Belgrade, Serbia: A Case Study of Refugees in Towns

Before 2015, the prevailing representation of irregular migration to the European Union concerned the Mediterranean migration routes, but in the summer of 2015, the focus shifted to the Balkan Route (Beznec et al. 2016, p.4). The corridor established in early summer 2015 led to large groups of refugees and migrants becoming stranded in Serbia – often sleeping in parks in Belgrade. This case study looks at the legal status, social, and economic life, and opportunities of migrants and refugees two years later, in Belgrade, Serbia. Our findings are a result of five months of field research conducted during the summer and fall of 2017, and draw on one author’s experience with humanitarian service provision at an aid center in Belgrade.

The report is based on interviews with local NonGovernmental Organizations (NGOs), government representatives, and conversations with refugees and migrants currently residing in Belgrade.

In the first section, we explain the methodology behind the research, present the challenges and limitations, and define key terms. The second section gives an overview of the refugee situation in Serbia; we explain why Belgrade has been a focal point for refugees transiting through the Balkans, where these refugees have resided, and how they receive protection according to their legal status. The next section outlines how the refugee population in Belgrade is changing, their economic activity, relationships with the local population, and the shift in attitudes of Belgrade’s citizens with implications for the future of refugees and migrants in Serbia. Then we elaborate the urban impact of refugees and the economic, social, cultural, and political factors that affect the lives of migrants in Belgrade. The last section tries to foresee the future of integration and calls for improvements in Serbian law and policies, including the creation of legal categories to define the status of migrants in order to ensure the human rights and safety of both refugees and their host communities.

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