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Asylum Seekers Live Rough In Serbia

Serbia has become a magnet for asylum seekers from Africa and the Middle East, but the country's two refugee camps are now fully occupied and closed off to new arrivals. With nowhere to go, many of the asylum seekers have been pushed out into the forest to live in tents and makeshift shelters -- but without basic amenities like heat and power. As winter arrives in Europe, RFE/RL correspondent Vesna Andjic visited one of the forest camps near the village of Bogovadja, 70 kilometers from Belgrade. (Text by Reuters)

As the European Union has cut off traditional migration routes via the Mediterranean, migrants are increasingly trying their luck through the countries of the former Yugoslavia to reach Serbia's northern neighbour of Hungary and Europe's Schengen Zone.
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As the European Union has cut off traditional migration routes via the Mediterranean, migrants are increasingly trying their luck through the countries of the former Yugoslavia to reach Serbia's northern neighbour of Hungary and Europe's Schengen Zone.

The number of people seeking asylum in Serbia has shot up from 52 in 2008 to almost 4,000 so far this year. The turmoil of the Arab Spring has spurred the rise in numbers, with many of these fleeing the violence in Syria.
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The number of people seeking asylum in Serbia has shot up from 52 in 2008 to almost 4,000 so far this year. The turmoil of the Arab Spring has spurred the rise in numbers, with many of these fleeing the violence in Syria.

All of the migrants have legally sought asylum, but the country's two asylum centers are full. With around 300 migrants living rough so far, rights groups have expressed alarm and said the problem will only worsen as more people arrive.
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All of the migrants have legally sought asylum, but the country's two asylum centers are full. With around 300 migrants living rough so far, rights groups have expressed alarm and said the problem will only worsen as more people arrive.

Nils Muiznieks, the human rights commissioner at the Council of Europe, recently paid a visit to the area. He told Reuters that the problem needs to be addressed now. "Winter is coming and somebody could become seriously ill or die in the cold," he said.
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Nils Muiznieks, the human rights commissioner at the Council of Europe, recently paid a visit to the area. He told Reuters that the problem needs to be addressed now. "Winter is coming and somebody could become seriously ill or die in the cold," he said.

The Serbian government has been slow to respond to the situation and has run into resistance from local communities to housing those who are caught trying to cross borders illegally and requesting asylum. Serbia's two asylum centers hold around 250 people.
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The Serbian government has been slow to respond to the situation and has run into resistance from local communities to housing those who are caught trying to cross borders illegally and requesting asylum. Serbia's two asylum centers hold around 250 people.

The traditional transit path for the migrants is to flee on foot into Turkey and then from there get to Greece. From Greece, the migrants cross over into Macedonia, a former Yugoslav republic with which Athens has poor ties and police cooperation is weak. From Macedonia it's just a short hop into Serbia.
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The traditional transit path for the migrants is to flee on foot into Turkey and then from there get to Greece. From Greece, the migrants cross over into Macedonia, a former Yugoslav republic with which Athens has poor ties and police cooperation is weak. From Macedonia it's just a short hop into Serbia.

If caught, most of the migrants immediately request asylum, which should guarantee them temporary accommodation and identification papers until their case is processed. The issue, however, is a hot potato for local political parties. Attempts by the Serbian government to build a third asylum center, funded by the European Union, have stalled.
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If caught, most of the migrants immediately request asylum, which should guarantee them temporary accommodation and identification papers until their case is processed. The issue, however, is a hot potato for local political parties. Attempts by the Serbian government to build a third asylum center, funded by the European Union, have stalled.

Serbia, which drove nearly 1 million ethnic Albanians out of Kosovo in the late-1990s and is still recovering from isolation over that war and the earlier Bosnian conflict, rarely grants asylum. The fates of most of the refugees here is unclear.
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Serbia, which drove nearly 1 million ethnic Albanians out of Kosovo in the late-1990s and is still recovering from isolation over that war and the earlier Bosnian conflict, rarely grants asylum. The fates of most of the refugees here is unclear.

Serbia's Commissariat for Refugees and Migration, which deals with asylum seekers on behalf of the government, said attempts to find private housing for those living in the forest had failed. A spokeswoman for the office, Jelena Maric, said local authorities had threatened those who wanted to make their homes available for asylum seekers and so the government got no responses. Rados Djurovic, the head of the Asylum Protection Center in Belgrade, has warned that without a long-term strategy, the problem would only worsen. "Serbia is the last lighthouse on that route to the Schengen zone," he said. "The last wall between them and the long-held dream of Europe."
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Serbia's Commissariat for Refugees and Migration, which deals with asylum seekers on behalf of the government, said attempts to find private housing for those living in the forest had failed. A spokeswoman for the office, Jelena Maric, said local authorities had threatened those who wanted to make their homes available for asylum seekers and so the government got no responses.

Rados Djurovic, the head of the Asylum Protection Center in Belgrade, has warned that without a long-term strategy, the problem would only worsen. "Serbia is the last lighthouse on that route to the Schengen zone," he said. "The last wall between them and the long-held dream of Europe."

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