25 May 2020
Since March, all transit and asylum centres have been in lock-down. Raids of squats and informal accommodation have increased since then, with migrants and asylum seekers apprehended and transferred to camps across the country. According to the Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN), the government temporarily opened several “camps,” which have been quickly filled with new arrivals. These sites are in Morović, Subotica, and Miratovac. Reportedly, the facility in Morović has been used to confine overflow from other sites and “troublemakers” from facilities elsewhere. Some of these, including the tented facility in Morović - had originally been intended to be used for quarantining Serbian nationals returning home.
Despite Serbia lifting its state of emergency on 6 May, on 16 May the government announced that it would be deploying troops to “secure” and “protect” three migrant reception centres located on the country’s border with Croatia. Reportedly these three facilities - Principovac, Sid-Stanica, and Adasevci - currently confine 1,500 migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, most of whom are from Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. President Vučić reportedly told a local media outlet that the deployment was also to protect locals in the area. Since the country had begun to lift lockdown, he claimed, “the migrants started venturing outside the camps, committing petty crimes and illegal entries into houses.”
Pushbacks from Serbia into North Macedonia have continued during the crisis. In one case documented by the BVMN in early April, a group of 15 adult men and one minor in Tutin camp were informed that they were being transferred to a site in Prescevo. Crammed into a police van, they were driven for nine hours before being forced outside and, with guns pointed at them, ordered to cross into North Macedonia. The group attempted to re-enter Serbia four times, but on each occasion they were pushed back across the border.
As the GDP reported on 23 April, anti-migrant sentiment has been growing in Serbia. Since March, one of the fastest growing Facebook groups in the country is called “Stop Migrant Settlement.” Some of the group’s members have voiced their belief that authorities introduced curfews not to stem the virus’s spread, but so that they could quietly settle migrants across the country. In early May, a car was driven into a migrant centre in Obrenovac, with the driver live-streaming the attack on his Facebook page.
- Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty, “Serbia Deploys Army to ‘Secure’ Three Migrant Camps,” 18 May 2020, https://www.rferl.org/a/serbia-deploys-army-migrant-camps/30615755.html
- E. Wallis, “Serbia Deploys Troops to ‘Secure Migrant Camps’ Near Border with Croatia,” InfoMigrants, 18 May 2020, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/24823/serbia-deploys-troops-to-secure-migrant-camps-near-border-with-croatia
- Serbian Ministry of Defence, “Minister Vulin: The Camp in Morović is Set Up,” 19 March 2020, http://www.mod.gov.rs/eng/15774/ministar-vulin-otvoren-kamp-u-morovicu-15774
- Border Violence Monitoring Network, “Special Report: Covid-19 and Border Violence Along the Balkan Route,” April 2020, https://www.borderviolence.eu/wp-content/uploads/COVID-19-Report.pdf
- Border Violence Monitoring Network, “Pushed Back from a Camp in Serbia to N. Macedonia and Then to Greece,” 3 April 2020, https://www.borderviolence.eu/violence-reports/april-3-2020-2300-border-of-srb-mnk-close-to-lojane/
- L. Marinković, “„Naseljavanje migranata u Srbiji" i korona virus: Kako epidemija utiče na širenje lažnih vesti i antimigrantskih stavova,” BBC, 7 May 2020, https://www.bbc.com/serbian/lat/srbija-52524776
- Tents in Morovic Camp - originally intended to be used for quarantining Serbian nationals returning home, but now being used to deain migrants and asylum seekers, (mod.gov.rs, "BIRN Fact-check: When Did Serbia Order All Arrivals to Self-Isolate?" Balkan Insight, 8 April 2020, https://balkaninsight.com/2020/04/08/birn-fact-check-when-did-serbia-order-all-arrivals-to-self-isolate/)
23 April 2020
NGOs report that 6,852 migrants and asylum seekers are currently confined in the country’s 13 closed reception centres. Many had tried to cross into Croatia and Hungary - with some being forcibly pushed back by Hungarian and Croatian border police. In recent months, anti-migrant sentiment has grown in the country: a rally in Belgrade in early March called for the return of all migrants passing through Serbia and warned that participants would set up street patrols to intercept foreigners.
After the eruption of the Covid-19 crisis, Serbian authorities quickly moved to lock-down reception centres, imposing a state of quarantine on 17 March. Article 3, paragraphs 2 and 3 of the Decree on Emergency Measures provides that migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers may be deprived of their liberty on the grounds of preventing “uncontrolled movement” and the potential spread of the virus. With armed soldiers reportedly stationed outside the reception centres, migrants and asylum seekers have not been allowed out of the facilities unless they receive special permission, and rights organisations have been prevented from entering - thus denying detainees psychological, legal, or other forms of assistance.
However, with no confirmed cases amongst the non-citizen population, and with no such restrictions in place for Serbian citizens living in private accommodation, rights observers argue that this amounts to “discrimination on the basis of legal status, origin and place of residence.” The human rights NGO A11 says that the government’s quarantine of reception facilities is additionally problematic given that the collective deprivation of liberty of non-citizens has produced inhuman and degrading conditions in certain facilities due to severe overcrowding - reportedly, capacity at Sombor Transit Centre has reached 450 percent.
- A group of migrants rest at the Serbian village of Kelebia, bordering Hungary (EPA-EFE/Zoltan Balogh Hungary Out/ Balkan Insight - https://balkaninsight.com/2020/04/09/movement-ban-worsens-migrants-plight-in-serbia-bosnia/
- A11, “Lišenje slobode izbeglica, tražilaca azila i migranata u Republici Srbiji kroz mere ograničenja i mere odstupanja od ljudskih i manjinskih prava donetih pod okriljem vanrednog stanja,” April 2020, https://www.a11initiative.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Li%C5%A1enje-slobode-izbeglica-tra%C5%BEilaca-azila-i-migranata-u-Republici-Srbiji-u-vreme-vanrednog-stanja_final.pdf
- M. Stojanovic, “Serbian Anti-Migrant Protest Condemned as ‘Disgrace,’” Balkan Insight, 9 March 2020, https://balkaninsight.com/2020/03/09/serbian-anti-migrant-protest-condemned-as-disgrace/
- I. Jeremic et al, “Movement Ban Worsens Migrants’ Plight in Serbia, Bosnia,” Balkan Insight, 9 April 2020, https://balkaninsight.com/2020/04/09/movement-ban-worsens-migrants-plight-in-serbia-bosnia/
- N. Đorđević, “Human Rights Organisations Raise Concerns About Treatment of Roma and Migrants During Coronavirus Lockdown,” Emerging Europe, 22 April 2020, https://emerging-europe.com/news/human-rights-organisations-raise-concerns-about-treatment-of-roma-and-migrants-during-coronavirus-lockdowns/
- A11, “Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Migrants Unlawfully and Arbitrarily Detained on the Basis of Discriminatory Criteria,” 21 April 2020, https://www.a11initiative.org/en/refugees-asylum-seekers-and-migrants-unlawfully-and-arbitrarily-detained-on-the-basis-of-discriminatory-criteria/