Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Public Hearing Held on Challenges of Forced Migrations in Serbia

A public hearing on Challenges of Forced Migrations in Serbia was held on 18 May at the National Assembly House. The gathering was organised by the European Integrations Committee in cooperation with the non-governmental organisation Group 484 and included representatives of the Ministries of Interior and Labour and Social Policy, non-governmental organisations and civic associations.

Opening the public hearing, European Integrations Committee Chairman Laszlo Varga stressed that the topic of the gathering is wider than the issue currently in public focus i.e. the issue of false asylum seekers which is directly connected to Serbia’s approach to the European Union.

Group 484 Executive Director Vladimir Petronijevic said that the document Challenges of Forced Migrations in Serbia drafted by a group of non-governmental organisations speaks of the status and problems of refugees, internally displaced persons, asylum seekers and returnees according to the readmission agreements. He stressed that the problem of false asylum seekers threatens the visa free regime which makes it necessary to forestall possible consequences in cooperation with the European Union, as well as other partners.

Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration Bozidar Djelic stressed that the Government will not allow the visa liberalisation be threatened in any way and that the measures it has implemented so far to resolve the problem have resulted in a drop in the number of asylum requests in Western European countries. He stated that as many as 17 715 citizens carrying Serbian passports have requested asylum in EU countries between September 2009 and December 2010 and almost all the requests were declined. The Government will continue to implement measures aimed at reducing the number of asylum requests, among them amend the criminal code which would specify the criminal offense of organising illegal immigrants. It would also propose measures which would not limit the citizens’ freedom of movement, but only limit border crossing for persons abusing the visa liberalisation. However, that cannot be grounds for intolerance to minorities in Serbia considering that in more than 95% of cases the asylum seekers were members of minorities.

Deputy Prime Minister Djelic pointed out that Serbia is still a country with the highest number of refugees and displaced persons and has 86 000 people from Croatia with the status of refugees and 220 000 internally displaced persons from Kosovo-Metohija living in it. In addition to the other open issues, the issue of tenancy rights of refugees from Croatia is still open and must be resolved in negotiations with Croatia, as the issue of the displaced should be addressed in the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. He also said that the Serbian Government and its European partners would work harder at achieving a higher inclusion of all citizens and removing the economic causes of unrest in the country.
State Secretary at the Ministry of Interior Dragan Markovic announced that another asylum office will soon be founded at the Ministry adding that asylum in Serbia is mostly sought by people from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Assistant Minister of Labour and Social Policy Vladimir Pesic listed the measures implemented by the ministry to assist refugees and displaced persons. Commissioner for Refugees Vladimir Cucic said that the Commissariat was dedicated to the reception and care of returnees.

Assistant Minister for Kosovo-Metohija Branislav Ristic informed the participants about the problems in the work of the Ministry for Kosovo-Metohija and the assistance rendered to the displaced persons.
Danilo Rakic, coordinator of project European-Serbian Cooperation in the Field of Forced Migrations, presented the document Challenges of Forced Migrations in Serbia on the behalf of Group 484, completed with the support of the European Union.

The participants concluded that the problem of asylum seekers from Serbia must be resolved in a manner that does not encroach on the asylum seekers’ human rights and freedoms or endanger the visa liberalisation and freedom of movement of any Serbian citizen. Most of the participants pointed out that the difficult economic and social position is the main reason why Serbian citizens, mostly ethnic minority members, wish to leave the country seeking political asylum. It was said that they have no grounds for it considering that Serbia respects human and minority rights.

Björn Linderfalk, representative of the Swedish Embassy in Serbia, stressed that the solution for the tide of false asylum seekers from Serbia lies in increased border control and long-term improvement of the economic and social situation in the country.

Deputies Nada Kolundzija, Meho Omerovic, Ivan Andric, Bajram Omeragic, Miroslav Markicevic, Vitomir Mihajlovic and Milorad Buha took part in the hearing. Representatives of the Association of Serbs from Croatia and the Association of Roma also spoke at the gathering.

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