blocks the road, thereby preventing access to the camp for several weeks or even months. In 2020, Asylum Office has failed to conduct asylum procedure in AC Tutin, meaning that asylum seekers do not have effective access to asylum procedure.[9]

The centre has 60 rooms and an adequate number of toilets which are shared. There is central heating and a drinking water tank has been installed. On placement, care is taken about ethnic affiliation in as much as the accommodation capacities allow. The principle of family unity is respected, and the families are always placed together into rooms with their own bathrooms. Security staff is present 24 hours a day and the centre is locked during the night in line with the House Rules. Interpreters for Arabic and Farsi are available. Tutin AC has a common TV room, a dining room, and a children’s playground. Three meals per day are provided and are adapted to religious needs. The Commissariat facilitates different workshops and activities within the children’s corner, but also for the adults (sewing, hairdressing). However, one of the major problems is the lack of interpreters, which are mainly provided by CSOs.

The new building has an outpatient clinic with a doctor present every day, which is a significant improvement in comparison to 2017. In addition, a nurse and a Farsi interpreter are present in the outpatient clinic thus raising the level the medical services provided. The residents in need of specialised examinations are transported to the Health Care Centre in Tutin or to the hospital in Novi Pazar.

Sjenica was set up as a temporary centre in the former Hotel Berlin to accommodate an increased number of asylum-seekers in Serbia in August 2013. Later on, in March 2017, the former textile factory Vesna was added to the Asylum Centre. The old Hotel Berlin, with inadequate conditions and collective dormitories in the hall, was closed in July 2018. The centre in Sjenica is now located only in the former factory Vesna, downtown Sjenica, that can take up to 250 persons in 27 rooms. It is approximately 250 km away from Belgrade and the underdeveloped road infrastructure pose particular difficulties for the NGOs and Asylum Office. An average of 100 persons per day stayed in this centre in the course of 2020. Children comprised 93% of the residents of the centre, the majority of them being unaccompanied. The principle of family unity is observed at placement, so the families are always accommodated together.

Within the AC, there is a children’s area, a TV room, and a playground in front of the building. Meals are provided to asylum seekers three times a day and are specially adjusted to their religious and health needs. There is also a designated room for the social workers from the local SWC.

The AC in Sjenica was mostly used for USAC accommodation during the 2020. The living conditions could be described as inadequate in the old part of the factory, while significant improvements were made during 2019 when entrance, kitchen and a certain number of bedrooms were refurbished. Thus, the new part of the building provides more privacy and plenty of accommodation space. The children accommodated at the AC are satisfied with the organised activities.

Mandatory examinations on admission into the AC for assessment of health status or identification of potential contagious diseases are conducted at the local Health Centre. A doctor is present in the AC from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on work days. The asylum-seekers in need of specialised examinations and stationary treatment are transported to the hospitals in Novi Pazar or Užice. All unaccompanied children interviewed by the BCHR were informed of the possibility of using medical services.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, AC Sjenica was severely overcrowded reaching at one point 382 persons.[10] Thus, the overcrowding rate was 153%. In the last quarter of 2020, the number of UASC staying in AC Sjenica was below 100 and on 10 January 2021 this number was 74.

Krnjača was founded in the Belgrade municipality of Palilula in 2014 as a temporary centre for accommodation of asylum-seekers. The AC is located in the compound of workers’ barracks used – since early 1990s – for accommodation of refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as of IDPs from Kosovo. It can optimally take up to 750 persons, and up to 1,000 at times of urgency, making it – in addition to the reception/transit centre in Preševo – the biggest centre for accommodation of migrants and asylum- seekers on the territory of Serbia. However, it can be safely argued that the most realistic capacities are up to 600 places and taking in consideration other standards which refer to privacy, overcrowding and hygiene.

Given its proximity to downtown Belgrade, this Asylum Centre housed the greatest number of persons in 2020 i.e., an average of 400 to 500 persons per day. CRM staff observed the principle of family unity at placement. There is a direct bus line connection to downtown (20 minutes). Also, the proximity to Belgrade provides greater employment and integration opportunities for the asylum seekers, which has positive effects on their attitude to apply for asylum in Serbia.

