In Serbia, you may be detained or fined for illegal border crossing.
The information below comes from a judge in Subotica Misdemeanor Court and from the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights, which provides more information on this subject at the Asylum Information Database.
Grounds for detention
Under the law, the Asylum Office can detain you when it needs to:
- Establish your identity
- Protect national security and public order in accordance with the law
- Ensure you don’t disappear during the asylum process
In practice, the Asylum Office detains asylum seekers extremely rarely. If you are detained, you will be put in the Shelter for Foreigners.
The most frequent reason for placing foreigners there is to ensure their presence as witnesses in criminal proceedings against people suspected of illegally crossing the state border, human smuggling or human trafficking.
In rare cases, instead of placing you in the Shelter for Foreigners, the Asylum Office will limit your freedom of movement, confining you to stay in your asylum center.
The misdemeanor courts can convict you for:
- Illegal entry, especially when you don’t want to express your intention to seek asylum in Serbia or you don’t have proper documents
- Illegal stay
- Illegal leave — crossing the border illegally into other countries
The proceeding can end in following ways:
- You get a warning.
- You are ordered to pay a fine of between 5,000 and 50,000 RSD (€40-€420). If you cannot pay the fine, you will be placed in a prison. Each day you serve in prison counts as payment of 1,000 RSD.
After you pay the fine or serve your prison sentence, you get an order to leave Serbia within a certain time limit.
You have the right to seek legal help and to get a translator who speaks a language you fully understand.
How long you could stay in detention
According to the Asylum Act, you can be detained up to 3 months. This deadline may be extended once for another 3-month period.
How long you are detained depends on:
- The seriousness of your alleged offense
- The consequences of your alleged offense
- The degree to which you were responsible for the alleged offense
- Your personal circumstances
- Any earlier convictions you have
- Whether you have a family or are alone
The court usually gives short prison sentences in illegal border-crossing cases.
Where you will be detained
Shelter for Foreigners
Located in Padinska Skela, Belgrade, the Shelter for Foreigners can host up to 70-80 people.
The men’s section has 6 rooms, and the women’s section has 3 rooms. Both sections have a living room, bathroom and yard.
Detainees have the right to be in the living room during the day and are entitled to a walk outside for 2 hours.
The rooms are well-lit, with access to sunlight and electric lighting, and have radiators and hygienic facilities.
Serbia has 27 penitentiaries.
Conditions vary by facility. In some, you may face inhumane and degrading treatment and poor living conditions, a lack of meaningful activities, and little communication with the staff and outside world.
If you are sentenced to prison, you will likely go to one of the penitentiaries in the border zones. These are:
- County Prison in Vranje (Macedonian border zone)
- County Prison in Subotica (Hungarian border area)
- Correctional Facility in Sremska Mitrovica (Croatian border area)
- Correctional Facility in Požarevac (Romanian border area)
Public school in Serbia
Serbia offers children public school education from the age of 5. Learn more:
Serbia has universities and colleges where you may be able to study. Learn more:
Other education opportunities
Free language learning apps
Duolingo can teach you many languages’ basic grammar and vocabulary. It has English, French, Arabic and Farsi interfaces, among others.
Memrise is another language-learning website and app that can help you with vocabulary especially. It uses community-generated content. It is also available in English, French, Arabic and Farsi interfaces.
Apps that help you study academic subjects
- Coursera is an online learning platform with courses ranging from maths, physics, and computer science to social science and language learning. Most courses are free, but to get a certificate of completion you may need to pay. Coursera offers financial assistance for refugees.
- Kiron aims to help refugees and asylum-seekers begin or continue studying at the university level for free. You need to speak intermediate-level English and have regular access to the internet. Learn more about applying here.
Other online learning platforms include:
- Future learn
- Academic Earth
- Lynda, which focuses on education videos
- Khan Academy, which some say is especially useful for math
You can also search for courses on MOOC.
The Serbian higher education system conforms to European standards set forth in the Bologna Process and uses the European Credit Transfer System.
Serbian institutions award the traditional three tiers of degrees:
- Bachelor’s (sciences or arts)
- Master’s (sciences or arts)
- Doctor of science
There are three types of higher education institutions in Serbia:
- Universities (public and private)
- Colleges of applied sciences
- Colleges of academic studies
Some international universities exist as well.
