Social & Economic rights

Tuesday, 6 December 2022

Registration of residence through cooperation with institutions

In case of Dj.K, the fact that she has lived for more than a decade in the Veliki Rit settlement in Novi Sad with her family was not enough. Her intention to live in Novi Sad was not obvious to the authorities, even with three children she gave birth to in Novi Sad, and with a fourth child on the way.

"Of course, I was asked a hundred times if I wanted to live in Novi Sad, the police even asked my neighbors if I lived here, and I have been living here for 10 years, I had no intention of going anywhere, I have children, I have a house, I have a family, where will I go, I have nowhere else to live."

Dj.K. was born in Podgorica in 1996. Praxis contacted the partner organization in Montenegro, which checked the data and established that she had been registered in the birth register in Montenegro. After Praxis received her birth certificate from Podgorica and confirmation that she was not registered in the register of citizens, and after obtaining evidence that her parents were citizens of the Republic of Serbia, it was established that there were grounds to register Dj. in the birth registry book in Serbia. She was registered in the birth registry book on the basis of a document from a foreign authority and in the register of citizens in Serbia in 2017.

She gave birth to her eldest daughter in 2012 at home in Novi Sad. At that time, she did not have any personal documents, which is why she gave up on giving birth in the hospital. In 2021, the procedure for subsequent registration in the birth registry book was initiated for this child before the Registry Office in Novi Sad. The officer in charge took statements from the parents and witnesses in this case and asked the police to determine the identity of the mother. However, the police did not act upon the letter from the Registry Office in accordance with the Instruction for proceedings in cases of the birth of a child whose parents do not have personal documents for enabling registration in the birth registry, which directs the way of proceeding of authorized persons in case of birth of a child whose parents do not have personal documents. According to Dj.K., the police did not even look for her at her home address.

The spouses have two more children, born in hospital in Novi Sad, who were registered in the birth registry immediately after birth. However, those children, born in 2016 and 2020, did not have a registered residence from the moment of birth, because their mother Dj.K. did not have a registered residence either.

Dj.K. unsuccessfully submitted a request for registration of residence twice, first in 2018, and then in 2021, when she did not receive a confirmation of receipt of the request for registration of residence. At the beginning of 2022, she was verbally informed that her request had been rejected, the decision was not handed over to her, so the whole process passed without a written record. In the mid-2022, new requests were submitted to the Police Administration of Novi Sad. Dj.K. first tried to submit a request in person, and then, with the instructions of Praxis, due to the risk of not receiving a confirmation of receipt of the requests, she sent three separate new requests by mail with a return receipt, thus starting a new procedure for registering residence for herself and her two children who are registered in the birth registry.

After the requests for registration of residence had been submitted for the third time, and bearing in mind that her previous requests had been rejected, UNHCR was informed about this case, in order to inform the members of the Operational Group (primarily the Ministry of Internal Affairs) formed within the framework of the third Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2022 between the UNHCR, Ombudsman and the Ministry of Public Administration and Local Self-Government to resolve the remaining cases of persons of the Roma national minority, as well as other persons facing these problems, who have not accesses the right to be registered in the birth registry books as well as other rights related to personal status, with a special focus on the registration of their newborn children in the official records.

At the time of submitting that request, Dj.K. was pregnant for the fourth time. Due to her previous traumatic experiences, she did not go for a medical check at all. Namely, the Health Centre refused to examine her when she went there due to labour pain when she was nine months pregnant the previus time, with the explanation that she must have a health card. Upon learning that Dj.K. was pregnant for the fourth time, Praxis instructed her to request an examination at the Health Center with an excerpt from the birth register and a certificate of citizenship, because as a citizen of the Republic of Serbia she is entitled to health insurance based on pregnancy. At the same time, Praxis prepared a letter with quotes from legal and constitutional provisions according to which the health institution must provide access to health care for pregnant women. It was only with that letter that she was scheduled for a medical examination.

On the other hand, this time the residence registration procedure was different from the previous attempts. Thanks to the involvement of the Operational Group in monitoring this procedure, the competent authority acted upon requests promptly and the facts of the case were being quickly established. Within three weeks, the police made two field checks at the address of Dj.K. in Veliki Rit settlement, and both times they found her at home, where she lives without a legal basis of housing.

Although the Law on Permanent and Temporary Residence of Citizens foresees the possibility of registering residence at the address of the Center for Social Work for persons who do not have another legal basis of housing, the Police Department in Novi Sad requested an opinion on this and similar cases from representatives of the Ministry of Interior on how to act in similar cases. The Ministry of Interior, analyzing all the facts, gave a positive opinion that in this and similar cases, the Center for Social Work should be approached with a request for registration of residence in order to register at the Center for Social Work address, and such cases should be resolved positively.

All this contributed to the Police Department of Novi Sad inviting Dj.K. a few days later to sign requests for registration of residence at the address of the Center for Social Work of the City of Novi Sad.

Praxis informed the associates from the Center for Social Work of the City of Novi Sad about this, who had known this family for years, and they gave their consent to register the residence of Dj.K. and her two children at the address of the Center for Social Work as soon as possible. Dj.K. finally received a decision on registered residence at the CSW address, for her and her two children, and soon after, her eldest daughter, who had been legally invisible until then, was also registered in the birth registry. That little girl, who otherwise has serious health problems, will finally be able to get much-needed health care.

"I took her to the doctor, but I always had problems, I had been paying for the medicine myself for 10 years, whatever she needed, I had to pay for everything. I always had problems with doctors, they would yell at us because I didn't have a health card. I wanted to take the child to have the surgery, but it cost  3,000 euros, and I had no means to pay, so I gave up, I said, when I get the documents, then she will go to the doctor’s," Dj.K. told us. "I waited for seven years, I went everywhere, I don't even know which door I didn't knock on anymore, I don't even know where I cried and begged and went with my children, I didn't know what to do, and in the end, every time they would say, well, you are rejected. And now, there are no more problems, we can get an identity card, documents, health card, and child allowance. Honestly, I'm overjoyed."

This case is an example of good cooperation between all relevant actors, from state institutions, international organizations and the civil sector, and shows how the coordinated and directed action of competent authorities can change someone's life for the better. At the same time, considering the previous negative practice of the Police Department in Novi Sad when it comes to the registration of residence, we express our belief that this case will represent a turning point in the actions of this Police Department in these and similar cases, and that in this way it will be possible for persons at risk of statelessness to register residence and thus access other rights.

 

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Praxis means action