The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has handed over Serbia’s only facility housing asylum-seekers to the Government, marking the final step in the transfer of responsibility from the agency, which was the sole body dealing with this group for over 30 years.
The Serbian Government formally took over control of the three-storey building in the spa town of Banja Koviljaca during a ceremony on 22 December, according to UNHCR.
The move was the final step in the transfer of asylum-related competencies from the UN agency to Serbia, as outlined under a new asylum law that came into force last April.
Interior Minister Ivica Dacic told the ceremony that Serbia had taken a step towards European Union (EU) integration by taking over the centre, which was established under a March 2006 agreement between the Government and UNHCR.
The Government allocated a facility for the centre while UNHCR used EU funding to renovate and furnish the building, which accepted its first asylum-seeker tenants in November last year.
The centre, located some 150 kilometres from Belgrade near the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, was then run by UNHCR until 15 December.
It is currently home to 45 asylum-seekers from six countries, including 19 people who will remain under UNHCR care because they arrived in Serbia before the asylum law came into force.
Lennart Kotsalainen, UNHCR’s representative in Serbia, pledged at Monday’s handover to continue supporting the authorities in improving the country’s refugee and asylum system.