The conditions in the centre were partially improved after the 2017 renovation of the older barracks. However, the video surveillance was installed but the number of security staff is inadequate. Further, asylum seekers often complained of poor hygiene and lack of privacy. Three meals per day are provided and are specially adjusted to asylum seekers’ religious and health needs. AC has a hair salon and a tailor shop, and civil society organisations organise various courses in the common premises so that accommodated asylum seekers can improve specific crafts or languages.

The presence of organised criminal groups involved in smuggling and potentially human trafficking is evident and it is clear that security in Krnjača is highly problematic. The best example for this statement is the incident that took place in June 2019, when a boy from Afghanistan was brutally killed by the group of smugglers who apparently had unhindered access to the AC.[11] For that reason, AC in Krnjača cannot be considered as adequate and safe for UASC. Additionally, there were several incidents during the COVID-19 lockdown when different CSOs (who did not have access to AC at that time), received dozens of complaints regarding violence between inhabitants of the Centre, but also violence committed by the police, military, CRM and private security. On 7 April 2020 military fired shots in air in order to deter several Afghan refugees who requested to leave the AC. Minister of Defence at that time, Aleksandar Vulin praised the military officers[12] and outlined that such practice will be applied in all similar situations. On 10 April 2020, police officers belonging to the Gendarmery Unit, ill-treated several dozen refugees from Afghanistan, alongside with one of the CRM employees who was the one navigating the police. The purpose of police intervention was to transfer ‘problematic’ refugees and asylum seekers to RC Morović. The Ombudsman opened an inquiry, refugees were examined by the forensic expert but until this report was concluded, failed to publish his findings.[13]

Free health care is equally available to all the persons residing in Krnjača, irrespective of their legal status. A medical team is present until 8 p.m. every day except Sunday in a designated area adapted for adequate provision of this type of services. Asylum seekers and others in need of specialised examinations are referred to one of the hospitals in Belgrade and are assisted by the interpreters and CRM representatives. The lack of interpreters can create problems in communication with doctors.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, the highest recorded number was slightly above 1,000 persons, but only for a few days. An average number during the COVID-19 lockdown was between 830 to 920.[14] All of these numbers clearly led to extreme rate of overcrowding.

The number of foreigners accommodated in asylum centres and reception centres on 6 April 2020

Asylum Centre Capacity Current situation Overcrowding rate
Banja Koviljača 120 111
Bogovađa 200 261 131%
Tutin 200 209 105%
Sjenica 250 382 153%
Krnjača 1,000 909
Total 1,770 1,872 106%

 

Conditions in temporary reception facilities

 

The number of refugees and migrants arriving in Serbia was generally stable throughout 2020,[15] except in the period March-May 2020, when the restrictive border polices introduced during the state of emergency sharply decreased the number of arrivals. The authorities started opening temporary reception facilities in 2015 in order to provide basic accommodation and humanitarian support to persons who were likely in need of international protection but were not interested in seeking asylum in Serbia. These are not Asylum Centres and are not meant for long-term stay, even though the Asylum Act provides for the possibility for asylum procedure to be facilitated there. Persons in need of international protection and other categories of migrants were placed in the majority of these centres throughout the year.

The reception (‘one-stop’) centre in Preševo (800 places), close to the border with North Macedonia, 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. On 10 January 2020, 578 persons was accommodated there, During the COVID-19 lockdown, the highest recorded number was 1,501. It is important to highlight that RC Preševo is mainly built for a short term stay and is comprised of the sleeping premises of collective nature, with several dozen bunk beds and without the possibility to enjoy the right to privacy. APC has been constantly reporting overcrowding, poor hygiene, lack of clothes, ruined and dilapidated toilets and lack of privacy.[16]

Bujanovac (220 places) in Southern Serbia was opened 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, although there is no staff recording asylum seekers in the centre, meaning that persons who arrive in Bujanovac cannot get a certificate of having expressed the intention to seek asylum unless they already have one. However, in the second part of 2019, the number of persons accommodated in Bujanovac increased and the occupancy rate was around 150%. This has led to a deterioration in hygiene, privacy and to certain extent safety. On 10 January 2020, the number of persons accommodated was 182, while the highest number was 260 during the COVID-19 lockdown.

In May 2017, an additional reception centre was opened in Vranje (220 places), in a motel at the entrance into the town. The conditions in Vranje may be described as satisfactory bearing in mind their provisional nature, but the realistic capacitates that would guarantee human dignity and a longer stay are several dozen less.

