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Serbian population and refugee crisis: Strong humanitarian approach

Migrants and refugees in Roszke, Hungary; Photo:Tanjug/AP Photo/Marko Drobnjakovic

Centre for Applied Social Research, supported by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, conducted an extensive research in May 2016 on refugees and migrants in Serbia whose results were recently presented in Belgrade.

The primary focus of the research was a question of possible integration of refugees and related citizens’ attitudes towards their potential settlement in the country.

First, the study identified two dominant and conflicting approaches – humanitarian and security aspect of the migration crisis. The humanitarian approach highlights the need for humane treatment of refugees while on the other hand, proponents of the security aspect of migration crisis emphasize the risks that domicile population is exposed to with a higher level of refugees.

The research demonstrates that Serbian population has a very strong humanitarian approach to the refugee crisis (around 75% of the respondents), whereas the security aspect of migration crisis is strong or very strong for 50% of respondents.

It is noteworthy mentioning that humanitarian aspect is stronger for respondents who live in small or medium-size cities, while safety aspect is dominant in villages and large cities. Belgrade is interesting because, even though both approaches are equally present, citizens are against local settlement of refugees and migrants.

The biggest differences in the willingness to accept the permanent settlement of migrants is present with regard to religious affiliation of respondents. The strongest opposition to any permanent settling of migrants in the territory of Serbia was recorded among respondents who are Orthodox Christians (47.1%), while the least opposition is recorded among atheists (16.7%) and Muslim population (25%).

Next, women and children fleeing from war affected areas are the most suitable categories of migrants / refugees for the majority of respondents.

In order to measure the level of cultural tollerance, respondents were asked the sensitive question of Muslim women covering their faces (wearing niqab). A little more than one-third of respondents believe that covering the face is the legitimate right of the migrant population and they are not opposed to it. Yet, the population of Belgrade is the least tollerant to this kind of cultural specificity.

Another aspect of tolerance of cultural diversity that was examined is related to the willingness of citizens to accept the erection of new mosques in Serbia in order to allow migrants of Muslim faith to perform their religious ceremonies. A half of respondents (50.8%) see no problem in raising the mosques, while more than a third of respondents are opposed to it.

Moreover, the largest number of respondents (41.9%) believe that migrants and asylum seekers should not be given citizenship of the Republic Serbia.  Also, a significant majority of respondents (68.5%) believe that the local population should have priority in employment, which, in a situation of a high level of unemployment, indicates that an adequate economic integration of migrants must take into account the potential resistance of the domicile population.

Thus, the authors of the study conclude that any kind of assistance to the refugee population in the future would have to include a strategy of involving the local population. The greatest challenge is to help this population in a situation of high poverty, unemployment and unresolved housing problems of the local population.


This article has been produced with the support of the Balkan Trust for Democracy. The content of this article and the opinions expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the portal European Western Balkans and in no way reflect the views and opinions of the Balkan Trust for Democracy nor the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

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