15.7.223. On 11 July 2023, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) published its judgment in the case of S.E. v. Serbia, in which it found that the Republic of Serbia had violated the right to freedom of movement of the applicant, a refugee from Syria it had granted asylum to. The Belgrade Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) filed the application on behalf of the applicant – its client – back in 2016, because the Serbian authorities refused to issue him a travel document.
This case sets a precedent with regard to respect for the freedom of movement of refugees and is ECtHR’s first judgment against Serbia concerning individuals seeking international protection and their right to lead normal lives.
S.E. had fled Syria and sought asylum in Serbia upon arrival. He was granted refuge in 2015, whereupon he applied for a travel document for refugees, which he is entitled to under the Asylum and Temporary Protection Act (ATPA). His application was never upheld because of the State’s failure to adopt a by-law governing the form and content of the travel document for refugees since 2008. The applicant had been unable to move freely outside of Serbia for more than seven years, which greatly impinged on both his private and business lives. The ECtHR delivered the judgment unanimously, concluding that the right to freedom of movement had been violated in this case and that a structural problem was at issue.
The ECtHR’s judgment implies that the Republic of Serbia has de facto been restricting the freedom of movement of refugees, which is in contravention of both the Refugee Convention and the RS Constitution. The Ministry of the Interior (MoI) has not yet adopted the by-law governing the form and content of the travel document for refugees. The problem also reflects the evident lack of political will to systemically address the issue. The refugees’ freedom of movement has thus been limited to the territory of the Republic of Serbia, contributing to their long-standing dissatisfaction with and disappointment in the Serbian asylum system.
The ECtHR said that the respondent State had to take all appropriate statutory and operational measures to complete the pertinent legislative framework and implementing regulations to provide the effective right to leave the territory, and the possibility for any individual in a similar situation to that in which the applicant found himself to access the procedure to apply for and obtain a travel document. It also said that it was incumbent that the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers supervise the State’s adoption of general and/or, if appropriate, individual measures in its domestic legal order to put an end to the violation found by the Court, given that this judgment should have effects extending beyond the confines of this particular case.
The freedom of movement is enshrined in Article 2 of Protocol No. 4 to the European Convention of Human Rights and is one of the fundamental human rights.
The BCHR has been alerting for years now to the problems arising from the MoI’s failure to adopt a by-law on the form and content of a travel document for refugees, precluding individuals granted international protection in Serbia to exercise their freedom of movement beyond Serbia’s borders. We appeal again to the MoI to adopt the requisite by-law to allow this category of aliens to exercise their freedom of movement outside Serbia at long last.
 Under the ATPA, at the request of anyone who has been granted refugee status in the Republic of Serbia, the Asylum Office must issue a travel document in the prescribed form, valid for five years. These provisions of the ATPA are in compliance with the relevant EU directives. For instance, the 2004 Qualification Directive laid down that EU Member States shall issue to beneficiaries of refugee status travel documents in the form set out in the Schedule to the Refugee Convention.
 The freedom of movement is enshrined in Article 39 of the RS Constitution and Article 2(2) of Protocol No. 4 to the European Convention on Human Rights.
 Art. 39, RS Constitution.
 Within the deadline set out in Art. 101 in conjunction with Art. 87(6) of the ATPA. The template of the travel document the States Parties may use if they have not regulated the issue at the national level is set out in the Schedule to the Refugee Convention.
 In most cases, the refugees’ inability to move outside the RS has led to violations of a number of their other fundamental human rights, such as the right to a family life, since they have been precluded from travelling abroad and, inter alia, meeting with their family members there.