Serbia happy to help EU, ambivalent about refugee hub status

Tents housing refugees near Belgrade's train station. [BETA, the EURACTIV partner in Serbia]

The EU has praised Serbia for coping with the refugee crisis. However, this contributed to widespread speculation inside the country that it will host a large refugee camp. EURACTIV Serbia reports.

According to the latest reports, however, this will not be the case, and that the most likely solution is the establishment of temporary shelters. This may prove to be an urgent issue, as the winter is approaching, and a large number of refugees lack shelter.

According to UN data, more than 7,720 refugees entered Serbia from Macedonia in the first week of September. With a population estimated at 7 million, a fragile economy and unemployment at close to 20%, it has so far received 120,000 this year, according to Interior Minister Nebojša Stefanovi?.

UNICEF said on Tuesday (8 September) that more than 7,700 refugees were registered entering Serbia at Preševo, from Macedonia, but that the real numbers are likely to be double, because refugees tend to enter countries without registering.

>>Read: Serbia says migrants in Macedonia should go to Bulgaria, Croatia

Since the beginning of the year, 850 smugglers have been arrested.

According to Stefanovi?, only 500 refugees requested asylum in Serbia, and 250 refugees stayed. However, several cities in Serbia report a consistently high influx of immigrants.

Examples include Preševo, which hosts a refugee camp, and Belgrade, where a significant number of refugees are concentrated in the park in the city centre, next to the bus and train stations. It seems that only a minority can afford hotels, hostels or apartments.


In such a situation, the need for shelters is urgent, as temperatures in Serbia are already significantly lower than in the summer, making it risky to leave high number of refugees outdoors.

EU backs new shelters with €3.2 million

The EU will provide €3.2 million for the expansion of refugee shelters, but concrete plans have not been yet defined, or at least are not available publicly. According to new information, there will be no large, permanent facilities built.

Sources for Belgrade daily Blic said that, during his meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on 7 September, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vu?i? mentioned the possibility of temporary shelters in the south of Serbia, and also at the periphery of Belgrade.

The EU Delegation in Serbia said on Tuesday that it will grant €400,000 in aid for temporary accommodation of refugees in Belgrade. The Delegation is also providing €240,000 from the European Progress programme for migrants in Preševo, primarily. This aid will address additional needs such as waste disposal, water and sanitation and other needs.

>>Read: Fears of humanitarian crisis in Serbia as refugees stream in

There is no relevant information about plans to settle refugees in Serbia. Such speculation, including a story about a centre for 400,000 refugees, came in part as a reaction to the welcome accorded to refugees by the Serbian government, in contrast with their frosty reception in Central and Eastern Europe, and the United Kingdom.

Serbian authories have gone so far as to ban anti-refugee protests by the extreme right. International aid organisations have also done their domestic part, helping establish an information center for refugees in Belgrade’s city center, co-financed by Germany’s ADRA, and the UNHCR.

But, not everyone is happy with Serbia. Belgrade, for example, was criticized by Hungary for letting migrants freely come to their shared border, and there were even allegations that Serbia was promoting the movement of refugees through Hungary.

The Serbian government’s response has been that the refugees don’t want to stay in Serbia, and that forcing them to stay would violate their rights.

There is also a regional programme worth €8 million under preparation to deal with refugee management in the Western Balkans and Turkey, mainly related to Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. This will mainly deal with the question of identification and return of migrants.

Tens of thousands of migrants from the Middle East and Africa are using the Balkan route to enter the EU, passing from Greece into Macedonia and then Serbia on their way to Hungary, which is in the EU's passport-free Schengen zone.

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