Text: APC Photo: APC
Bujanovac, Preševo, Vranje, Pirot, June 24, 2019 – APC/CZA mobile team regularly visits border areas in southern Serbia, as well as transit and reception camps for migrants and refugees in Presevo, Vranje, Bujanovac, Pirot, Nis, Dimitrivograd and elsewhere. They represent the first contact point for migrants and refugees who enter Serbia across its southern borders, providing them with information, legal assistance and assistance with registering at a police station, obtaining registration papers with which they can be accommodated in one of the reception or asylum centers in Serbia, they can express their asylum intention, report corruption, discrimination, smuggling, crimes and human trafficking. In addition, the APC/CZA psychosocial team provides psychological assistance and empowers migrants, helping them to get appropriate health care, to obtain a caregiver if they are unaccompanied minors, to obtain social care and assistance from local welfare centers, but also empowering them to overcome their existing challenges.
The APC /CZA collects information about situation in camps, about living conditions of migrants and refugees and their treatment by camp administrations, representatives of institutions and citizens, on respect for asylum seekers and migrants, their problems, potential discrimination, violence, trafficking, smuggling, push-backs and other challenges of asylum and migration.
Through fieldwork, talks with migrants and refugees and insight into the local situation, from April 22 to June 24, 2019, APC / CZA officials identified current problems, challenges and practices in the southern areas and at the borders of Serbia.
Method of registration and accommodation in the reception center in Bujanovac
During a regular visit to the Bujanovac reception center, APC / CZA lawyer and psychologist gathered information from a migrant from Afghanistan who has been in Bujanovac for a long time. About the new people registration rule applied by the Commissariat for Refugees. Namely, the rule involves organizing the registration of new persons only if they stay in the camp for more than two days. Talking to people in the camp gives the impression that this rule is still valid and that the registration is not organized within the first few days after arrival, but sometimes migrants wait for more than two weeks to be registered. However, during conversations with refugees, we learned that some refugees are being registered after just one day, so it is possible that registration decisions are made depending on the current situation in the camp. Also, it is not clear who can be accommodated in Bujanovac reception center, given that according to the APC/CZA information, a young man from Afghanistan was allowed to stay in the camp in May although he was assigned to go to a camp in Pirot. Also, from a conversation with M.S. (20, Pakistan) APC officials learned that the camp administration didn’t let him in Bujanovac reception center because he had been assigned to go to a camp in Pirot, so he spent the night in the camp yard because he did not have money to go to Pirot.
In April 2019, M.F. (34 Iran), his wife R.K. (26, Iran), and their son Karen (2), together with another Iranian family who were accommodated in Vranje camp, tried to enter Romania, but were captured by Romanian police a few kilometers deep into Romanian territory. M.F. told APC/CZA staff that the Romanian police hit him with a rubber stick and then pushed the whole group back into Serbian territory. No one in the group asked for asylum in Romania.
Deportation from Bosnia and Herzegovina
During meeting with R.M. (37, Iran), he talked with APC/CZA team members about his attempts to cross the Croatian border and about his deportation from BiH to Serbia. He boarded Serbia eight months ago and was stationed at a camp in Pirot. He first tried to cross to Bosnia, but he was caught by Bosnian police. They confiscated his money, brought him in and he spent a month in prison. After the court procedure was completed, R.M. was legally deported and handed over to Serbian police at the border crossing between Serbia and BiH (does not know the name of the crossing). After that, he returned to Pirot, from where he illegally entered Croatia 8 times, then went from Croatia to Hungary. These crossing attempts were made from November 2018 to April 2019. He was captured 8 times by Hungarian police officers and returned to Serbia every time, even though he entered Hungary from Croatia.
Violence of the Bulgarian police at Turkish border
H.N. (22, Afghanistan) and H.M. (19, Pakistan) entered Serbia on April 20 from Macedonia, near Lojane. They registered at PS Bujanovac, and were assigned to camp in Pirot. However, they did not want to go to Pirot because they saw that it was close to Bulgaria. According to H.N., he and H.M. had negative experience with Bulgarian police officers when they attempted to cross to Bulgaria from Turkey in mid-January 2019. According to them, when they tried to cross the border, Bulgarian border policemen attacked them and pushed them back to Turkey. Following this event, the two decided to try to enter Greece, which they succeeded after 7 attempts in early March 2019. Their plan is to continue their journey towards the EU countries by trying to cross Serbia’s borders with Croatia and Hungary.