The reception centre in Sombor (120 places) was opened in 2015 in the warehouse of a military complex close to the border with Croatia. The centre’s capacity may be increased to 160 in the future. However, RC Sombor has been one of the most overcrowded RCs during 2020, accommodating during the COVID-19 lockdown 537 refugees and migrants. Several dozen tents have been installed in the yards in front of the centre and people were crammed inside the tents with limited access to water, sanitation and hygienic packages. Many foreigners were forced to sleep on the floor, on dirty mattresses and rugs and in unhygienic conditions.[17] It is reasonable to assume that longer stay in such conditions, especially during the COVID-19 lockdown, amounted to inhumane and degrading treatment. On 10 January 2021, 847 refugees and migrants were accommodated in RC Sombor whose official capacities are 120 persons.[18]

Additional centres function in Principovac (220 places) and Adaševci (400 places), in the Šid municipality, close to the Croatian border. Identically as RC Sombor, RC Adaševci and RC Principovci have been among the most overcrowded RCs during the course of 2020 and at the beginning of 2021. On 6 April 2020, 665 refugees and migrants were detained accommodated in RC Principovci, while on 10 January 2021, 606 foreigners were placed in this Centre. On 9 April, during the COVID-19 lockdown, 1,142 refugees and migrants were detained in RC Adaševci. On 10 January 2021, 1,168 refugees and migrants were accommodated in this centre.

The continuous overcrowding in these two centres have led to the situation in which foreigners were crammed inside huge tents (‘rap-holes’) with limited or no heating during the winter, with access to limited number of toilets and showers, where hygiene was on an extraordinary low level and where foreigners complained on livestock lice and different types of skin disease. The NPM in his report outlined the following:

‘In the first of the two rap-holes located on the west side of the area where the camp is located, about 150 migrants were found, who were sleeping on a total of 142 bunk beds, which were arranged in three rows along the length of the facility. So, each person has less than 2 m2 at his disposal. The beds are in extremely poor condition, with dilapidated mattresses that are in most cases without sheets. Some of the beds have been completely destroyed and cannot be used, so it is clear that there are not enough beds in the rap-whole for all the people staying in it, and that it is often the case that two people sleep on one bed or three on two connected beds. Due to the high rate of overcrowding, lack of windows and unsuitability of the building to climatic conditions, the rap-whole itself is stuffy and steamy, and an unpleasant odour is intensive, which is a consequence the lack of personal hygiene and inability to maintain general hygiene inside the building. Practically, there are no conditions for a minimum degree of privacy, nor are there lockers or cassettes for storing personal belongings.’[19]

NPM recommended that all of the rap-holes should be put out of use and that overcrowding in the solid building should be resolved by decreasing the number of inhabitants. Taking in consideration NPM’s findings, it can be concluded that maximum capacities which meet the standards necessary for the respect of human dignity, cannot be higher than 200 to 250 places.

At the same time, RC Principovci and RC Adaševci are considered to be the most unsecure RCs with a high level of fluctuations in terms that people are coming and going towards the border with Croatia. Smuggling groups are present in all of the Western RCs, including RC Šid and inter-foreigner violence is common. In RC Adaševci the NPM recorded testimonies which implied the violence committed by the camp employees. The Ombudsman stated in the Report the following:

‘The NPM received several allegations of inadequate conduct of CRM officers in both reception centres, and allegations of other actions in the PC in Adaševci, which by their nature indicate the possible presence of corruption. In addition, it was noticed that there was an atmosphere of fear and mistrust among the migrants because they were not ready to openly discuss the relationship with CRM officers, RC security, police and military officers. In fact, the people who made up the visiting team were, according to the migrants, the first people to visit the centre and talk to them about the conditions in which they live, the needs and the overall realization of their rights.

