Faced with a growing number of asylum-seekers from the neighbouring countries, the Eastern Europe and Africa in the early 1970s, the then Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia invited UNHCR to establish an operation in the country. UNHCR established an office in the capital of Belgrade in 1976. Accord de Siege with the authorities was signed on 2 July 1996.
The Agency continued providing assistance to the refugees from the third countries (mandate refugees) until the violent dissolution of former Yugoslavia in 1990s, when more than 550,000 refugees from the former republics arrived in Serbia in the 1990s. In 1999, more than 200,000 internally displaced persons fled to central Serbia from Kosovo.
The decision to make one last effort and provide durable solutions for the most vulnerable refugees and the displaced from former Yugoslavia in the region was made during the UNHCR Dialogue on Protracted Refugee Situations in Geneva in December 2008. The Regional Housing Programme (RHP) was thus launched to be implemented in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia. Following intensive diplomatic activity and support of the international community, especially UNHCR, OSCE, European Commission, Council of Europe an the U.S., the Regional Ministerial Conference was held in Belgrade in 2010 and process of regional cooperation formally started. Ever since, UNHCR has remained committed to supporting RHP until its completion planned in summer 2022.
UNHCR significantly contributed to the development of the first law on asylum in the Republic of Serbia passed in 2008. In line with our mandate, UNHCR has continued to support the authorities in making the legislative changes, capacity building, direct support to strengthening the asylum process, a fair and efficient asylum procedure and ensuring access to territory and the asylum procedure to persons in need of international protection, also in line with the requirements of Chapter 24 of EU Accession negotiations
During the 2015 European Refugee Crisis, UNHCR supported the Republic of Serbia in addressing the protection and humanitarian needs of over one million refugees, mostly from Syria. After the lifting of the emergency in late 2016, the forms of assistance adapted to respond to the changed needs of refugees and asylum-seekers.
Since the onset of COVID-19 pandemic, UNHCR has stepped up its support to the authorities and people of concern by providing protective equipment and items, helping improve sanitation and infrastructure in the asylum and reception/transit centres and ensuring unimpeded provision of the necessary services.
UNHCR support to the Republic of Serbia to date exceeds EUR 560 million (65.8 million since 2015 only).