ASYLUM in SERBIA
Restrictions on movement for asylum seekers and migrants due to the state of emergency in Serbia
On 16 March 2020, the Government of Serbia issued a decision (the “Decision”) on temporary restriction of movement of asylum seekers and irregular migrants located in asylum and reception centres in the Republic of Serbia.
The Decision establishes enhanced supervision and security of these facilities for the purpose of protection against the spread of infectious diseases nationwide, prevention of the uncontrolled movement of persons who may be carriers of the virus and their arbitrary departure of the mentioned centres.
Exceptionally, and only in justified cases (such as going to a doctor or for other acceptable reasons), asylum seekers and irregular migrants will be permitted to leave the facilities, with a special permit issued by the Commissariat for Refugees and Migration of the Republic of Serbia (the “Commissariat”), which will be time limited according to the reason of its issuance.
Brief Overview of Registration and Initiation of Asylum Procedure
According to applicable Law on Asylum and Temporary Protection, asylum is the right to residence and protection accorded to a foreigner (any person who is not a citizen of the Republic of Serbia, irrespective of whether she/he is a foreign national or a stateless person) who has been granted refuge or subsidiary protection, on the basis of a decision by the competent authority.
Generally, a foreigner may express his/her intention to seek asylum to an authorised police officer of the Ministry of the Interior (the “Ministry”), verbally or in writing, during a border check when entering the Republic of Serbia, or inside its territory.
Exceptionally, a foreigner may express his/her intention to seek asylum also at the Asylum Centre or other designated accommodation facility for applicants, or at the Reception Centre for foreigners.
By the way, asylum seekers are foreigners who filed an application for asylum in the territory of the Republic of Serbia, and where no final decision has yet been taken.
However, a foreigner who has expressed the intention to seek asylum shall be registered immediately after such intention has been expressed and referred to the Asylum Centre or to another facility designated for the accommodation of the applicants and shall be obliged to report there within 72 hours from the issuance of the registration certificate.
As part of the registration of a foreigner, an authorised police officer shall take his/her photograph and fingerprint him/her, but minors for whom it can be determined reliably and unambiguously that they are under 14 years of age shall not be fingerprinted.
The authorised police officer of the Ministry shall issue to a foreigner who expressed his/her intention to seek asylum a registration certificate certifying that he/she has been registered (the “Registration Certificate”).
At the point of reception of a foreigner who has been issued the Registration Certificate to the Asylum Centre or to another facility designated for the accommodation of the applicants, the Commissariat shall confirm the fact of reception by indicating it in the Registration Certificate.
If a foreigner, after he/she has been registered, fails to report to the Asylum Centre or other facility designated for the accommodation of the applicants within 72 hours without a justified reason, the regulations on the legal status of foreigners shall apply.
The same consequences shall follow if a foreigner arbitrarily, without authorisation or a justifiable reason, leaves the Asylum Centre or other facility designated for the accommodation of the applicants before the statutory time limit for submitting an asylum application.
Asylum procedure shall be initiated by submitting the application to an authorised officer of the Asylum Office on the prescribed form, at the latest within 15 days of the date of registration.
The asylum application shall be submitted personally, except in the events stipulated by the subject matter law. If the asylum application is submitted through another person authorised in accordance with the provisions of the aforementioned law, the applicant must be present personally.
Before the Applicant submits his/her asylum application, the acting competent authority shall inform the Applicant about his/her rights and obligations, in particularly the right to residence, the right to be provided an interpreter free of charge during the procedure, the right to legal aid, and the right of access to UNHCR.
An authorised officer of the Asylum Office shall interview the applicant at the earliest possible time to establish all the facts and circumstances of relevance to decision-making on the submitted asylum application, and particularly to establishing: (i) the identity of the applicant; (ii) the grounds of his/her asylum application; (iii) the applicant’s travel routes after leaving the country of origin or habitual residence, and (iv) whether the asylum seeker has previously sought asylum in any other country.
Nevertheless, an authorised officer of the Asylum Office may interview the applicant on more than one occasion in order to establish the factual situation.
During the interview, that shall be closed to the public, the applicant is obliged to fully cooperate with the authorised officer of the Asylum Office and give credible and persuasive explanations of the grounds of his/her asylum application, he/she shall present all the available evidence to support his/her asylum application and shall reply truthfully to all questions asked.
Moreover, the applicant shall attend the interview personally, and shall participate in the interview, irrespective of whether he/she has a legal representative or attorney.
Therefore, the interview with the Applicant may be conducted even in the absence of his/her duly summoned attorney if the attorney has failed to justify his/her absence.
Also, the Applicant’s family members shall be interviewed separately, except when that is necessary, according to the opinion of the officer conducting the interview, to ascertain essential facts underlying the asylum application.
A decision on the asylum application in the regular procedure shall be rendered, at the latest, within three months after the date of the asylum application or the date of the admissible subsequent asylum application.
The time limit may be extended for a further three months if: 1) the application includes complex factual and/or legal issues; 2) a large number of foreigners have submitted their asylum applications at the same time;
Notwithstanding the foregoing, the time limit may be extended for a further three months if it is necessary to ensure a proper and complete assessment of the application.
If it can be justifiably expected that the decision on the asylum application could not be rendered within the time limits referred to in previous paragraphs, due to a non-lasting unsafe situation in the applicant’s country of origin, the authorised officers of the Asylum Office shall verify the situation in the country of origin every three months, and inform the applicant in reasonable time about the reasons for the deferral of the decision.
In any case, the decision must be rendered, at the latest, within 12 months from the date of the asylum application.
Anyhow, during the asylum procedure, the Applicant shall have the right to: (i) residing and freedom of movement in the Republic of Serbia; (iii material reception conditions; (iii) social assistance; (iv) healthcare; (v) primary and secondary education; (vi) information and legal aid; (vii) freedom of religion; (viii) labour market access; (ix) personal documents.
The entire asylum process is not straightforward, and outcome of each case is unique and dependent upon a particular set of facts and circumstances, with high personal stakes for all those involved in this type of procedure.
And, while no article may explain all aspects of asylum, it is important that each and every applicant is upfront informed on its procedural and material rights, duties and responsibilities, starting from drafting detailed statement on the reasons for claiming asylum, through interviews in centres or police stations, up to successful completion of the process and family reunification.