A number of migrants interviewed by the NPM reported allegations of ill-treatment that included: insults, threats, slaps, kicking, but also beatings with rubber truncheons, metal bars and wooden poles. Migrants pointed out that security workers often pushed, slapped, kicked or shouted at them, threatened them with physical violence and insulted them, and that they were afraid to complain about them, often in line for a meal or when distributing masks, gloves, hygiene kits, shoes or clothes. They are afraid to report many things that bother them because in that case they would be “marked”, after which they would be transferred to the temporary reception centre in Morović. Some also pointed out that they procure blankets and hygiene packages from certain employees, whose names they did not want to say for money.’[20]

‘The NPM uses this opportunity to draw the attention of CRM officials to the fact that the prohibition of ill-treatment is absolute and that physical and mental integrity is inviolable. For this reason, and having in mind the allegations received, the NPM makes the following recommendation:

The Commissariat for Refugees and Migration will send a clear message to its officials, which contains a clear position that torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is absolutely forbidden and that there will be zero tolerance for such acts at the level of the entire Commissariat.’[21]

Another reception centre for the accommodation of a larger number of migrants was opened in a military barracks in Obrenovac (400 places) in January 2017. The centre was initially designed for 900 persons, but as it is the case of all other reception facilities, the capacities were assessed in relation to available beds. The idea behind the opening of the centre was to provide accommodation for persons in need of international protection who used to stay in unhygienic and unsafe conditions in Belgrade. However, at the outset of its functioning, it started to suffer from overcrowding, which led to a number of violent incidents among its population. In spite of the regular police presence in the centre, many residents feel insecure staying there, and hygienic conditions are poor due to the large number of residents. The presence of organized criminal groups involved in smuggling is evident. During the COVID-19 lockdown, Obrenovac hosted 1,063 foreigners, where most of them was accommodated in the military tents, with no heating, electricity and sanitary facilities. The NPM highlighted in its report on April 2020 visit to RC Obrenovac the following:

The NPM team performed a detailed inspection of two larger and one smaller tent located behind the concrete sports field. A total of 22 Kurdish refugees from Syria were found in the tent number one, which measures 3.3 m by 11 m. Thus, 22 people were accommodated in a building of about 36 m2, which means that about 1.6 m2 was left at the disposal for each person, which indicates an extremely high overcrowding rate. During the night, or during the day during Ramadan, migrants are forced, due to lack of space, to sleep close and crammed next to each other, with their legs bent, in conditions depriving them of any privacy.

The floor is covered with a dilapidated and torn tarpaulin in several places, on which dirty and dilapidated dark grey blankets have been thrown. Not a single bed, in the sense of a sponge or mattress found in other tents, was observed in this facility. Therefore, migrants are practically separated from the ground only by a thin tarpaulin and possibly another blanket used by those migrants who managed to provide themselves an additional one. The NPM team noticed that the surface and blankets on which the migrants were lying during the visit seemed damp.

The building itself was stuffy and steamy and there was an unpleasant odour that was a combination of moisture, mold and lack of personal hygiene. Ventilation is extremely difficult because there are only 10 windows measuring 20 cm by 20 cm on the tent itself, so the only purposeful way to ventilate the room to some extent is by opening the door to its full width. However, when the door is wide open, insects enter the tent. And indeed, at the time of the visit, swarms of flies were spotted in the tent itself. The small windows and the very nature of the building are such that the inflow of natural light is also problematic, so it is in the tent in addition to being stuffy and quite dark. There is no artificial lighting because there is no electricity in the entire tent part of the centre.[22]

Several incidents were recorded during the COVID-19 lockdown, some of which involved CRM workers who, according to some testimonies, ill-treated refugees and asylum seekers. On 6 April 2020, refugees and migrants rebelled against their detention and there was a conflict with employees from the camp, which ended with the intervention of the gendarmerie. According to the testimonies of many foreigners, the gendarmerie entered the PC and randomly started hitting people, who were mostly housed in the tent area of the PC, with rubber truncheons. After the intervention, all foreigners were ordered to lie on the floor facing the ground. The foreigners remained in such a position for several hours, and about 30 people who were marked as the perpetrators of the incident were transferred to PC Morović.[23] On 13 May an Egyptian citizen was allegedly beaten with a metal bar by CRM employees and members of a private security company. The Ombudsman opened an inquiry on this case.[24] Also, the recommendation given by the NPM in relation to RC Adaševci encompassed the CRM staff in Obrenovac.[25] On 10 January 2021, RC Obrenovac hosted 591 persons, and many of them were accommodated in tents. The conditions in RC Obrenovac were described as inhumane and degrading.

