Balkan visa-free regime under scrutiny
EU ministers of interior are set to discuss visa policy in Brussels on Thursday (6 December) with several member states wanting to reintroduce visas for passport holders from Western Balkan countries.
Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands say migrants from the region are abusing the current visa-free system by requesting asylum, reports the AP.
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Each asylum application request has to be examined, they say, creating large caseloads and backlogs.
Around 60,000 people from the region have reportedly requested asylum throughout Europe in the past three years. The numbers have dropped in the past year but peaked in May, says the EU's border control agency, Frontex.
A safe-guard clause in the visa regulation can waive the visa-free regime should member states experience a “sudden high inflow of irregular migrants or a sudden increase of unfounded asylum requests from a third country.”
“Some EU member states have experienced seasonal waves of increasing number of asylum seekers following the decisions taken at the end of 2009 and 2010 to grant visa-free travel to the Western Balkan countries,” noted a commission report in August.
Meanwhile, many Balkan asylum seekers end up in Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and Sweden.
Those requesting asylum most frequently cite unemployment, lack of health care and lack of schooling for their children.
All but a handful have their applications rejected.
Passports holders from Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia are free to enter the EU without a visa since December 2009. Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina have enjoyed the same rights since December 2010.
In once instance, a village in Macedonia’s Lipkovo region had nearly emptied out and moved to Brussels. The village mayor told this reporter in March 2010 that some 42 children were no longer in school. Their parents, he said, had all purchased one-way bus tickets to Brussels.
Poverty, lack of development, had pushed entire families to ask for asylum with an aim to seek a better future for their children in Belgium’s capital. “Better to sleep in a bus station in Brussels than here,” said one elder. Some of the village homes had no running water.
The village, also called Lipkovo, was still pock-marked with bullet holes and damage sustained during fierce fighting in 2001 between ethnic Albanians and Macedonian security forces.
Many of those who ended up in Brussels were later returned. Some were sleeping rough in the corridors and halls along with other nationalities at its North train station, near a Belgian asylum office.