x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

UAE Serbs call for embassy

An online petition has been sent to Belgrade over the lack of consular services.

DUBAI // Serbs are calling on their government to set up an embassy in the UAE, complaining that they have been deprived of basic consular services for more than six years.

They have set up an online petition, and are hoping Belgrade will pay heed.

"According to official data, there are 5,000 Serbian citizens in Dubai; and according to unofficial data, this figure is probably closer to 15,000," said Mlada Mihajlovic, the former representative in Dubai of the Serbian national airline, JAT Airways. "This number makes it the city with the ninth-largest Serb population in the world."

The lack of an embassy means simple tasks such as renewing a passport can take weeks, as everything has to go through the embassy in Cairo.

"It takes a lot of time to do basic consular services," said AnaMarija Raickovic, a marketing manager in Dubai. "To renew your passport, for example, you have to send it in the through a courier service to Cairo, which is then sent to Belgrade then back to Cairo and then on to you. How long do you think that would take?"

It took Slobodan Eric, a father of two and a resident of Abu Dhabi for 11 years, more than two months to get information about passport procedures for his children. "If anything happens, like losing your passport, you cannot do anything," he said. "The simple fact is that they are in Egypt."

Nebojsa Rajcic, a financial expert in Dubai, agreed. "We definitely need an embassy. Just the fact that the embassy in Cairo is serving the needs of the UAE residents is impractical."

Its remoteness left Serbs feeling isolated, he said. "Being so far they cannot keep track of what is going on here."

In 2007 the UAE and Serbia agreed at the United Nations to establish full diplomatic relations. But that deal was never signed. The Serbs pulled out when the UAE recognised Kosovo as an independent state in 2008.

Since then the number of Serbs in the UAE has grown significantly, with direct flights and air and trade-route agreements between the two governments.

Mr Eric believes the time is ripe for an embassy. "With elections coming up, the petition might speed up the reaction from the government," he said. "If people care for their citizens they will react quickly to this growing problem."

The Serbian ministry of foreign affairs and the Serbian Embassy in Cairo declined to respond to questions.