In the midst of the Syrian war and unprecedented refugee crisis with effects felt worldwide including the Western Balkans region (WB), currently being faced with increasing numbers of Syrians looking for safe shelter in Europe but being pushed back, criminalized, detained at the borders, with no proper reception, accommodation and integration services provided in the Balkans, we held the third International Summer School, dedicated to Refugee Law and international protection of refugees.

An important issue tackled this year in the context of shrinking access to asylum worldwide, is the extent to which emerging asylum host states are developing refugee status determination (RSD) procedures and opening their borders to refugee flows.

The ability of States such as BiH, Serbia and Croatia, which have in their recent past been producers of refugee flows, was of particular interest to this year’s CESI International Summer School in Forced Migration Studies, held 6-16th of July at the Faculty of Political Sciences, University of Sarajevo.

As the gradual security and political stabilization occurred after the 1990s dissolution of Yugoslavia and subsequent wars in the WB, the countries of the region transformed into transit and, increasingly, a destination places for refugees from other parts of the world. During the last two decades there has been a notable increase in the number of asylum applications in the region. The development of asylum system in each country of the region (especially in a long term perspective) is diverse, due to different contexts, capacities and position vis-à-vis the EU.

However due to weak asylum regimes, refugees move on before having their protection needs determined. Of particular concern is the growing number of unaccompanied and/or separated children travelling irregularly. Today, despite extensive capacity building efforts of international actors such as UNHCR, most countries in the region do not have an effective administrative apparatus of protection nor integration models in place to address the needs of newly arriving refugees from Syria or other groups with specific needs from outside the region. Furthermore, asylum seekers may also be reluctant to seek protection in BiH, Serbia and Croatia based on rather restrictive status determination practices (which are reflected in relatively low recognition rates) and the lack of integration opportunities, reflected in deficiencies of protection quality standards in practice.

Our ten days course brought together 17 young and engaged activists, lawyers, students, NGO workers and practitioners from Bosnia and Herzegovina, UK, Finland, Poland, Greece, Croatia, Italy, Lebanon, Germany, Austria and USA. The training program led by the experienced scholars, NGO legal advisers and law practitioners from BiH, Croatia, Serbia and UK, covered the following modules:

I General part

  • Assessment of 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol
  • The Relevance of International Human Rights Law to Flight from Persecution
  • UNHCR Guidelines on International Protection: “Membership of a particular social group” within the context of Article 1A(2).
  • Assessment of the Female Genital Cutting debate in Africa
  • Convention on the Rights of the Child: Unaccompanied Minor/Separated Children
  • UNHCR Guidance Note on Refugee Claims Relating to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
  • Psycho-Social Issues: Medical Evidence in Asylum and Human Rights Appeals
  • Use of Country of origin Information assessment
  • Credibility Assessment in Asylum Procedures

II Regional focus

  • Refugee Status Determination (RSD) Procedures in Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Refugee Status Determination (RSD) Procedures in Croatia
  • Refugee Status Determination (RSD) Procedure in Serbia
  • Reception and integration of Refugees in Croatia
  • Reception and integration of Refugees in Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Reception and integration of Refugees in Serbia


Teaching staff included Professor Emerita Barbara Harrell-Bond, being with us for the fifth time, supporting CESI work and helping the development of the refugee studies in Bosnia and Herzegovina/ WB region; Nedim Kulenović, doctoral student and a lawyer at the Association “Vaša prava Bosnia and Herzegovina”, providing free legal aid in the sector for international protection, representing cases before the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the European Court of Human Rights and the United Nations Human Rights Committee; Drago Župarić-Iljić, junior research assistant at the institute for Migration and Ethnic Studies, Zagreb, Croatia; Radoš Đurović, LL.M International Law, Belgrade University, Asylum Protection Centre – APC, Belgrade, Serbia; Victoria Smythies, Juris Doctorate from the University of Alabama and an LL.M. in International Law from the University of Vienna/intern at Fahamu Refugee Programme in Oxford, UK; Maja Žarković LLM with specialization in Immigration Law in Queen Mary, University of London; Gabriel Bonis MA International Relations from Queen Mary, University of London, Refugee Caseworker, British Red Cross ; and Dr. Selma Porobic, CESI director and forced migration scholar. Our guest speaker from UNHCR this year was Mr. Oldrich Andrysek, Regional Representative for Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova till 2011, who brought our attention to refugee women situation in Ukraine.

Conclusions from the school could be summarised as following: Insufficiency of the three current systems in addressing the refugee needs of protection is worrying, not only due to their ongoing development phases but particularly because of the fact that the only responsibility towards development of the fully efficient, faire and humane asylum system stems from the external conditioning and EU accession goals.

BiH, Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia and other states in the WB region are bound to take full obligations toward international protection of persons seeking protection from persecution as signatory states to Geneva Convention 1951 and its protocol 1967.