Yosgart Gutierrez

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Serbian rights lawyer wins UN refugee company award in Europe

BELGRADE, Serbia — Practically a decade in the past, an encounter with an Iranian household impressed Serbian lawyer Nikola Kovacevic to dedicate his profession to the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers.

Now Kovacevic says his quest has develop into extra vital than ever amid hovering anti-immigrant sentiment and populism in Europe.

On Thursday, the 32-year-old human rights lawyer from Belgrade will formally obtain a prestigious award for Europe from the U.N. refugee company for aiding scores of people that fled their houses, together with these being despatched forwards and backwards over the borders within the area.

The primary winner of UNHCR’s regional Nansen Refugee Award from Serbia and the Balkans, Kovacevic advised The Related Press that refugee rights relate to the very core of European values.

‘If we lose the struggle for the legacy of the refugee conference, which was designed for us – Europeans – within the second World Battle, what is going on to a occur subsequent?’ Kovacevic requested. ‘As a result of, you already know, there’s this previous saying: ‘Everyone can are available in a state of affairs to develop into a refugee.”

Closed borders and the the observe of collective expulsions, each within the Balkan area and wider in Europe, have undermined the present layers of safety that have been designed for refugees, he defined. Folks making an attempt to flee their homelands are sometimes merely despatched again with out international locations ‘even making an attempt to see what will occur to them.’


        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        

 

‘In the present day, as we communicate, dozens and dozens of Afghanis are caught in a no-man’s land between Poland and Belarus,’ he mentioned of the newest European migration sizzling spot, the place Poland alleges that Belarus is taking cash from susceptible migrants and sending them into Poland to destabilize the entire 27-nation European Union.

‘To entry inclusion is to entry territory, to say: ‘Hiya Mr. Policeman, Mr. Border Police Officer, I’m right here. I’m from Afghanistan, I need to entry my rights,’ he mentioned.

Whereas the worldwide Nansen award this 12 months went to a humanitarian group in Yemen, the selection of Kovacevic because the regional winner in Europe has underscored the significance of the Balkans as a key route within the move of individuals determined to succeed in Western Europe.

Hundreds of migrants make harmful journeys daily – particularly those that attempt to flee from Libya throughout the Mediterranean Sea – and lots of have confronted repeated pushbacks from authorities and even violence whereas making an attempt to succeed in Western Europe. A few of Kovacevic’s shoppers have suffered critical accidents throughout such expulsions from one nation to a different.

        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        

 

Over time, Kovacevic has dealt with quite a few circumstances that ranged from a Kurdish activist’s extradition to Turkey to about one-third of all of the granted safety requests in Serbia. He nonetheless remembers clearly his first go to to an asylum heart in Serbia in 2012 and the household from Iran he met there.

‘For those who get this private reference to the individuals who misplaced all the things, who communicate to you … (the) alternate of one thing, of power, or gratitude, of this sense of humanity, that is an unbelievable feeling,” mentioned Kovacevic.

In asserting this 12 months’s winner, the UNHCR mentioned Kovacevic has proven distinctive dedication and contributed to higher asylum procedures in Serbia. He has helped his shoppers discover shelter, jobs and entry schooling and medical help.

‘His dedication instigated their hope for higher life,” mentioned UNHCR.

Final 12 months Kovacevic scored a landmark victory for refugees at Serbia’s Constitutional Court docket, which acknowledged that the Serbian police had unlawfully expelled a bunch of individuals from Afghanistan – together with 9 kids – to Bulgaria, and ordered the federal government to pay compensation to every of them.

The ruling was seen as a uncommon official affirmation that international locations in Europe are condoning and conducting pushbacks that violate each the EU and worldwide legal guidelines, which ban the forcible return of individuals to different international locations with out trying into their particular person circumstances or permitting them to use for asylum.

Kovacevic additionally has helped colleagues in Hungary carry to court docket there the circumstances of the primary two migrants who have been expelled to Serbia after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s populist authorities put up a barbed wire fence on the border in 2015 to cease migrants from coming in.

Anti-immigration propaganda ‘spreads like a hearth,’ he warned, including that human rights activists face a frightening job in countering misinformation.

The Serbian lawyer had a message to all of the individuals who think about migrants and refugees a hazard to their societies.

‘How would they really feel in the event that they knew that their wives and youngsters are standing earlier than the barbed wire fence, the place there are border cops with sticks, with pepper spray, with canines, who’re able to beat them up and ship them again to the place the place there’s hazard, the place there isn’t any security?’ he requested.

‘In the long run it is quite simple: Simply attempt to put your self in this sort of state of affairs,” he mentioned.

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Learn all AP tales on world migration at https://apnews.com/hub/migration.