The reception centre in Subotica (130 places) was opened in 2015 at the height of the refugee and migrant movement into Hungary. The centre remained open as of 2019. Like the other reception centres, it is inadequate for long-term residence. In April 2017, an additional centre was opened in Kikinda (280), close to the Romanian border, in refurbished agricultural facilities. The vast majority of persons accommodated Kikinda and Subotica are on the waiting list for Hungary. Both of these centers were overcrowded during the year, many people were placed in tents, the hygiene was on a disturbingly low level and it appears that living conditions were identical to those which were recorded by NPM in relation to RCs Adaševci and Obrenovac. For instance, during the COVID-19 lockdown, RC Kikinda hosted 660 refugees and migrants. The number remained unchanged on 10 January 2021.

In mid-2016, the authorities of Serbia opened an additional three centres in Dimitrovgrad (90), Bosilegrad (60) and Pirot (250) to handle the increasing number of arrivals from Bulgaria. Another reception centre was opened in Bela Palanka (280) on 30 December 2016. All of these centres offer very basic, aging facilities and are inadequate for anything other than very short-term stay: for example, the centre in Dimitrovgrad only offers collective dormitories, and there are no separate male and female toilets. Still, the COVID-19 lockdown did not lead to overcrowding of these facilities, and on 10 January 2021, the number of reported people staying in these centres was way below its capacities. Moreover, RC in Dimitrovgrad was not put in function in 2020.

In general, it can be safely argued that the vast majority of Reception Centres lack adequate living conditions due to their nature and purpose. Namely, the Reception Centres were established and designed during the 2015/2016 mass influx of refugees with an aim to provide a short-term stay (several days). However, when the border policies of neighbouring countries had changed, and the time of stay in Serbia increased from several days to at least 6 months, the living conditions in RCs deteriorated. For that reason, arguably the living conditions in majority of RCs are inadequate and the main features are the following: overcrowding, poor hygiene, lack of privacy and safety, poor sanitation and lack of basic psycho-social services.

Moreover, during the COVID-19 lockdown, the living conditions in most of the Reception Centres could be described as inhumane and degrading and completely contrary to COVID-19 circumstances.[26] Namely, the recommendations of World Health Organization,[27] but also the CPT principles[28] which were applicable during the lockdown, indicated that States should undertake measures to reduce overcrowding in all places of deprivation of liberty.[29] Thus, even though every reception and asylum centre designated premises for isolation and quarantine, and masks and gloves were distributed on several occasions, the level of overcrowding in 9 out of 18 functional reception facilities was, and still is epidemiologically contentious.

However, it is fair to say that COVID-19 cases were not recorded during the lockdown, but after the state of emergency was lifted. Thus, several dozens of refugees and migrants were suspected to have COVID-19, while 17 cases were confirmed by the end of November 2020.[30] Also, several dozen CRM employees, were infected with COVID.

Finally, it is also important to outline that CSOs in Serbia have not paid particular attention to the living conditions in Reception Centres and that all the data is collected through general observations made during the visits in which the legal counselling was provided. Thus, the thematic visits aimed at thorough documenting and reporting of the living conditions in the Reception Centres should be prioritised in the future. This is important for several reasons. First of all, the usual narrative is that Serbia can accommodate up to approximately 6,000 persons. However, this capacity is determined by the number of beds and not quality of the living conditions. This is also important for the future and potential cases of expulsions to Serbia, where sending states should bear in mind the quality of the reception conditions in respect to Article 3 of ECHR.[31] And finally, a more detailed data on the current state of affairs in asylum and reception centres could be used as an advocacy tool for improvement of the living conditions. According to the official data, but also reports published by the NPM, realistic capacities of reception centres are at least 30 to 40% lower than the official number, if we apply the standards of EASO and other human rights standards.

Reception centre Capacity 9 April 2020 Overcrowding rate
Preševo 800 1.501 187%
Vranje 230 230 100%
Bujanovac 270 260 96%
Sombor 120 537 448%
Principovac 220 665 302%
Obrenovac 400 1,063 267%
Adaševci 400 1,142 285%
Bela Palanka 300 284 95%
Dimitrovgrad 90
Bosilegrad 110 80 73%
Pirot 190 192 101%
Kikinda 280 660 235%
Šid 205 238 116%
Total 3,615 6,852 189%

 

 

[1]           Council of Europe, Report of the fact-finding mission by Ambassador Tomáš Boček, Special Representative of the Secretary General on migration and refugees to Serbia and two transit zones in Hungary, 12-16 June 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2DwCnI2.

[2]           A11 Analysis on Detention of Foreigners during the State of Emergency, p. 4-6.

