Praxis Watch

Friday, 10 June 2022

If You Do Not Have Documents, Do Not Have Children

“Why did you procreate, why didn't you obtain documents first? We can't do anything until the mother obtains an identity card”, Besim [1] was told when he inquired in the social welfare centre about how to register his newborn son Senad in birth registry books.

Before that, he addressed the registrar's office where they also told him that the child could not be registered, because the mother did not have documents. With the help of Praxis, the parents then submitted a written request to the registry office explaining that it was uncertain when the mother would be able to obtain an identity card, as she was unable to register her permanent residence, but that the regulations guaranteed immediate birth registration to every child, regardless of whether the parents had documents or not. It was requested to allow the parents to determine the child’s personal name.

However, the registry office not only did not do what it was obliged to do, but did not respond to the request at all. More than four months have passed since Senad was born, but he is still not registered in birth registry books. He does not even have a health card, so his parents, the poverty-stricken residents of a Roma settlement in Belgrade, have to pay for medical examinations from the modest income that his father manages to earn with great difficulty.

Senad's mother Suzana has never had an identity card. She was born in Đakovica, but the registry books in which she was registered remained inaccessible to the Serbian authorities after the 1999 war in Kosovo. Suzana was re-registered in registry books as late as in early 2021 when she was again able to obtain a birth certificate and a citizenship certificate. Since then, she has been unsuccessfully trying to register her permanent residence and obtain an identity card.

In 2020, Suzana began to live in cohabitation with Besim and moved into a house owned by Besim's father. There, Suzana and Besim created a joint family household and later had a child. For more than two years, this address has been for Susana what the law defines as a place of permanent residence: a place where someone has settled with the intention of living there permanently and where the centre of his or her life activities is located.

However, when she tried to register her permanent residence at that address in the police station, she was told that she must register her permanent residence in the Police Administration for Đakovica, according to her place of birth, and that only after obtaining her identity card there could she come again and apply for registration in the place where she actually lived. Not knowing that this conduct of police officers was not only unjustified, but also against the law - because no one should register their permanent residence in a place where they do not live - Suzana and Besim travelled to Jagodina, where the Police Administration for Đakovica was located, and tried to register Suzana's permanent residence. But they did not succeed to register there either, because Suzana was asked to provide the property ownership certificate or other document for the house in Đakovica where she would register her permanent residence. Suzana neither had nor could obtain such documents, so she returned to Belgrade without registering permanent residence. 

Then she tried again to register her place of permanent residence in the police station in the municipality where she lived, but she was again told that she must first obtain an ID card in Jagodina.

In March of this year, Praxis drafted a written request for permanent residence registration and instructed Besim and Suzana to go to the police again and submit it. However, they did not succeed again. Although the officers were obliged to receive the request, they refused to do so, telling Besim that he was “coming for nothing” and that “there is nothing they can do”. Addressing the supervisor did not help either.

However, Besim did not give up. As he says, he slightly modified and adapted the request for permanent residence registration, took it to the office of the President of the Republic and submitted it there as a complaint against the work of the police.

About a month later, Besim and Suzana were called from the police station. Suddenly, the officers no longer treated them with the attitude of rejection and started to do without any problems what they had previously claimed to be impossible: they took statements from Suzana, Besim and his father, obtained a new citizenship certificate and the police patrol conducted a site visit. It turned out that Suzana’s personal identification number (JMBG) was wrongly entered, but the correction procedure was initiated ex officio and will probably be completed soon.

In a nutshell, the police began to act as they were supposed to from the beginning and as prescribed. However, the question arises as to why it was not done immediately, but instead, Suzana lost a year and a half in futile attempts to register her permanent residence.

Every citizen has the right and duty to register their place of permanent residence and obtain an identity card. Every child must be registered in birth registry books immediately after birth. It is prescribed by laws, but it proved to be insignificant in the case of Senad and Susana. Senad should have been registered a long time ago, and Susana did not achieve anything by invoking the laws until she addressed the office of the President. It seems that Suzana is now close to a solution to her problem, but the question is what will happen tomorrow when someone else in Suzana's situation comes to the police station. And they will certainly come, because a large number of Roma in Serbia still live without personal documents and without registered permanent residence. Will they also have to wander from one counter to another and address the authorities that are not responsible for solving this kind of issues, or will the competent authorities simply do what they are obliged to do? We will let you know.



 [1] The names have been changed to protect privacy.

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