15,000 immigrants, 7,000 asylum seekers in Serbia

Nearly 7,000 people sought asylum in Serbia in the first eight months of this year.

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Nearly 7,000 people sought asylum in Serbia in the first eight months of this year, but the state authorities have no complete information on their movement and number, which is rising constantly, it was said at a conference in Belgrade on Friday. Around 10,000 - 15,000 people are moving across Serbian territory without control, it was said at the conference, titled The Asylum System and Migrations: Two Stories.

Serbia will not solve the issue of migrants unless regional cooperation in the Western Balkans becomes more efficient, they said.

In the first eight months of this year, 6,974 people sought asylum in the country, said Aleksandar Nikolic, state secretary at the Serbian Interior Ministry, but noted that many asylum seekers actually have no intention of staying in Serbia.

The Syrian civil war has forced three million refugees to try and create better living conditions for themselves irrespective of the danger that awaits them on their way to EU countries, which opens possibilities for more people smuggling on waterways, by using someone else's travel documents or by forging visas, he said.

With respect to Serbian citizens who are abusing the visa-free regime, between January and August 2014, the Interior Ministry filed 11 criminal charges against 14 people for enabling abuse of the right to asylum in a foreign country, Nikolic said.

The issue of migration and human trafficking also concerns Serbia, which has been a transit country in the past, but now its own citizens are becoming victims of trafficking, warned Jadranka Jelincic, executive director of the Fund for an Open Society.

She particularly pointed to the new trend of Serbian citizens being recruited for work abroad, and added that most such schemes are scams.

Deputy Ombudsman Milos Jankovic said that providing accommodation to asylum seekers is not the biggest problem, but the fact that the state has no clearly defined policy on migration.

It is important to have good migration management policies because it is a problem shared by all countries, not just Serbia, which is part of the route travelled by migrants from Pakistan, Somalia and Iraq - via Turkey, Bulgaria and Greece - said Norwegian Ambassador Nils Ragnar Kamsvag, who supported the conference.

There are more and more illegal migrants and the policies in those countries must change - today there are five asylum centres in Serbia and some are temporary, but I hope that there will be more centres soon, the ambassador said.

The existing law regulating the field envisions an office, but, for now, there is only a department at the Interior Ministry, he said, adding that regulations will have to be aligned to European ones.

Serbia must respond to the problem of migrations from its territory because the number of those who depart for other countries and seek asylum there is still high, Kamsvag said.

Politics

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