Miloš Tasovac, Asylum and Migration Programme Legal Officer

The analysis of media reports and public opinion leads to the conclusion that public interest in migration and refugees in the RS waned in 2021 compared to 2020. Debates on issues concerning the refugee and migrant population appear to have largely moved from the mainstream media and daily politicking domains to the Internet and social media.

The results of the public opinion survey conducted in November 2021 by Ipsos Strategic Marketing at BCHR’s initiative show a more positive attitude towards refugees and migrants than in 2020. The fact that over 56% of the pollees would have nothing against African and Middle East migrants moving to their neighbourhood is encouraging, given that only around 29% of the citizens polled in 2020 thought so. Most of the respondents (78%) would have nothing against their children going to school with children from Africa or the Middle East. One out of two respondents would have nothing against working together with African and Middle East refugees and would help them feel welcome; only 38% of the respondents shared this opinion in 2020.[1] Over half of the respondents (59%) confirmed they would have nothing against working together with African and Middle East refugees; a third of the respondents disagreed. The respondents’ opinions on befriending migrants were split down the middle, like in 2020. Around half (54%) of the respondents would not be pleased if an African or Middle East refugee married into their family, an improvement over the prior survey, when 62% shared this view. Finally, slightly over half (56%) of the respondents thought that African and Middle East refugees should not be granted Serbian citizenship; 27% thought they should.

Although migration-related issues featured much less in the media in 2021 than in 2020,[2] they did not lose all interest in them. Many media continued with their sensationalist coverage of all, even the most minor incidents involving migrants.[3] They thus put the focus on the group the perpetrator of or participant in the incident belonged to, exacerbating negative views of refugees and migrants. The events in northern Serbia received a lot of coverage, where migrants reportedly damaged the farmers’ property by crossing their fields on their way to the border. Other, more serious disruptions of law and order were registered as well.[4] Rightist groups used such incidents to propagate their anti-migrant views. Although the citizens’ dissatisfaction is justified in some instances, the media and institutions should do their utmost to prevent the creation of a climate of fear and hate of migrants. When the state fails to provide the public with answers, the latter easily falls prey to extremist views because it does not have information about what is actually happening and how serious the situation is, or what the state is doing to address the problems. The authorities should explain to the public that crimes and misdemeanours committed by refugees and migrants account for a negligent share of all offences in the RS and that their individual wrongdoings cannot serve as an excuse for hating the entire refugee-migrant population. Every misdemeanour and crime, irrespective of who perpetrated it, should be penalised without delay; however, any generalisation, including in this case, is dangerous and may impinge on the safety of the group at issue.

Media often reported on MOI campaigns in Belgrade and border towns throughout 2021.[5] Namely, the police rounded up larger groups of irregular migrants, hundreds on occasion, they found in city centres and at informal venues and took them to RTCs. For instance, the police found 358 irregular migrants in Sombor in October and bussed them to RTCs where they were accommodated. The intervention was conducted by the Sombor police in cooperation with the CRM and the local authorities.[6]

Although often resorting to the sensationalist style of reporting, the mainstream media’s reports about refugees and migrants usually did not directly express hate or intolerance. However, most of the readers’ comments were rife with bias and even a dose of hate.

Rightist groups claiming they were “protecting the citizens from migrants” and their followers on social media focused substantially on refugees and migrants in 2021. Their social media posts also indicated a major shift to other topical issues, such as anti-pandemic measures. Nevertheless, refugees and migrants, i.e. the “threat” they posed to the RS, still featured among the favourite topics of rightist groups and their sympathisers.  Their comments often described migrants as just a “cog” in the global conspiracy against Serbs, as well as against all mankind. They were rife with unverified and even absurd allegations geared at triggering public hate and fear of refugees and migrants.

No major anti-migrant protests resembling the ones in 2020 occurred in 2021. Several dozen people rallied to protest against migrants in border towns; they included the residents of those towns and members of anti-migrant groups,[7] who even publicly labelled citizens assisting migrants. Such a case was registered in the city of Sombor.[8] These rightist groups continued taking the law into their hands in various Serbian cities. The so-called “people’s patrols,” which the BCHR reported on in 2020,[9] were especially active. The members of this informal rightist group often accosted migrants, claiming that they were “more and more aggressive” and that their attacks were “increasingly frequent”, restricted their freedom of movement and placed them under citizen’s arrest. They usually recorded their activities and published them on social media, under slogans such as “Step the Settlement of Migrants”, “The Streets Need to be Safe Again,” and “When Injustice Becomes the Law, Resistance becomes a Duty”, spreading xenophobia and anti-migrant sentiments. Members of “people’s patrols” justified their activities by the inefficiency of the Serbian police and prosecutors, presenting themselves as patriots protecting Serbs from migrants. Such “administration of justice” by any ad hoc group is clearly unacceptable and undermines the already fragile rule of law. It is particularly dangerous if the state and society see nothing wrong in such groups taking the law into their own hands and clamping down on migrants, because they will in all probability condone such treatment of other people in the future as well, which would put a definite end to the rule of law.[10]

In addition to “patrolling”, these groups were also very active in spreading their anti-migrant sentiments on social media. In January 2021 alone, 64 posts registered on their profiles described migrants as criminals threatening the citizenry and society, claiming also that migrants were privileged, because the state was allegedly giving them houses and planning their large-scale settlement in the RS. The CRM explained that the aid in housing aid was being extended to refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo IDPs. This proves that the authors of the “news” either did not know what they were talking about or were posting uncorroborated allegations in order to provoke anti-migrant sentiments among the local population.[11]

Bearing in mind everything that has been said, it can be concluded that negative aspects were still present in the public discourse on migrants in the RS in 2021, despite the visible ebbing of interest in migration issues. The media still played the most important role in shaping public opinion on this population. It is therefore crucial that media workers comply with professional journalistic standards and refrain from sensationalist reporting deepening public fears and bias against refugees and migrants. Greater media focus on the humanitarian and integration narratives would render more visible the positive aspects of the life of refugees and migrants in the RS.[12]  Efforts should thus be made to give voice to both migrants and refugees, to provide them with more opportunities to introduce themselves in the media, to talk publicly about their plans, thoughts, experiences and problems. That is the best way to dispel prejudices about someone we do not know.

[1]        The share of respondents opposed to working side by side with migrants fell from 46% in 2020 to just 13% in 2021.

[2]        More in Right to Asylum 2020, pp. 173–191.

[3]        Nearly all media dramatically reported about migrants shoplifting a jacket from a store in the heart of Belgrade. See “Group of Migrants Shoplifting in Zara in the Heart of Belgrade: Altercation with Staff Lasted 10 Minutes (VIDEO),” (27 January 2021), available at: https://

[4]        “Protest against Settlement of Migrants,” SOINFO.ORG (11 October 2021), available in Serbian at:

[5]        “126 Illegal Migrants Found in Heart of Belgrade, Taken to Reception Centres,” N1 (17 June 2021), available in Serbian at:

[6]        “358 Illegal Migrants Found in Sombor,” RTV (21 October 2021), available in Serbian at:

[7]        “Protest against Settlement of Migrants,” SOINFO.ORG (11 October 2021), available in Serbian at:

[8]        In October 2021, the media reported about Sombor residents whose names the rightist groups published on posters, publicly accusing them of helping refugees by renting their apartments and houses to them, and thus encouraging their large-scale settlement in this town. Such actions are especially problematic and dangerous in small towns where everyone knows each other. See more in “‘I’m Worried about My Family’: Sombor Man Threatened for Renting Housing to Migrants,” Radio Free Europe (12 October 2021), available in Serbian at:, and “Sombor Has Become a Divided City,” Danas (25 October 2021), available in Serbian at:

[9]        More in Right to Asylum 2020, pp. 178–179.

[10]     “‘People’s Patrols’ Chasing Migrants Today, Who’s Next?’”, Istinomer (26 March 2021), available in Serbian at:

[11]     Ibid.

[12]     For instance, the enrolment of first refugee students in Serbian colleges on the same terms as Serbian nationals was a widely reported good news story. More in the the Right to Asylum 2021 report, pp. 142–143.