Friday, 10 June 2016

Completed Project PROACTION – Protection Against Discrimination of Asylum-Seekers and Unaccompanied Child Migrants

In the period November 2014 – May 2016, Praxis implemented the project PROACTION in partnership with Group 484 and International Commission of Jurists – European Institutions (ICJ-EI). In addition to providing direct protection to refugees and migrants, the goal of this project was to contribute to the development of more efficient support and improved anti-discrimination policies for asylum seekers, especially unaccompanied minors in Serbia.

The activities conducted by Praxis within the framework of this project were aimed at providing legal protection for refugees and migrants, especially in cases of discrimination and violation of human rights, education and networking related to anti-discrimination standards, as well as monitoring and advocacy for respecting and exercising rights without discrimination.

The first activity consisted of local education courses, which included the development of a manual entitled Equality and Non-discrimination – Legal and Strategic Framework. The education courses entitled On Anti-discrimination Standards in Dealing with Asylum Seekers and Unaccompanied Children in Migration were held in Niš, Novi Sad, Sjenica, Subotica and Zaječar. Local education courses were attended by a total of 160 representatives of non-governmental organisations and institutions dealing with refugees and migrants: representatives of the border police, misdemeanour courts, social welfare centres, the Commissariat for Refugees or local trustees for refugees, medical doctors and other medical staff of local health care centres.

Parallel to education activities, Praxis started to provide legal assistance, information and counselling for refugees. The project was aimed to provide free legal assistance to the asylum seekers in prisons and the unaccompanied minors placed in institutions, thus encouraging them through lawyers’ visits to report discrimination or other violations of rights. Five visits to institutions were conducted, primarily to district prisons and penitentiary-correctional institutions.

As the number of refugees and migrants passing through Serbia drastically increased in May 2015, Praxis modified its activities, primarily those related to legal assistance, information and counselling, adjusting them to respond in the most efficient way to the current needs of refugees and promote the standards of their protection without discrimination. In June of the same year, Praxis intensified field visits to the places of informal gathering of refugees in Belgrade, as well as border crossings and asylum centres.

During field visits in this period, Praxis lawyers primarily tried to define the needs of the refugees passing through Serbia by interviewing them and monitoring their access to rights. They also informed refugees about their rights, and above all about the possibility of obtaining a certificate of the expressed intention to seek asylum, free legal assistance that could be provided by Praxis in the asylum procedure, as well as about the possibility of receiving legal assistance in cases of discrimination. For this purpose, information materials were distributed. The refugees were also provided with practical information on the course of journey, available accommodation facilities, types of assistance, assistance in cases of family reunification and the like. During the project period, Praxis informed and advised 2,685 refugees and 119 unaccompanied minors.

Since the provision of direct legal assistance and representation is almost impossible in the circumstances where large numbers of people are exclusively in transit, anti-discrimination cases handled by Praxis related mainly to the protection against discrimination visible in the public space, i.e. in the media. Praxis lodged a total of 7 complaints with the Commissioner for Protection of Equality in the period from April to December 2015. Four (4) complaints were lodged to the Press Council for the same reason. One (1) administrative dispute was also initiated.

Finally, drawing on the activity of legal assistance provision and monitoring of the actions of competent institutions, Praxis wrote 4 case studies as part of the project, pointing to the current situation and the identified shortcomings regarding the protection of refugees. These case studies will be used as a means of further advocacy for improving the system of refugee and migrant protection.

The last activity carried out by Praxis was the organisation of roundtables to present the project results, the basic findings about the primary reception of refugees and cooperation among institutions, as well as the analysis of the decisions of misdemeanour courts and the overview of decisions in cases of discrimination. As part of this activity, 5 roundtables were held in Pirot, Vranje, Šid and Belgrade, which were attended by a total of 76 participants. According to the participants, the roundtables were a good opportunity for exchanging practical experience, but also for discussing the issue of discrimination against refugees and migrants and the importance of respecting the principles of anti-discrimination for the enhanced protection of refugees.

The implemented project activities, especially those related to protection against discrimination, contributed to the development of the practice of the authorities responsible for the protection of the rights of refugees and migrants, and thus to a somewhat improved approach to rights and services. Moreover, these training and education events contributed to the strengthening of the capacities of local non-governmental organisations and to a better understanding of anti-discrimination policies. 

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