Violence by Serbian police when trying to cross the border with Macedonia
H.A.S. (18, Afghanistan) told APC/CZA team members about the violence he was exposed to when he tried to enter Serbia from Macedonia near Miratovac on April 22, 2019. He was trying to cross the border in the early morning hours when he was spotted by Serbian border police. He was punched several times in the body and in the head and then pushed back to Macedonia. H.A.S. returned to Macedonia, rested for 5-6 hours and tried again to cross the border, this time a few kilometers away from Miratovac. Then he managed to enter Serbia unnoticed. He went directly to Belgrade, where he registered and was sent to a camp in Vranje.
Misdemeanor proceedings for unlawful entry into the territory of the Republic of Serbia
Z.B. (28, Afghanistan) and D.S. (25, Afghanistan) visited the APC/CZA office in Presevo and told the APC/CZA lawyer and translator that they entered Serbia through Macedonia near Lojane on April 24 and reached Presevo afterwards. The police spotted them at the train station and apprehended them. On the same day they were taken to court and sentenced for unlawful entry into the territory of the Republic of Serbia. Z.B. and D.S. have paid a fine of 5 euros each. According to them, a Turkish language translator was present in court when they pronounced the verdict, and they were able to understand the procedure since they both understand Turkish. After that, they were registered with the police and sent to a camp in Pirot. APC officers informed them how to reach Pirot.
The deportation of a Yemeni family from Hungary to Serbia even though the family never stayed in Serbia
When visiting the camp in Vranje on May 6, 2019, APC/CZA lawyer and psychologist spoke with Yemeni national S.S. (42), who along with her sons Adam A.K. (25), Ahmed A.K. (20) Y.A.K. (19), Amer A.K. (14), I.A.K. (11) and her adopted daughter (B.O., 28) were deported from Hungary to Serbia on April 22, 2019, although according to her, she never resided in Serbia. The whole family went from Yemen to Oman from where they flew to Hungary, via Turkey. S.S. has a diplomatic passport based on his position as an adviser to the Ministry in Yemen. At the Hungarian airport S.S. and her children have been detained since the Hungarian government recently terminated an agreement allowing Yemeni citizens with diplomatic passports to enter the country. According to her, they spent two days in custody at the airport, after which police officers told them that they will take them to a camp in Budapest. S.S. stated that she and her children were not taken to the camp. Instead, Hungarian police officers left them near Serbian border and showed them the direction in which they should go, in the middle of the night. They walked for a while and came across a garage where they spent the night. According to her, the next morning they continued to walk and arrived in Subotica, where they spent two days in the park, after which a smuggler approached them, advising them not to go to camps due to bad conditions and he offered to help them to reach Germany for 4.000 EUR. S.S. stated that she paid the smuggler, who cheated on them and did not contact them again, and then she went to the police station in Subotica, explained what happened and showed a photo of the smuggler, but was told that she needed proof that she gave the money and they advised her to go to Belgrade and to register. In Subotica, S.S. came across an organization that helped them to go to Vranje.
Chain deportation from Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia
On June 19, 2019, M.R. (27, Iran), to APC/CZA Belgrade office and said that he had been deported the day before from Bosnia, on June 18. He stated that he had crossed Bosnia’s border with Croatia, near Mostar three weeks earlier (late May) and had been stopped by police near Split and deported back to Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to M.R., the police took all the money he had and he was not allowed to speak to the police, nor did he seek asylum in Croatia. After the deportation, Bosnian police placed him in a detention camp near Sarajevo, where he spent 22 days. He states that the conditions at the camp were very bad and that he was with three other people in one small room, from which he had no right to leave. He alleged that Bosnian guards were drinking alcohol and that they beat migrants during the night. After 22 days, the Bosnian police deported him back to the border crossing near Loznica and handed him over to the Serbian border police. M.R. further stated that the Serbian police had terminated him of his residence and that he had received a stamp on his passport prohibiting him to return to Serbia until June 2020. APC/CZA lawyer checked with M.R. if he was brought before a judge and if he received any papers other than a stamp on his passport, to which M.R. replied negative.