7 June 2011 – A coalition of Roma and refugee rights NGOs has asked the Serbian government to abandon plans aimed to prevent its citizens from seeking asylum abroad. Against the background of mounting pressures from the EU and the threat of losing the recently granted visa freedom, the Serbian authorities have lately put forward a series of measures including a law reform making it possible to deprive failed asylum seekers of their passport. The NGOs fear that the rights of the refugees would be thus violated.

Serbia has come under increasing pressure ever since several EU member states have been experiencing a sharp increase in the number of asylum seekers from Serbia. In 2010, the greatest numbers of asylum seekers amongst European nations were from Serbia. This upsurge has been linked with the liberalization of the visa regime, exempting Serbian citizens from the need to apply for a visa for short term travels to the Schengen area.

The EU has recently threatened Serbia and other countries, that it might reintroduce visa requirements, if there is a sudden upsurge of asylum applications. This is the content of a new proposal of the EU Commission, which will be discussed at the next meeting of the ministers of Justice and Home Affairs in Luxembourg.

In their letter to the Serbian government, the NGOs acknowledged the fact that the Serbian authorities are acting under pressure from abroad. They nevertheless point out that this does not discharge the Serbian authorities from their obligations towards their citizens. They criticized the signing of readmission agreements under which more than 4,000 Serbian citizens were forcibly repatriated to Serbia, in 2010.

In this context, the NGOs were particularly critical of the Serbian government’s denoting asylum seekers “false” or “bogus”, and alleging that they were leaving Serbia for purely economic motives. The NGOs stressed the fact that such statements disregard the fact that the majority of the asylum seekers have been members of ethnic minorities, including the Roma.

Referring to the statements of the Serbian Deputy Prime Minister, Ivica Dačić, who, on the occasion of the Hederlezi celebrations, a Roma holiday celebrating the beginning of Spring, called on Roma not to seek asylum abroad, as this could damage Serbia’s national and state interests, the NGOs said, that such statements would only rouse anti-Roma resentment and alienate the Roma from the rest of society.

Finally, the NGOs criticized plans to introduce a new law that would make it possible to deprive failed asylum seekers or citizens who overstayed abroad of their passports. They pointed out to the fact that the freedom of movement is guaranteed by international conventions, and that the European Court of Human Rights has already sued several states, that have denied citizens a passport.

“We believe Serbia’s way into the European Union should not be paved with a major violation of the rights of its most vulnerable citizens,” the NGOs said in conclusion. They urged the Serbian authorities to increase their efforts to work towards an improvement of the living conditions of their citizens and to strengthen human and minority rights.

Chachipe a.s.b.l.