More than 100 people gathered at a protest organized by right-wing organizations on Sunday, including participants of so-called “national patrols” that intercepted migrants in downtown Belgrade.
According to Radio Free Europe (RSE), organizers expressed their “concern about the possible settling of migrants in Serbia and the return of those who had passed through Serbia” at the protest, dubbed the “Mass people’s patrol”. RSE states that the participants shouted slogans such as: “We don’t want migrants”, “Leave Serbia to Serbs”, “Fences are for migrants, freedom is for the citizens”, but also slogans like: “No to the partition of Kosovo, Kosovo is the heart of Serbia” and “We will protect the holy temples”.
In a speech delivered before the Serbian government headquarters, the organizers stated that they would protect the state themselves if the state and the police weren’t able to. They announced that they would continue with the “national patrols” in other cities in Serbia in which migrants are located.
The protesters developed a banner that read Terrorists are not welcome in front of the Serbian government and held banners such as You will not replace us.
Protests against migrants have previously been held in Požarevac and Subotica cities. At the protest in Požarevac a speaker stated that Serbia has “agreed to accommodate 700,000 migrants by 2025” by signing the Marrakesh Agreement.
Representatives of the Commissariat for Refugees and Migration of the Republic of Serbia (KIRS) denied this information in their statement for Radio Free Europe. According to KIRS, there are currently around 6,000 migrants and refugees in Serbia, mostly housed in some of the 17 reception centres run by the Commissariat.
A false news that over 630,000 migrants will be returned to Serbia generated numerous public reactions. The far-rightDveri party leader Boško Obradović brought the broader public’s opinion to this issue.
However, an article that appeared in Deutsche Welle explains that the agreement in question allows Austria to ask Serbia to take in the migrants who are proven not to be eligible to reside in Austria, if it is also proven that they have traversed the Balkan route through Serbia. The agreement doesn’t oblige Serbia to automatically take in the rejected asylums applicants from Austria, unless they are Serbian citizens.
A flying rock was thrown at headquarters of the Commissariat for Refugees during the rally in Belgrade.
Refugee and Migration Commissioner Vladimir Cucić commented on the protests against migrants and refugees, saying that Serbian citizens should be concerned and worried that such messages were sent at the rally. He told Beta news agency:
What’s next? If someone walks down Gavrila Principa Street in Belgrade, yells ‘chase the migrants and Gypsies out’ and throws rocks at an organisation that shelters them… We should be worried. The migrants are on their way to countries that will give them less freedom than Serbia does. This doesn’t give us the right to act xenophobic or to send a picture that the citizens of Serbia, regardless of their nationality – are not good people. Our duty is to create ambassadors out of these migrants, so that they leave here with good impressions, thinking: ‘They beat us where we came from, here they fence us, and in Serbia we were treated like human beings’.
The Belgrade protest against migrants was held at a time of high tensions at the border between Greece and Turkey, which let migrants move across its territory towards the borders of EU member states.
Translation from Serbian: Iskra Krstić
This article was originally published in Serbian on Mar 9, 2020.