PARTNER-ATLAS

SERBIA

As a partner for regulating global migration flows

01 — The key questions for the Partner-Atlas

RELEVANCE: What relevance does Serbia have for Germany with regard to "regulating global migration flows"?

Serbia is of central importance for Germany in terms of regulating global migration flows. Since the beginning of the refugee crisis in 2014, a large proportion of refugees from the Middle East, Central and South Asia have been traversing the “Balkan route”. Its main route leads from Turkey and Greece via Bulgaria, North Macedonia and Serbia to Hungary and Croatia which form the border of the EU. Continuing on from there is difficult because the Hungarian government in particular undertakes very rigid border controls to prevent entry without valid travel documents.

In the first two years of the migration movement, Serbia received international praise for its humanitarian aid to refugees. Serbia provided shelter, medical care, food and assistance. However, this was considered to be just a temporary solution, because the majority of migrants view Germany, Austria and the Scandinavian countries, as their final destination, rather than Serbia.

In October 2015, after a consultation between ten EU Member States and Serbia, North Macedonia and Albania, a decision was taken to undertake a controlled reduction in the number of refugees on the route. The reason for this was that the countries of Southeast Europe were overburdened by the large numbers of people who were passing through their countries every month. After Northern Macedonia closed its border with Greece, Serbia radically strengthened border controls with Bulgaria, an EU Member State, enabling the number of illegal border crossings to be greatly reduced. Strengthening Greece’s potential for accommodating and registering the refugees also played a major role in this.

Despite the drop in numbers compared to the peak year of 2015, Serbia remains one of the most important transit countries on the Balkan route due to its location and ease of passage. In 2019, 17,642 illegal border crossings and 173 asylum applications were registered on the Serbian side (2018: 3,699 illegal border crossings and 260 asylum applications).[i] The alternative routes via Albania (2019: 10,670 illegal border crossings and 6,182 asylum applications) and Bosnia-Herzegovina (2019: 6,039 illegal border crossings and 782 asylum applications) are much more difficult to manage than the conventional route from Vranje or Pirot to the border camp at Šid, mainly due to geographical obstacles and poor infrastructure. There is also an established aid structure in Serbia, which the two above-mentioned countries lack.

WILLINGNESS: To what extent is Serbia willing to work with Germany in realising this interest?

Serbia is interested in working with the EU countries to further improve the capacity to control and distribute refugees. The population has a great deal of understanding, especially for people who are escaping civil war in Syria and Iraq. This is also due to their collective memory of the expulsion and flight of 120,000 Serbs from Croatia during the civil war in Yugoslavia. Due to Serbia’s socioeconomic situation, it is not in the country’s interests for migrants to remain permanently in the country. Since the German Federal Government has had a working relationship based on trust with Belgrade (especially during 2014 and 2015), Serbia is open to engaging in further cooperation on this issue.

STATUS QUO: How close is Germany and Serbia's current cooperation in this area?

There is very close cooperation between Germany and Serbia on the refugee question, and the interior ministries of both countries regularly exchange information. German Federal Border Guard units support the Serbian border forces in controlling entry and exit. Germany has also provided extensive humanitarian aid. The visa waiver granted to travellers from Iran was revoked by Serbia.

 

POTENTIAL: What is the potential for strengthening the partnership between Germany and Serbia in this area?

There is potential for strengthening the partnership between Germany and Serbia particularly in the area of border security, for example, by improving the technical equipment and work practices of the Serbian police and customs. This would improve the manageability of migratory movements and enhance the quality of the fight against organised transnational crime. This is due to Serbia’s geographical location, since not only does the migration route pass through Belgrade, but the main heroin trafficking routes from Central Asia also pass through Serbia.

Serbia is hoping for further support in the distribution of locally housed migrants, because the country’s ailing welfare systems will not be able to provide care for these people in the longterm. The situation is exacerbated by the intention of those refugees who are accommodated in temporary shelters to leave Serbia as soon as possible, because the country cannot offer them stable prospects.

POLICY RECOMMENDATION: What in German foreign policy has to change in order to fully exploit this potential?

It is necessary for German foreign policy to dedicate itself more to the issue of migration flows in Serbia. Although the topic of the Balkan route is no longer as present in the media as it was in 2015, the number of migrants attempting to travel through Serbia rose again in 2019. Belgrade is looking particularly towards the EU on this issue, because the EU is perceived as the actual pull factor that is driving this migration movement forward. Serbia’s European integration can be promoted by a strengthened partnership on these matters, and, given the increased involvement of external players on the ground, it can lead to increased confidence in the EU.

This seems all the more necessary because, during the coronavirus crisis, the EU’s behaviour has been described as lacking in solidarity, and there has been a strong media focus on China. Although the facts and figures of EU aid tell a very different story, the damage to the EU’s (and Germany’s) image is still having an impact. Since then, the EU has increased its public presence and is also demanding that Serbia recognise the solidarity aid. Individual leading politicians in Serbia are responding to this, but still more is expected.

Technical, personnel and financial support are also in Serbia and Germany’s joint interests. The migration of skilled workers is viewed with particular sensitivity by Serbia, and government statements point to Germany’s policy of enticement. Here, there should be an intensive dialogue to qualify matters which includes the respective chambers of commerce and brings about a relaxation of tensions and the development of a positive outcome for both sides.

Norbert Beckmann-Dierkes heads the KAS Office in Serbia / Montenegro.

[i] German Bundestag, printed matter 19/17003.

SERBIA

  • Population: 8,737,371
  • Capital: Belgrade
  • Interest: Regulating Global Migration Flows
  • Region: Europe and North America
  • Potential partner countries: Serbia

04 — The region

Europe and North America

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SWITZERLAND

In many ways, Switzerland is a central partner for Germany in terms of values and interests, particularly in the area of trade and innovation. The economies of both countries are closely intertwined: Germany has been Switzerland’s most important trading partner with more than 22 percent of foreign trade. Conversely, Switzerland is also a key economic partner for Germany: in 2018, it was number 9 among Germany’s foreign trade partners (and thus the fourth largest non-EU country after the USA, China, and the United Kingdom).

  • Population: 8,654,622
  • Capital: Bern
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SERBIA

Serbia is of central importance for Germany in terms of regulating global migration flows. Since the beginning of the refugee crisis in 2014, a large proportion of refugees from the Middle East, Central and South Asia have been traversing the “Balkan route”. Its main route leads from Turkey and Greece via Bulgaria, North Macedonia and Serbia to Hungary and Croatia which form the border of the EU. Continuing on from there is difficult because the Hungarian government in particular undertakes very rigid border controls to prevent entry without valid travel documents.

  • Population: 8,737,371
  • Capital: Belgrade
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UKRAINE

Since the beginning of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine and the unlawful annexation of Crimea, parts of the country have not been under the control of Kyiv. It is in Ukraine that it will be decided what significance internationally recognised borders will have in 21st century Europe, whether territories can be unilaterally altered, and whether the right of the (militarily) stronger will again take precedence over the sovereignty, self-determination, territorial integrity and inviolability of borders.

 

  • Population: 43,733,762
  • Capital: Kyiv
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BELARUS

Belarus is often perceived negatively in the West due to its deficits in terms of democracy and civil liberties. This fails to take into account that the country can be seen as an anchor of stability in terms of security policy, with its position in the centre of Central Eastern Europe, and that it has been committed to international conflict resolution for some time.

  • Population: 9.449.254
  • Capital: Minsk
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RUSSIA

Economic growth and employment in Germany largely depend on key, energy-intensive industries, such as chemical or metal production. Despite the increasing importance of renewable energies, petroleum and natural gas – the first and second most important energy sources in Germany – play an important role for these industries.

  • Population: 145,934,462
  • Capital: Moscow
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