Universities are the only institutions that offer all three tiers of higher education. Colleges may award both bachelor’s and specialist graduate degrees, but not master’s degrees or PhDs.
The academic year lasts 30 weeks and normally starts at the beginning of October, but it can vary by institution.
Most courses are taught in Serbian, but some programs and courses are available in English.
Higher education is not free in Serbia. The tuition fee can vary from to several hundred to several thousand euros per academic year.
If you have a certificate or other proof of previous education, you can start the recognition process at the ENIC/NARIC Centre in Belgrade. The recognition process can take more than a year.
You can apply to schools after ENIC/NARIC recognizes your certificate.
Every higher education institution in Serbia has an admission exam.
Children attend preschool from ages 5-7.
Children attend elementary school from ages 6.5-14.
Elementary school has 8 grades.
- In grades 1-4, the main subjects covered are native language and literature, mathematics, “the world around us” (natural sciences and social studies), physical education, music, arts, and at least one foreign language.
- In grades 5-8, the main subjects covered are native language and literature, mathematics, history, geography, biology, chemistry, physics, information technology, at least two foreign languages, and physical education.
After elementary school, children may attend high school or grammar school.
In high school, children can learn a trade, like hairdressing, or profession, like medicine. They attend technical school from 14 to 16, 17 or 18, depending on their course.
At grammar school, children can focus on languages, mathematics or sports. They will also study other subjects. They attend grammar school from ages 14-18.
As an asylum-seeker or refugee, you cannot choose which type of secondary education you get or which school you attend. Serbian education authorities will place you in a school.
You can watch a video about unaccompanied and separated children going to school in Serbia here:
Elementary and high schools start September 1 and end in June.
The first half of the school year runs:
- September-December in Vojvodina/Northern Serbia
- September-January in other parts of Serbia
The second half of the school year runs:
- January-June in Vojvodina/Northern Serbia
- February-June in other parts of Serbia
There is no school on national holidays.
Who can go to school?
- Every school-age child has the right and opportunity to go to a Serbian public school, regardless of their legal status.
- Parents or guardians should submit an enrollment application to their nearest school. The school should respond in 5 days to inform parents if they can or cannot accept the enrollment application.
- Children with a certificate or other proof of previous education can enroll in the appropriate grade after the ENIC/NARIC Centre in Belgrade recognizes their certificate. The recognition process can take several months.
- Education authorities will assess the knowledge and skills of any children who don’t have proof of previous education, then decide which grade they should join.
- Students get a preparatory period between a few weeks and a few months to help them gradually adapt to Serbian school. During that period they do not have to meet the same requirements as the other students.
Will children get support in school?
- The school prepares individual education plans for refugee children.
- The school organizes language classes and catch-up classes for the children of refugees and asylum-seekers
- The school helps asylum-seeker and refugee children integrate into extracurricular activities through peer support.
- The school should assess and monitor children’s development.
- Parents and guardians have the right to be informed about every change related to the support plan for their child, as well as about the child’s development.
What else should I know?
- About 1,000 refugee school-age children had access to primary and secondary education in Serbia in the past school year.
- Refugee children and Serbian children study in the same classes.
- Girls and boys are in the same classrooms.
Who can help you with enrollment?
You can ask UNICEF for help. If you cannot find any representative in your camp, ask another aid organization for help.
Your right to medical care
You have the right to medical care whether or not you are registered in a camp. No one may deny you access to medical care.
Where to get medical care
In a camp
If you feel sick or are injured, you can get basic medical care in your camp. If you need serious medical help, the medical team or the Commissariat for Refugees and Migration will call an ambulance or take you to the hospital.
If you are not in a camp and no medical team is nearby
- Contact any aid organization. Tell them where you are, and they will help you get medical care or take you to the hospital.
- If you are under 18, an aid worker will call the center for social work, and a social worker will take you to the hospital. The social worker will be your temporary guardian.
Can I go alone to the hospital?
No. At least one aid worker has to come with you.
If you are under 18, a social worker, your temporary guardian, will come with you.
What happens in the hospital?
- Most likely, you will go by ambulance to the emergency room.
- If you are with a social worker, the hospital will give you priority.
- If you are with an aid worker, the hospital will probably give you priority.
- You might have to wait awhile for your turn.
Hospital workers will ask your name and the reason you are there.
- If you have your registration document or ID with you, give it to them. You will get your documents back as soon as they copy your name and other relevant information.
- If you don’t have a registration document or ID with you, just tell hospital staff your personal information. They should accept you.
- Explain and/or show what is wrong, where it hurts, and how you feel. Answer any questions they ask about your health. It can help them make the right diagnosis.
- If you are allergic to any medicines, tell the doctors and nurses.
- The doctors will examine you and provide you with proper medical care.
- The doctor and/or nurse may not be the same sex as you. You have the right to ask for a doctor and/or nurse who is the same sex as you, but they might not always be able to fulfill your request.
- At the end of your visit, you will get a medical report in Serbian. You can ask the doctor to explain it to you. You can also ask the aid worker or the social worker to translate the report.
- Keep this report in a safe place. You will need it next time you go to the doctor.
- You should seek the help of the Commissariat or aid organizations when you need to go to the hospital for a checkup. They will help you.
- Remember: You are responsible for your own health. Don’t skip seeing a doctor when you don’t feel well, or when you need to go for a checkup.
- Don’t forget to take your medical report and other relevant documents with you to the doctor or hospital.
When to go to the hospital for non-emergency care
Go to the hospital when:
- The medical teams providing your primary health care advise you to do so
- You have a more serious health problem and need to see a specialist
- You need tests and examinations
Go to the hospital for:
- Gynecological examinations. Getting these examinations is very important for your health and the health of your partner, if you have one.
- Regular gynecological checkups if you are expecting a baby. Following the doctor’s advice will improve your baby’s health and your health.
Go to the hospital for:
- Urological examinations. These examinations are very important for your health, and the health of your partner, if you have one.
In Serbia, you can travel by bus between cities. Below are some websites where you can find direct bus lines between bigger cities.
- If you plan to travel to or from Belgrade, check the website of the Belgrade Bus Station for route information.
- If you plan to travel to or from Niš, visit the Niš Ekspres transportation company website for route information.
- If you want** to reach Subotica**, visit the Subotica-trans transportation company for route information.
The prices of your bus ticket depend on your destination and transportation company. The luggage fee is never included in the ticket price. It’s usually under 100 RSD (€0.84).
You can buy bus tickets:
- From the ticket office at the bus station (where there is a bus station)
- Directly from the driver (where there is no bus station, only a bus stop)
At bigger bus stations, you have to buy a platform ticket or token that gives you access to the platforms, but not to board a bus. The prices of these range from 30 RSD-200 RSD (€0.25-€1.67), depending on the bus station.
You can take a train between all Serbia’s bigger cities.
Train tickets are usually a little more than half the price of bus tickets. Buy your train ticket at the railway station counter, if there is one. If you skip buying your ticket at the station, you will have to buy it from the conductor on the train, which may cost more.
Below is a list of main railway lines and ticket prices. These ticket prices are for second class on regional train. If you take the fast train or the international train, the prices will be higher.
- Preševo – Niš 504 RSD/€4.50
- Dimitrovgrad – Niš 434 RSD/€4
- Niš – Beograd 884 RSD/€7.50
- Šid – Beograd 442 RSD/€4
- Beograd – Subotica 660 RSD/€5.50
- Sombor – Subotica 274 RSD/€2.50
- Kikinda – Subotica 434 RSD/€4
If you want to see more options, please visit the Serbian Railways website and check direct trains and prices.
Public transportation by city
You can use public transport in all cities in Serbia. You may be asked to show your valid Certificate of Having Expressed the Intent to Seek Asylum.
If you want to get from one place to another within Belgrade, you can go via:
You can check the city lines on the website of Plan Plus (only in Serbian).
There are two accommodation centers in the Belgrade area. You can use public transportation from both to get to the city center and back.
- Krnjača asylum center: You can take bus 108 to get from Krnjača to Bogoslovija and switch buses to get to the city center. You can take tram lines 3 and 12 and bus lines 16, 27 and 74, among others.
- Obrenovac reception center: You can take the direct coach from Obrenovac reception center to the main train and bus station near the center of Belgrade.
You can buy daily tickets directly from the driver. You have two options:
- Suggested: 90 RSD (€0.75) to ride for 90 minutes, including transfers.
- 150-400 RSD (€1-€3.50), depending on the zone where you are and the place you want to reach in Belgrade, for one ride with no transfers.
You can buy a monthly pass at the counters of the public intercity transport company (in Serbian: GSP-Gradsko saobraćajno preduzeće).
The pass is 3,000-5,000 RSD (€25-€42) depending on the zone where you are and the place you want to reach in Belgrade.
Public transportation in Belgrade starts operating at 4 a.m. and stops at midnight, with some variations by line.
You can see more details on the website of the public intercity transport company (only in Serbian). Once you are on this page, go to the upper-right corner and choose the “LAT” button to see the text in Latin script.
Most public transportation in Nis starts operating at 4:20 a.m. and stops around 12:30 a.m, with some variations by line. You can see more details on the Plan Plus website.
A ticket for one continuous ride can be 60-100 RSD (€0.50-€1). You can buy your ticket from the bus driver.
Public transportation in Subotica starts operating at 4:40 a.m. and stops at 22:40 p.m, with some variations by line. You can see more details on the website of the Subotica-trans (once you are on this page, change the language to English).
A ticket for one ride is 90 RSD (€0.80). You can buy your ticket from the bus driver.
Help buying tickets
Info Park can buy your ticket to the asylum/reception center you are assigned to after you register at the police station, and also to the Subotica transit center if you are headed for admission to Hungary. Learn more about Info Park on our Service Map.
If you need to reach Krnjača or Bogovodja, the Crisis Response and Policy Centre can help you, but only if you have obtained your Certificate of Having Expressed the Intent to Seek Asylum and one of these is true:
- You are with your children
- You have medical problems
- You are an elderly person
Usually, the following people get discounts on bus travel:
- Children under 3: free or 75% discount
- Children between 4 and 12: 50% or 25% discount
- Groups: a reduced-price group ticket
The following people get discounts on train travel:
- Children under 6: free
- Children between 6 and 14: 50% discount
- Groups: a group ticket at 30% discount for 6 adults
Your right to travel
You have the right to travel by bus and train in Serbia if you buy a ticket. No company or person may deny you access to the bus or train. If you are denied access, you can complain to the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality.
Complaining will not help you directly, but it may help force the company to change its policies. To complain:
- Ask for the name of the person and/or company that denied you the access to the bus or train.
- Contact the Crisis Response and Policy Centre and ask them for help with filling in and sending the complaint to the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality.
If you are in a camp and need help, SOS Children’s Villages is a good place to start.
If you are under 18 and traveling without your parents, you have the right to a temporary guardian. A temporary guardian will visit you within 24 hours after aid workers or the Commissariat for Refugees and Migration learn that you are in Serbia.
The temporary guardian is a social worker who:
- Represents your rights in Serbia
- Provides information and advice about your rights and options
- Helps you with forms if you want to seek asylum in Serbia
- Accompanies you to places including the police station, court, asylum office and the center for social work
Your guardian can help you find:
- Medical care, and will come with you to the hospital if needed
- Food and water
- Clothing and hygiene supplies
- Legal assistance
Your guardian also can help you:
- Find members of your family
- Return to your home country, if you wish
You may have more than one temporary guardian in Serbia. You will get a new one every time you move to another city or town. The temporary guardian will not stay with you, but you can always ask for their help.
Once you express your intention to seek asylum in Serbia, authorities will direct you to a camp. Under the law, the camp must be an asylum center. Serbia’s asylum centers are in Krnjača, Bogovađa, Banja Koviljača, Sjenica and Tutin.
If social workers find that you meet certain criteria, they may place you in one of the 5 reception centers for unaccompanied refugee and migrant children in Serbia. These are:
Institute for Education of Children and Adolescents “Vasa Stajić” in Belgrade
- For children between 10 and 18
- 12 places
Centre for the Protection of Infants, Children and Youth in Belgrade
- For children under 10
Jesuit Refugee Service Integration House
- For children under 18
- 17 places (but that number may increase to 20)
Institute for Youth Education in Niš
- For children between 10 and 18
- 19 places
- Temporary accommodation
Home for Children and Youth with Developmental Disabilities “Kolevka” in Subotica
- For children under 14
- 8 places (but that number may increase to 20)
- Temporary accommodation, up to 7 days
In Subotica, refugees between 14 and 18 who are traveling without their families stay in Subotica Transit Center.
In some cases, you may enter foster care. Foster families provide accommodation, food, help and support.
Foster care ends when you:
- Return to your primary family
- Turn 18
- Are adopted
- Go to a juvenile institution or a special educational center
You have the right to free primary and secondary education in Serbia. Learn more:
Young people traveling alone are particularly vulnerable. Here are some tips on how to stay safe and protect yourself from abusive people:
- If you are traveling without your family but are in contact with them, keep them informed about your location.
- Avoid sleeping outside at night.
- Avoid moving around alone. It is better to be in a group.
- Keep a list of important telephone numbers (for example, your family’s) with you. Memorize the most important ones.
- If someone not wearing an ID card or a uniform from an aid organization offers you a job, transportation or shelter, be careful. Their intentions might not be good. Do not go with them by yourself. Always ask people for their names and what organizations they work for.
- Avoid staying in a private house by yourself, especially if no one knows that you are there.
- If someone is violent or threatening toward you, report it to the authorities or to an aid organization immediately. They can support you.
- If the police want to detain you, ask if you can speak to a social worker or a person working for an aid organization. If possible, ask the police to inform your family.
- Keep yourself strong. Eat enough when you have access to food, and seek medical attention if you need it.
You can read more about unaccompanied and separated children’s rights in a Belgrade Centre for Human Rights report.
The organization Atina offers many services for women. Learn more:
Atina offers workshops on women’s empowerment in camps covering:
- Your rights and how to exercise them
- Asking for help and staying safe
- Partner relationships
- Family planning
- Educational opportunities
Atina offers informal education for women and girls in camps.
This service is for you if you are a victim of gender-based violence or human trafficking and you want to move to a safe place. It offers:
- Temporary accommodation in a safe place
- Assistance with health problems, both physical and emotional
- Help for planning the future
- An interpreter
- Assistance in overcoming obstacles you encounter in Serbia
- Help with the asylum process
- Access to the school system
- Opportunity to learn foreign languages
This service is for you if you are a victim of gender-based violence or human trafficking but don’t want to leave your current location. It offers:
- Assistance with health problems, both physical and emotional
- Help for planning the future
- Help with asylum process
Atina operates a bagel shop called Bagel in downtown Belgrade to benefit victims of human trafficking. If you want to stay in Serbia and work, you may be able to apply to work at the bagel shop. You will get:
- Assistance with getting a work permit
- Work experience
You can find Atina:
- In Krnjača asylum center on Tuesdays and Thursdays
- In Preševo on Mondays and Wednesdays
- In Bujanovac on Thursdays and Fridays
- In Bogovadja on Wednesdays
- In other camps when necessary
You can call Atina for more information or in an emergency at: +381603220086
Girls and women may be in danger of gender-based violence, including:
- Marital rape
- Sexual violence
- Bride price-related violence
- Abuse in the household
- Honor crimes
- Early marriage
- Forced marriage
- Genital mutilation
- Sexual harassment and intimidation
Protect yourself and others. Here are some tips for staying safe:
- Be wary of strangers and people offering to take care of you or your children. You may be at risk of being hurt, exploited, or trafficked.
- Be wary of smugglers or strangers offering jobs, travel or accommodation where you must “pay them back.” Smugglers prey on people in your situation. They can trap people into forced labor and sexual exploitation through deception, threats and violence.
- Be wary of anyone who wants to take your passport or documents.
- Opportunities that sound too good to be true probably are. Be careful.
- Moving around at night may be risky. Avoid unlit areas. Ask a person you trust to accompany you to the latrines.
- Keep all important documents and forms of identification in your possession at all times.
- Write on a piece of paper important phone numbers, including the number of someone you feel safe contacting if you are in trouble.
- Avoid being isolated or staying with strangers. Find someone you trust, and stay together.
- Genuine relief assistance is given without conditions. You do not have to provide sex, money or other favors in order to get help.
- You have the right to complain and to report any exploitation or abuse by humanitarian workers, volunteers, authorities or those providing assistance.
- If anyone (a stranger or a member of your family) hurts you, scares you, makes you feel bad or touches you in way you don’t like:
- Tell someone you trust. Look for a representative from ATINA, Commissariat for Refugees and Migration, UNHCR or other humanitarian organizations. ASK them for any help you need.
- You may also call the police.