[3]           N1, Zaštitnik građana traži podatke o incidentu sa migrantima u Bogovađi, 24 December 2020, available at: http://bit.ly/39A2Tmg [accessed on 1 February 2021]

[4]           NPM, Извештај о посетама прихватним центрима у Обреновцу и Адашевцима, 16 June 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2NLywRc, p. 25.

[5]           The Ombudsman, Недовољно обезбеђење Центра за азил у Боговађи, део миграната пребачен у Прешево, available at: http://bit.ly/3aCLSav [accessed on 1 February 2021].

[6]           Mondo, JEZIV SNIMAK iz Bogovađe: Obezbeđenje TUČE DETE MIGRANTA! (VIDEO),  available at: http://bit.ly/3pQuu8B [accessed on 1 February 2021].

[7]           The Ombudsman, Заштитник грађана тражи да МУП Србије утврди све околности физичког злостављања малолетних миграната, 23 June 2020, available at: http://bit.ly/2YAvK3C [accessed on 1 February 2021].

[8]           IDEAS, Osnovana Koalicija za zaštitu dece izbeglica i migranata od zlostavljanja i zanemarivanja, 30 August 2020, available at: http://bit.ly/3avMdvq.

[9]           APC, Azilni postupak nedostižan za izbeglice, 27 November 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/39BgZnj.

[10]          A11 Analysis on Detention of Foreigners during the State of Emergency, p. 4-5.

[11]          N1, Ubijen migrant koji je bio osumnjičen za ubistvo Avganistanca u centru Beograda’, 6 June 2019, available (in Serbian) at: http://bit.ly/2nNtNBA.

[12]          N1, Vulin: Vojnik ispalio tri hica u vazduh jer su migranti pokušali da pobegnu, 9 April 2020, available at:  https://bit.ly/3hCXHA3 [accessed on 1 February 2021]

[13]          Danas, Iz Krnjače u Morović prebačeno 90 migranata, 12 April 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/37zvKEz [accessed on 1 February 2021] and H-Alter, Krnjača: Umjesto sapuna, izbjeglice i migranti dobili batine!, 12. april 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/2USyOq5 [accessed on 1 February 2021].

[14]          A11 Analysis on Detention of Foreigners during the State of Emergency, p. 4-5.

[15]          An average number of refugees and migrants residing in Serbia was between 5,000 to 6,500 on a daily basis.

[16]          APC Twitter, available at: https://bit.ly/3pHZVl8 and https://bit.ly/3cFGUMq.

[17]          APC Twitter, available at: https://bit.ly/3tfQTy2.

[18]          SoInfor.org, Više od 850 izbeglica u somborskom centru, 18 January 2021, available at: http://bit.ly/2MHtK6S.

[19]          The Ombudsman, Извештај о посетама прихватним центрима у Обреновцу и Адашевцима, June 2020, available at: http://bit.ly/3j6eL2w, p. 14.

[20]          The Ombudsman, Извештај о посетама прихватним центрима у Обреновцу и Адашевцима, June 2020, available at: http://bit.ly/3j6eL2w, p. 26-27.

[21]          Ibid., p. 26.

[22]          Ibid., p. 7.

[23]          Hod po žici, p 80-89.

[24]          Ibid.

[25]          The Ombudsman, Извештај о посетама прихватним центрима у Обреновцу и Адашевцима, June 2020, available at: http://bit.ly/3j6eL2w, p. 26-27.

[26]          The Ombudsman, Извештај о посетама прихватним центрима у Обреновцу и Адашевцима, June 2020, available at: http://bit.ly/3j6eL2w, p. 23.

[27]          World Health Organization (WHO), Preparedness, prevention and control of COVID-19 in prisons and other places of detention, Interim guidance, 15 March 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/34h5du5.

[28]          CPT, Statement of principles relating to the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty in the context of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, 20 March 2020, CPT/Inf(2020)13,

[29]          A11 Analysis on Detention of Foreigners during the State of Emergency, p. 22-24.

[30]          Radio Free Europe, Policijsko ‘disciplinovanje’ migranata u Srbiji, 3 December 2020, available at: http://bit.ly/36ApvBa [accessed on 1 February 2021]

[31]          ECtHR, Tarakhel v. Switzerland, Application no. 29217/12, Judgment of 4 November 2014, EDAL, available at: http://bit.ly/2RvQipS.

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection