Serbia

Serbia is party to relevant human rights instruments, including the 1954 and 1961 Conventions, although it has not acceded to the two key Council of Europe conventions. Data on statelessness is not comprehensive in Serbia and there is no dedicated statelessness determination procedure, although there are ad hoc procedures for identifying statelessness. The  Law on Foreigners provides a definition of a stateless person in national law, but this is narrower than the 1954 Convention definition. There is also a ‘stateless’ status in Serbia providing for a right to work, education, social security, and a travel document, as well as protection against discrimination, but there is no clear and accessible procedure to acquire this status. There are some protections against the arbitrary detention of stateless people including a time limit in law, a policy of setting a country of removal prior to detention, and a procedure for ascertaining nationality and redocumentation during the removal process.

Efforts to prevent and reduce statelessness in Serbia are inhibited by gaps in the implementation of legal safeguards. The law prevents statelessness for most children born on the territory or to Serbian nationals abroad, foundlings, and adopted children, providing for an automatic right to acquire Serbian nationality. However, the safeguard for children born in Serbia is implemented in such a way as to apply only to minors, and a request must be submitted to the competent authority for a decision to be made on the acquisition of nationality. Bylaws on birth registration require parents to present birth certificates and identity documents, increasing the risk that births remain unregistered and impacting disproportionately on Romani communities. Deprivation of nationality is established in law and there are protections against statelessness, but cases of ‘quasi-loss’ of nationality have been reported leading to a risk of statelessness.

Last updated: 
Mar 2021
Next scheduled update: 
Mar 2022
Country expert(s): 

Milan Radojev, Praxis

Additional resources

ASSESSMENT KEY

++POSITIVE
+ SOMEWHAT POSITIVE
+-POSITIVE and NEGATIVE
- SOMEWHAT NEGATIVE
--NEGATIVE

ADDITIONAL INFO

-NORMS & GOOD PRACTICE

 

International and Regional Instruments

Assesses whether countries are state party to the relevant international and regional instruments, including whether reservations have an impact on statelessness, and whether instruments are incorporated into domestic law. The four core statelessness treaties (1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons; 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness; European Convention on Nationality; Council of Europe Convention on the Avoidance of Statelessness in Relation to State Succession) carry more weight than other relevant human rights instruments in the assessment.

Serbia is party to the two UN statelessness conventions, but not to the European Convention on Nationality nor the Council of Europe Convention on the Avoidance of Statelessness in Relation to State Succession. Serbia is one of few countries in Europe to have signed the Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, but it is yet to accede to the treaty.  Positively, Serbia is party to all other relevant international and regional conventions with no reservations, and these have direct effect.

  • Serbia is State party to the 1954 Convention with no reservations and it has direct effect.
  • Serbia is State party to the 1961 Convention with no reservations and it has direct effect.
  • Serbia is not State party to the European Convention on Nationality nor to the Convention on the Avoidance of Statelessness in Relation to State Succession.
  • Serbia is party to all other relevant international and regional conventions with no reservations and these have direct effect.
  • Serbia has signed but not acceded to the International Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.

Statelessness Population Data

Examines the availability and sources of disaggregated population data on statelessness. Provides recent figures and assesses reliability of measures countries have in place to count stateless persons, including in the census, population registries and migration databases. Notes whether statelessness has been mapped in the country and whether there are effective measures in place to count stateless people in detention.

Data on statelessness in Serbia is not comprehensive. Some data on the risk of statelessness in specific parts of the country is available, for example, studies examining rates of birth registration or possession of identity documents among Romani families in specific communities. The census has a category ‘without nationality’, though some counted in this number may be at risk of statelessness facing administrative hurdles to recognition of their nationality, rather than stateless. No mapping study of statelessness at country level has been carried out, and data on stateless people held in detention is not published.

  • The census contains a category, 'without nationality', but some counted in this number are likely to be at risk of statelessness facing administrative hurdles to recognition of their nationality, rather than stateless.
  • According to the last census (2011) 99% of the population are Serbian nationals; 0.62% are foreign nationals; and 0.08% are without a nationality. A total of 5,951 declared themselves without a nationality; of these 5,764 were born in other states of the Former Yugoslavia.
  • Multi-Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) data from surveys conducted by UNICEF provide some information on birth registration in specific populations where there is a risk of statelessness, for example, Romani communities. According to the most recent survey (2019), the births of 98.5% of children under five years-old in Roma settlements have been registered.  A 2014 UNHCR survey (needs assessment of internally displaced Roma in Serbia) found that 9% of Roma IDP households and 5% of domiciled Roma households in Serbia have at least one member who cannot obtain a nationality certificate.
  • UNHCR carried out two surveys in 2010 and 2015 on statelessness among Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians. According to the 2015 study, which surveyed 1,987 households with a total of 8,765 members living in informal settlements, the share of people without basic identity documents among this population has dropped from 6.8% in 2010 to 3.9% in 2015. In 2015, 700 (1%) of those living in the settlements were not registered in the birth registries and 2,700 people (5.2%) had no identity cards.
  • No comprehensive mapping of statelessness in the country has been undertaken.
  • The authorities only collect data on the countries of origin of refugees and asylum seekers in Serbia. There is no data about stateless asylum-seekers, or their number is unrealistically low. Some data in potentially overlapping categories exists, for example, 205 people recorded as ‘Palestine’ expressed their intention to seek asylum in Serbia in 2019.
  • Data on stateless people in detention is not published, although correspondence with the Ministry of Interior suggests that it is collected internally.
  • In response to a freedom of information request, the Ministry stated that there was one person in immigration detention whose nationality was not determined in 2018, two in 2019 and one in 2020. According to the Ministry of the Interior, in practice stateless persons or persons who cannot be removed will be released from immigration detention, but there is no data on the number of people released on this basis.

Statelessness Determination and Status

Identifies whether countries have a definition of a stateless person in national law that aligns with the 1954 Convention, and whether they have a dedicated statelessness determination procedure (SDP) leading to a dedicated stateless status. If an SDP is not in place, it assesses whether there are other procedures in which statelessness can be identified or other routes through which stateless people could regularise their stay or access their rights. Countries are subdivided in three groups to enable comparison between those with an SDP leading to protection, those with other procedures, and those with a stateless status but no clear mechanism to access protection. The existing procedures and rights granted to stateless people are examined and assessed against international norms and good practice.

Serbia does not have a dedicated statelessness determination procedure nor any other mechanism to identify and determine statelessness, although an ad hoc procedure was implemented in 2011 to recognise 155 people from Albania as stateless. Since 2018, the Law on Foreigners provides for a definition of a stateless person in national law, but it is narrower than the 1954 Convention definition. Rights granted to stateless people include a travel document, right to work, social security, education, legal aid, and protection against discrimination. The law also prescribes that the 1954 Convention should be applied to stateless individuals if this is more favourable for them. There is no simplified or accelerated route to naturalisation for stateless people.

  • There is a definition of a stateless person in the Law on Foreigners (2018). However, it is narrower than the 1954 Convention definition in that it translates as a person is stateless if they are not considered a national by any State ‘under its national legislation’ rather than ‘under the operation of its law’.
  • The Government, the Ombudsperson and UNHCR Serbia have held a series of training sessions on birth registration and issuance of documents to undocumented people for police officers, registrars, and staff of the social welfare centres.
  • Two cycles of training seminars for the judiciary were held in 2013-2014 which partly covered risks of statelessness, but no further information is available about training for judges and lawyers since 2014.
  • There is no dedicated statelessness determination procedure (SDP) nor other formal mechanism to identify statelessness in Serbia.
  • A small number of people (for example, 155 people from Albania in 2011) have been recognised as stateless in the past through an ad hoc procedure implemented by the Ministry of Interior. There are no recent cases and the procedure that was used in 2011 is unclear.
  • There is a stateless status in Serbia, but no formal procedure to identify stateless people.
  • There has been no recent determination of statelessness and the procedure for determination is unclear. 155 people from Albania were determined to be stateless in an ad hoc procedure implemented by the Ministry of Interior and reported on in 2011. Of these, 146 were granted permanent residence, and nine were granted temporary residence permits. They were also granted travel documents.
  • Stateless people are provided certain rights in law, including a two-year travel document based on permanent or temporary residence; right to work; social security; primary and secondary education; legal aid; and protection against discrimination. Stateless people may have a right to temporary residence on the basis of family reunification or humanitarian reasons, although this is usually subject to a number of requirements including the possession of a passport, means of subsistence, and health insurance. Stateless people do not have the right to vote in any elections.
  • The Law on Foreigners prescribes that 1954 Convention rights should be applicable if these are more favourable to a stateless person than rights enshrined in national law, but without an SDP, the risk is that these rights cannot be obtained in practice.
  • There is no simplified or accelerated route to naturalisation for stateless people. Stateless people may qualify for naturalisation on the same grounds as other foreigners in Serbia, except that stateless people are not obliged to submit proof of release from a foreign nationality.
  • Serbian nationality may be acquired by a foreigner over 18 with legal capacity who has been granted permanent residence registered on the territory of Serbia for at least three years prior to the application and who submits a statement that they consider Serbia as their own state. A person born in Serbia who has resided permanently on the territory of Serbia for at least two years without interruption prior to the application may also apply for naturalisation upon submission of a written statement that they consider Serbia their own State.
  • As a condition for approval of permanent residence, it is necessary to provide proof of possession of means of subsistence and health insurance, and the person cannot have been convicted or prosecuted for certain crimes or pose a risk to national security.
  • The fee for naturalisation is 19,370 RSD (165 EUR). There is a reduction for displaced persons (1,070 RSD (9 EUR)), and if family members apply together only one person pays the fee. There are no reductions based on statelessness.

Detention

Analyses law, policy and practice relating to immigration detention generally, focusing in on protections in place to prevent the arbitrary detention of stateless people during removal and deportation procedures. Subthemes examine areas such as detention decision-making, whether alternatives to detention are legislated for and implemented, procedural safeguards such as time limits, judicial oversight and effective remedies, as well as protections on release and whether statelessness is considered juridically relevant in bilateral return and readmission agreements.

Powers to detain are provided for in law, but some safeguards against arbitrary detention are found only in policy, for example, that a country of removal is set before detaining someone. Alternatives to detention are established in law and there is a maximum time limit and free legal assistance provided by NGOs, but there is no periodic review of detention. The Law on Free Legal Aid does not prescribe legal aid in relation to detention. If removal has been delayed, a temporary ID card may be issued on release and the option to register for temporary stay on humanitarian grounds provided after a year. However, the lack of documentation and inability to prove one’s identity can be a reason for prolonging detention.

  • The law requires that alternatives to detention, such as mandatory stay in a particular place, must be considered.
  • The requirement for a country of removal to be identified before a person is detained is not set out in law, but the authorities state that this is in policy and required in practice. Cases have been identified of people being issued with a removal order without the country of origin specified, though they were not detained. However, statelessness is not considered a juridically relevant fact in decisions to detain.
  • Removal can be delayed, and the person released if their identity has not been established, but at the same time, a lack of documentation or failure to prove one’s identity can be a reason to prolong detention.
  • There is no clear evidence that stateless people are being detained in practice, but two people with undetermined nationality were detained in 2019 and one in 2020. According to the Ministry of the Interior, in practice stateless people or people who cannot be removed will be released from immigration detention, but there is no data on the number of people released on this basis.
  • Individual vulnerability assessments are not carried out prior to detention but there is a requirement for authorities to consider vulnerabilities during all procedures. Statelessness is not identified as giving rise to vulnerability.
  • Alternatives to detention are established in law and implemented in practice according to the authorities. They include compulsory stay in a designated place, temporary withdrawal of travel documents, and/or confiscation of material possessions.
  • The law states that compulsory stay must be considered prior to detention. There is a time limit of one year, but it is not subject to periodic review.
  • There is no evidence that immigration detention is used prior to alternatives being considered, and the authorities state that alternatives are systematically considered prior to any decision to detain.
  • A maximum time limit for detention is set in law (90 days extendable to 180 days exceptionally).
  • The law states that individuals must be provided with written reasons for detention as soon as possible in a language they understand.
  • Factsheets with information on rights are given to all detainees, but these do not contain information about access to a statelessness determination procedure, as none exists.
  • The Law on Legal Aid does not specifically prescribe the right to free legal aid in relation to detention.
  • Periodic reviews of detention are not provided for in law, but detainees will be released on expiry of the maximum time limit and removal may be delayed and the person released if circumstances have changed.
  • It is not possible to appeal against the detention decision or extension, but an administrative dispute may be initiated.
  • The Rulebook on the conditions and manner of conducting removals from Serbia prescribes a procedure for the process of redocumentation in the removal process.
  • The law provides that a temporary ID may be issued on release if removal is delayed, which gives access to urgent healthcare and primary education. If removal is delayed by a year, a person can register for temporary stay on humanitarian grounds, which gives access to the same rights and services as other foreigners in the country.
  • Cumulative time spent in detention is not taken into account and people may be re-detained.
  • Statelessness is juridically relevant in readmission agreements with the European Union, though it is explicitly allowed to return stateless people to Serbia and in at least one case this has happened even when no legal avenue for protection may exist in Serbia to provide a stateless person with protection and rights.

Prevention and Reduction

Assesses the adequacy of safeguards in nationality laws to prevent and reduce statelessness, including protections for otherwise stateless children born on the territory or to nationals abroad, foundlings and adopted children. Examines law, policy and practice on birth registration, including access to late birth registration, reduction measures taken by states to prevent statelessness among groups at high risk, and provisions regarding deprivation of nationality.

Legal safeguards are in place in Serbian nationality law to prevent statelessness in the case of children born on the territory or to Serbian nationals abroad, foundlings and adopted children. However, there are implementation gaps. The authorities interpret the safeguard for stateless children born in Serbia as applying only to minors, and in practice, a request must be submitted to the competent authority for a decision to be made on the acquisition of nationality. A foreign child adopted in Serbia acquires Serbian nationality automatically and there is no risk of statelessness during the adoption process. Late birth registration is possible, but there is still a significant barrier in that births cannot be registered and birth certificates issued if parents are undocumented (unless they go through a lengthy procedure). Serbia has received a number of recommendations from international bodies to address this issue, which disproportionately impacts on Romani communities. Deprivation of nationality is established in law and provisions protect against statelessness. However, there are cases in practice of 'quasi-loss' of nationality, which increase the risk of statelessness.

  • The law states that otherwise stateless children born in Serbia shall acquire Serbian nationality automatically, but in practice, a request must be submitted to the competent authority and a decision is made as to whether the child (and/or parents) is stateless.
  • There is no requirement in law for the parents to also be stateless, if the child would otherwise be stateless; and there is no residence requirement for the child or parents, but in practice, it is necessary to provide documentary evidence of the child and/or parents’ statelessness.
  • The competent authority interprets the legislation to mean that only a minor (under 18 years-old) can acquire nationality by birth if otherwise stateless, which is a lower standard than the 1961 Convention and constitutes a gap for young people if no-one has initiated a procedure to confirm their nationality as a minor.
  • Foundlings acquire nationality automatically by law and the definition encompasses all children up to the age of 18.
  • Although not explicitly set out in the provision, the loss of Serbian nationality is conditional upon possession or acquisition of another nationality according to law.
  • Statelessness is explicitly prevented in the case of a child adopted by foreign parents, as loss of Serbian nationality is conditional upon possession or acquisition of another nationality.
  • There is provision in law for a child adopted by a Serbian national to acquire nationality automatically and be registered in the nationality register on request of the adopted parents (if under 18) or on their request (if 18-23 years-old). There is no risk of statelessness during the process.
  • A child born abroad to a Serbian national can acquire nationality automatically if the other parent is unknown, of unknown nationality or stateless. If the other parent is a foreign national, the child can acquire Serbian nationality if the Serbian parent registers the child with the competent authorities before the age of 18, or if the person registers with the competent authorities themselves between 18-23 years-old.
  • The Serbian Constitution guarantees every child born on the territory the right to a name and the right to be registered in the birth registries, but bylaws stipulate that parents need to possess birth certificates and ID cards or passports to register a birth. If parents are undocumented, they need to go through a further procedure that can take months or even years, so, in practice, immediate birth registration is not guaranteed for all children born in Serbia. Children can be registered if parents are not legally residing in the country but not if they are undocumented (without going through the additional procedure), and birth certificates are issued to all children upon registration. There are credible reports that children are prevented from registering in practice because of parents' lack of documentation, and that this issue disproportionately impacts on the Romani population.
  • The prescribed deadline for birth registration is 15 days from the day of birth. Late registration is possible, but where a birth has not been registered within 30 days, it can only take place following a decision of the competent administrative body, so a procedure for subsequent registration of the fact of birth must be initiated. There are no fees for late birth registration, but the procedure can take several months. The complex and often lengthy procedure is conducted before the municipal administrative body in the place of birth. The regulations governing the procedure are not sufficiently precise and practice varies between municipalities. The mother needs to be present and be registered. The deadline is always exceeded and evidence such as vaccination cards must be submitted. In July 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that people registered in the Kosovo birth registry books cannot request the court to conduct a procedure for determination of the date and place of birth.
  • People who cannot prove the fact of their birth in an administrative procedure can initiate the non-contentious court procedure for determination of date and place of birth.
  • Serbia has received Universal Periodic Review recommendations on ensuring universal access to birth registration for all children regardless of the status of their parents, and without discrimination.
  • Nationality is recorded in the registry books if the child acquires Serbian nationality by descent. Children of foreign parents are registered with their parent’s nationality or the country the parents claim to come from.
  • The Law on Nationality prescribes that the Ministry of Interior shall determine the Serbian nationality of a person who acquired it, but this fact was not registered in the birth registry or in the nationality records.
  • There are no mandatory requirements for authorities to report undocumented individuals to authorities.
  • A technical group was established to raise awareness among Romani communities about the right to birth registration and provision of free legal assistance in the procedures for subsequent registration in 2012-16, but this has now ended.
  • A provision introduced through an amendment to the Law on Nationality in 2018 allows for facilitated acquisition of nationality for people who were born in the former-Yugoslavia and are long-term residents of Serbia.
  • In October 2019, the Ministry for Public Administration and Local Self-Government, the Ombudsperson, and UNHCR signed a Memorandum of Understanding, which refers to further cooperation on resolving the problems faced by the Romani population in exercising their right to registration in the birth registry and other rights related to personal status, with special emphasis on new-born children.
  • Romani communities are disproportionately impacted by the risk of statelessness in Serbia. The Serbian Government committed to addressing civil registration issues and ending Roma statelessness through the Poznan Declaration process in 2019 and 2020.
  • There are provisions on deprivation of nationality in Serbian law, but there is a safeguard to prevent statelessness in all cases.
  • There is also a safeguard to prevent renunciation of Serbian nationality from resulting in statelessness.
  • There are no provisions on deprivation of nationality in a national security context.
  • The competent authority in deprivation cases is the Ministry of Interior and administrative procedural guarantees apply, such as a time limit, written decision, and right of appeal. The procedure is considered 'urgent' but in practice, no data is available on whether procedural guarantees are applied.
  • Several cases of ‘quasi-loss’ of nationality were reported in the past, in which a person is said never to have had Serbian nationality, even though it was assumed they did, and competent bodies issued nationality certificates for years based on this assumption. Unlike in other cases of deprivation of nationality under the law, there is no due process in such cases through which a competent body may examine if withdrawal of the assumption of nationality would lead to stateless. Praxis is aware of at least 30 cases, although in recent years such cases have been rare.

Resources

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