The Commissariat for Refugees and Migration (CRM) is in charge of governing asylum and reception centres in Serbia. There are 7 Asylum Centres (AC) and 12 Reception Centres (RC) which have been used for accommodation of refugees, asylum seekers and other categories of people on the move in 2022.
According to CRM, in 2022 the total capacity of the 19 asylum and reception centres increased from 5,915 to 8,155 beds. Accordingly, the reception capacity is mostly measured in terms of available beds and not in accordance with certain standards, for instance, EUAA Guidelines, or other standards developed by other bodies such as CPT, or the CESCR.
Most of the facilities are collective accommodation centres or even a large-scale type since only RC Dimitrovgrad has reception capacity below 100 beds. Thus, realistic capacity of both Asylum and Reception Centres would be between 3,000 to 3500 places to be used for longer stays, in view of the need to meet existing standards in terms of dignified and safe accommodation. When it comes to the Asylum Centres, maximum available capacity is 2,000 places. Still, it is hard to give a clear picture on the realistic reception capacities which are in line with the relevant human rights standards since not a single independent entity has ever conducted non-biased, impartial and thorough monitoring of reception facilities. Also, the living conditions can vary depending on the number of persons accommodated.
What is important to note is the fact that since 2015, significant financial resources were provided to Serbia from the EU. This does not include the resources provided by international organisations such as the UNHCR or IOM, but also individual countries and agencies. The significant proportion of these resources was used for the establishment of the reception centres network and material reception conditions, as well as the expansion of the capacities of the CRM.
In the Government’s press statement from October 2022, it was outlined that ‘since the start of the migrant crisis in 2015 until today, including the grant agreement worth €36 million signed today, the EU has helped Serbia with €200 million for strengthening institutional capacity for migration management.’ It was further highlighted that since 2015, more than 1.5 million refugees and migrants passed through Serbia and over 10 million overnight stays were made. Out of 160 million EUR provided before the signing of the new agreement in October 2022, €130 million was designated for migration management and for prevention of illegal migration, while €30 million for border security. The question that remains opens is how these resources were spent taking in consideration that at least 40% of reception facilities are not adapted for the longer stay of people who might be in need of international protection.
Additionally, during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, two additional emergency shelters in Miratovac and Morović were established but they were not operational in 2021 and 2022, and it is reasonable to assume that such establishments will not be used in the future. Still, it is important to remain aware that these centres were made out of tents, with no electricity and sanitary facilities. They were operational for three months and mostly during the state of emergency, which lasted in the period March-May 2020. Two categories of people were accommodated there, namely (i) newly arrived foreigners and (ii) foreigners who were transferred there for disciplinary reasons because they objected to a lockdown in other reception facilities, in particular in AC Bogovađa and RC Obrenovac. The tent facilities are also the feature of many reception facilities such as those in Adaševci, Sombor, Principovci, Subotica and Kikinda.
It is also worth reiterating that the asylum procedure is conducted only in asylum centres, and mainly in AC Krnjača The asylum procedure was conducted in AC Tutin and AC Sjenica only a handful of times (3 in total), while there were no such cases recorded in other asylum and especially not in reception centres. .
The foreigners who are issued with registration certificates and referred to the Reception Centres have to be usually with the assistance of legal representatives, transferred to one of 3 asylum centres to which asylum officers go for the purpose of facilitating the asylum procedure (in 2022 it was mainly AC Krnjača). More than 100 foreigners lodged by themselves written asylum applications from the Reception Centres or asylum centres to which the Asylum Office did not go, after which they were transferred to AC Krnjača. However, there were also instances in which genuine asylum seekers decided not to go to remote asylum centres knowing that they would not have prospect of having their asylum procedure conducted swiftly, but also because they were not able to cover the costs of transportation to remote centres such as those in Tutin or Sjenica.
In 2022, CRM designated RC Šid for accommodation of UASC. No single collective facility, including RC Šid, meets child-specific standards. It should be noted, however, that in 2022 RC Šid was not overcrowded, and hygiene levels were acceptable. In 2021, AC Banja Koviljača was closed for the purpose of refurbishment and was not opened in 2022.
RC Obrenovac and RC Vranje were officially turned into Asylum Centres in 2021 since they underwent refurbishment. As of 20 April 2022, AC Vranje accommodated on average 70 refugees from Ukraine. It is also important to note that for the most of 2022 AC Bogovađa was not operational, as well as RC Bela Palnka (Divljana) and Dimitrovgrad.
