Bosnia: How to register and claim asylum

If you’ve arrived in Bosnia and Herzegovina, you will need to register and express your intent to seek asylum to stay there legally. If you skip this step, you may have problems finding accommodation and traveling around the country.

How to register

You can register with the Service for Foreigners’ Affairs (“Sluzba za poslove sa strancima” in Bosnian) at any of their offices listed here.

They will ask for your:

  • Basic personal information
  • Contact details
  • Photo
  • Fingerprints

The Service for Foreigners’ Affairs (SFA) will give you a form or attestation documenting your expressed intention to seek asylum. This attestation is also called a “White Paper.” According to the law, the attestation gives you the right to stay legally in the country for 14 days.

When registering, you should let the SFA know if you belong to any of the vulnerable categories below:

  • You are under 18
  • You are under 18 and traveling without your parents or an adult guardian
  • You are a pregnant woman
  • You are a single parent with minor children
  • You are a survivor of torture, rape or other forms of physical or mental violence
  • You are an elderly person
  • You have a disease
  • You have mental disorders
  • You are a disabled person

If you are a vulnerable person, the SFA and the Ministry of Security should prioritize your application over other asylum-seekers' who don't have vulnerability.

Photo © UNHCR

You have the right to ask for an interpreter who speaks your language and free legal aid from the beginning of your asylum procedure. You can seek legal aid from the organization Vasa Prava BiH at UNHCR’s Info Center in Sarajevo, or book an appointment with them directly.

You can sign a power of attorney with Vasa Prava BiH that will enable them to represent you during your asylum procedure. This can help you learn more about your rights and obligations, and receive timely updates about your case.

You should also inform UNHCR in the Info Center and your lawyers about your vulnerability. They will ask from the Ministry of Security to treat you with special attention and priority.

Where to stay after registration

When you receive your attestation, you can stay at an official refugee or asylum reception center, or in private accommodation at your own cost.

If you want to stay at a government-run center, speak with UNHCR. They can tell you whether there is space and make the referral as you cannot access these centers without one.

If you leave your center without informing camp management, they will terminate your asylum claim and you will lose the right to stay in the country legally. You could then be at risk of detention.

If you are staying in private accommodation, you will have to register your temporary address with the SFA.

The SFA will issue a document confirming your address, also known as a “White Card.” Every time you change your accommodation, you need to inform SFA and register your address within 3 days.

You will also need to inform your lawyers or the Ministry of Security directly when you register and change your address. Otherwise, if the ministry sends your interview invitation to your old address and it bounces back, they’ll terminate your asylum procedure because they’ll think you left the country.

You can read more about accommodation options and their conditions here.

It’s important to keep the attestation and the white card safe. They are proof that you are staying legally in the country, and they let you access services including primary medical care. You will also need both to proceed with your asylum procedure.

Photo © Amel Emric/AP

How to claim asylum

The Sector for Asylum will call you and schedule an appointment to submit your asylum application. They will either call your lawyer, the center where you’re staying or you directly.

According to the law, this should happen within 14 days after you expressed the intention to seek asylum. However, in practice, it takes longer as there are many people waiting their turn — sometimes up to 20 or 30 days.

If you have a travel or other identification documents, the Sector for Asylum will temporarily take them away from you. You will get them back after you receive a final decision on your asylum case or if you withdraw your asylum application.

After you submitted your asylum application, the Sector for Asylum will issue an asylum-seeker’s card also known as the “Yellow Card.” You can pick up this card at your nearest SFA office.

The Yellow Card is valid for 3 months. Your lawyer can help you request to renew it 15 days before it expires.

Interview and decision

You or your lawyer should receive an interview invitation letter from the Ministry of Security 8 days before your interview.

The Sector for Asylum will interview you and then decide on your asylum case within 6 months after submitting your application. In exceptional cases, the decision can take up to 18 months.

The Sector for Asylum can also reject your application in an accelerated procedure within 30 days.

You can stay in Bosnia until you get the final decision on your asylum application.
Depending on your asylum case, you can:

  • Get refugee status (full asylum) — If there is a well-founded fear that in your country, you would be persecuted because of your race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group, and that your country is unable to protect you.
  • Get subsidiary protection (partial asylum) — If you are not eligible for refugee status but face serious harm if you return to your country of origin or normal place of residence. “Serious harm” includes death penalty, torture or inhuman treatment.
  • Get a rejection — If you get a negative answer, you have the right to appeal the decision 15 days from when the Sector for Asylum issued it. If your application was rejected in the accelerated procedure, then you have only 8 days to appeal it.  

Cover photo © Igor Pavicevic/Reuters