The UNHCR report on the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean states that 137,000 people have entered Europe by sea during the first six months of 2015. Almost double compared to the same period last year. For the first time, the same number of migrants has entered Greece and Italy by sea. According to the UNHCR, most of them are not the so-called economic migrants, but refugees running from war, oppression or abuse. 30% of them are from Syria which almost certainly qualifies them for asylum. The rest of them often come from Afghanistan or Eritrea, which also makes them refugees.
1,308 persons drowned in April this year, compared to 42 who drowned in April last year. Thousands of people enter Macedonia every day, compared to about 200 until only a couple of weeks ago. The UNHCR also claims that Serbia and Macedonia combined can accommodate less than 3,000 asylum seekers, while 19,000 migrants have entered Macedonia only during the first half of June.
The most desirable destinations are Germany and Sweden, amounting to 43% of all asylum claims made in Europe in 2014. On their way to these countries, migrants are at great risk of abuse by traffickers and criminal groups. According to the UNHCR, this situation is probably the new norm and European countries are advised to implement measures to deal with it.
Scared by Hungary’s plan to build a wall at the border, Serbian authorities seem astonished. The minister of police said: The idea is to protect the Serbian-Macedonian border from illegal crossings, but not to prevent those who are entitled to asylum from asking for it. So, the problem is those people who don’t have the grounds to ask for asylum and still cross the border illegally. He explained further: Anyone entitled to asylum can cross the border legally at border crossings. We can’t prevent movement at the border crossings. They will still be able to use border crossings to leave Serbia and enter other countries and ask for asylum there. The minister of defence stressed that the new centre in Presevo will allow migrants to rest and seek medical help on their way to the European Union.
So, what does the Serbian government really want – to help the migrants to their countries of destination or to stop them? The problem with the first possibility is that the EU wouldn’t like it, especially Hungary, which is exactly why it’s planning to build a wall. The problem with the second one, i.e. preventing migrants who are supposedly not entitled to asylum from entering Serbia, is the fact that determining whether someone is or isn’t entitled to asylum isn’t supposed to be done in a forest, next to a border stone, but in a special procedure determined by the Law on asylum.
The minister of police is confusing two different things: protection of the borders and the right to asylum. According to the minister, the police protect the border in order to prevent illegal crossings. On the other hand, the migrants who cross the Serbian border illegally or get arrested attempting to do that can’t be punished, arrested or prevented from entering Serbia if they state an intention to seek asylum.1 They are given a cerficate and directed to an asylum centre in order to implement an appropriate procedure and determine whether they qualify as refugees.
Besides the expected ramblings about the greatest migration of people in this century, the prime minister also solved this dilemma during his visit to Hungary by saying that joint patrols of Serbian and Hungarian police have prevented 615 persons from entering Serbia from Macedonia.
The prime minister didn’t say how many migrants were allowed into Serbia or mention the “little things”, such as the criteria used for preventing the entry of 615 persons in one day. Did the border police classify the migrants based on their countries of origin (e.g. allowed those from Syria, but not those from Senegal), their skin colour, the shape of their skulls, or did they just decide based on whether they liked them or not? Maybe their colleagues from Hungary have brought a couple of Hungarian Vizslas trained to detect “false asylum seekers”, together with thermo-vision cameras, sensors and special vehicles?
According to the UNHCR, 1,000 persons who mostly qualify as refugees try to cross the Serbian-Macedonian border every day. That a majority of those 615 persons who were denied entry in one day was entitled to asylum is almost certain.
The manager of the centre for protection and assistance to asylum seekers suggested that Serbia should grant all migrants the so-called temporary protection.2 Although this is a good idea in principle, it will be very difficult to implement. Firstly, given the fact that getting temporary protection requires registration, finger printing and making individual decisions, it can be assumed that the migrants whose goal is to leave Serbia as soon as possible won’t be interested. Secondly, this would cause significant costs, because the people who are given temporary protection are entitled to medical care, accommodation, etc.
The following conclusions can be made from everything said above. First, it is certain that people will continue to come from Greece, despite the “brotherly” help of Hungarian, German and Austrian policemen and, possibly, Vizslas. Second, the Serbian government has violated the Constitution, the Law on asylum and international obligations by allowing the border police to arbitrarily decide who has the right to asylum and who doesn’t and by sending the refugees back to countries where they face prosecution or death. Third, it is highly unlikely that the Serbian government will be able to convince Hungary to give up on the wall, because that decision isn’t as irrational as it may seem.
Namely, the wall will probably direct the migrants to Romania or Croatia, from where they will still enter Hungary. Although the Hungarian government said that they may build similar barriers wherever necessary, it is probable that, according to the rules on asylum in the EU (the so-called Dublin regulation), it will be able to automatically send the migrants from Romania or Croatia back to those countries as their EU countries of entry, or allow them to travel to their countries of destination, which will, then, return them to Romania or Croatia.
So, what are we to do? The smartest thing would be to stop trying to persuade the Hungarian government to give up on building the barbed fence; that idea speaks more about Orban than about Serbia. Also, we must stop sending back those people who, according to the police, aren’t entitled to asylum, and grant everyone emergency aid, protection from exploitation, and access to an asylum procedure in Serbia. We should establish a modest, but functional system of asylum protection in Serbia, which, among other things, requires changes of the Law on asylum, improvement of accommodation capacities and integration of those who are granted asylum. Finally, we should insist on a regional, i.e. European response to the problem of migration in Europe, which will probably mean some form of quota for distribution of asylum seekers.
Translated by Marijana Simic
- Article 8 of the Law on asylum prescribes the principle of impunity for illegal entry and stay.
- According to article 6, point 1 of the Law on asylum, temporary protection can be granted „in the case of mass migration of people from a country where their lives, safety or freedom are threatened by violence of mass proportions, outside aggresion, internal armed conflicts, mass violation of human rights or other circumstances which severely destabilize public order and when, due to a mass migration, individual asylum procedures can’t be implemented”.