According to the Asylum Act, a foreigner obtains the status of asylum seeker only after they lodge an asylum application. Prior to that, persons issued with registration certificates are not considered to be asylum seekers and thus are not entitled to rights and obligations envisaged in the Asylum Act, which encompass the right to accommodation. Accordingly, even though the vast majority of foreigners were accommodated in asylum and reception centres in the course of 2022, they were not explicitly entitled to it under the Asylum Act, the Foreigners Act or any other law governing the field of asylum and migration.
Hence, the vast majority of persons in need of international protection who have been transiting through the territory of the Republic of Serbia since 2008 have been in a legal limbo, deprived of any status, but provided with the existential minimum while in Serbia. In other words, their stay in Asylum and Reception Centres was rather tolerated than regulated by legal framework. Still, it is important to note that the final draft of Amendments to the Asylum Act intends to remedy this situation and recognises a new category of persons in need of international protection – persons issued with the registration certificate who did not lodge an asylum application and who will be afforded with the most of the material reception conditions.
In practice, foreigners issued with registration certificates are referred to one of the asylum or reception centres stated in the registration certificate (see Registration of the asylum application). Accordingly, only 4,181 foreigners were officially referred to one of 16 functional accommodation facilities in 2022, while the remaining 186,489 foreigners whose presence in asylum or reception centres was recorded by the UNHCR and CRM were allowed to reside in reception facilities without any legal status. It should be also borne in mind that some of the people who were issued with registration certificates in previous years have also resided in reception facilities.
AC Krnjača, AC Obrenovac, AC Sjenica and AC Tutin mostly accommodate persons with registration certificates and that is one the main conditions set by the management. Still, there are instances in which foreigners are allowed to enter these centres without the certificate, and then are registered within in the following days or weeks. On the other hand, RCs in Adaševci, Sombor, Principovci, Šid, Subotica and other facilities located closer to borders with Romania, Croatia or Hungary imply more fluctuations and much more flexible policies on entering and exiting the camps, since dozens or even hundreds of refugees and migrants are attempting to irregularly cross to the EU on a daily basis. Accommodation in these facilities does not require registration certificates.
Asylum seekers who are granted asylum are entitled to stay in asylum centres up to one year after their decision on asylum became final.
What is also important to note is the fact that, for most of 2022, on a daily basis, several hundred and sometimes even more than 1,000 refugees and migrants were accommodated in informal settlements in the border areas with Hungary, Croatia and Romania, from where they were trying to cross to the EU, but from where they were also frequently transferred by the police forces. This was the case for the most of 2022. In the period November – December the number of people staying in the informal settlements was significantly decreased due to transfer operations of the Serbian MoI. According to KlikAktiv, in the border with the EU countries, there were 31 different squats accommodating on average around 100 persons.
 Article 23 Asylum Act; Chapters II and III Migration Management Act.
 See for example CPT, Report to the Greek Government on the visit to Greece carried out by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) from 10 to 19 April 2018, 19 February 2019, CPT/Inf (2019) 4, available at: https://bit.ly/3gbcH7y, para. 103-105.
 A11, Deprivation of Liberty of Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Migrants in the Republic of Serbia through Measures of Restriction and Measures of Derogation from Human and Minority Rights Made under Auspices of the State of Emergency, May 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/39BiG4m, hereinafter: A11 Analysis on Detention of Foreigners during the State of Emergency.
 Ibid., 4 and 5.
 Article 2 (1) (4) Asylum Act.
 Article 48 Asylum Act.
 Many of them have resided in asylum or reception centres for more than a year or two.
 Article 61 Asylum Act.
 BVMN, Illegal pushbacks and border violence reports, Balkan Region – January 2022, available at: https://bit.ly/41wUjNl, p. 5; Illegal pushbacks and border violence reports, Balkan Region – February 2022, available at: https://bit.ly/3ocpoaK, p. 9; Illegal pushbacks and border violence reports, Balkan Region – April 2022, available at: https://bit.ly/3ME6jbA, pp. 12-13 and Illegal pushbacks and border violence reports, Balkan Region – July 2022, available at: https://bit.ly/3UzJx6B, 9-10.